Guest Post: A True Tifosi Visits The Home Of Ferrari F1 – Monza
In a slight change to the usual billing of the website, I would like to introduce this guest article written by a very good friend of mine, Jamey Price. Jamey is from America, but has been a huge circuit racing and Formula One fan for years. His team is most definitely Ferrari, so when he told me he was going to the Italian Grand Prix this year I knew he would have some fabulous experiences to share. He has written us an article about those experiences so I can share with you all what he told me about the special weekend.
Enjoy too some of the attached photos, as a photographer himself he knows which end of the camera to hold!
I fell in love with Formula 1 in 1998 while flipping channels and happened upon the Monaco Grand Prix. Even though Mclaren driver Mikka Hakkinen won the race, I was more interested in those beautiful red cars buzzing around the race track. The race didn’t go particularly well for the Ferrari’s, but I was a fan and have been ever since. That was 12 years ago this past May.
Like Mecca is to Islam, Monza is to Ferrari fans. So like any true Ferrari fan, I had to at some point make the pilgrimage to Monza.
Ferrari has had a tremulous 2010. Coming off of a lackluster run at Spa Francorchamps, Alonso, still mathematically in the title hunt, was realistically in a do or die situation. Massa, though also technically still in the title hunt was even farther out the back of the points. Monza was setting up to be a race to remember. It was going to be a weekend of heartbreak for the team or one of pure joy and celebration. There was no room for mediocracy.
When I moved to the UK in July from the States, I knew I wanted to attend one of the European GP’s before the series went back overseas to the flyaway races. Spa is a circuit that all F1 fans should probably visit in their lifetime, but Monza is special for those of us that call ourselves tifosi. The spiritual home of Ferrari and it’s fans, the tifosi, it is also the oldest active race track in Europe and one of the most scenic venues on the calendar. So when an opportunity presented itself to go to the Italian GP, It was something I couldn’t turn down.
I bought a 3 day general admission pass, packed by bags and headed to Italy not knowing a word of Italian other than ciao and grazie. I arrived on the thursday and went almost straight to the track. My 3 day pass was good for a free pit lane walkabout during the afternoon so I took advantage of it and enjoyed an afternoon wandering the pitlane. While the rest of the fans were all huddled around the Ferrari, Mclaren, Mercedes and Red Bull garages, I wandered down to the other end of the pit lane where there was almost no one around. I shook Heikki Kovalainen’s hand and wished Jarno Trulli good luck for the weekend. I got a few autographs, took photos and had an up close and personal meeting with some of the other drivers in the paddock…while the rest of the fans were all clambering for a all too brief glimpse of a superstar. I headed home satisfied with the photos I had made, the autographs I had and my plan for the Friday practice sessions.
My accommodations were in the nearby town of Bergamo so a quick train ride on Friday morning had me at the race track in time to hear the Formula BMW engines warming up in the pit lane. I quickly made my way under the circuit toward the F1 paddock entrance but not before feeling a hand on my back trying to push me out of the way. Quickly turning around to see who the guy was trying to move me aside, I was shocked and surprised to see the face of 7 times World Champion Michael Schumacher riding a bike into the track. A ballsy maneuver considering the hundred of so fans waiting in front of him huddled around the entrance to the paddock. After my brush with greatness, I headed over the pedestrian walkway that crosses the back straight and made my way to Parabolica to watch the first Friday free practice.
For those that know the sound of a burping, gurgling and screaming F1 engine, its a sound you never forget. This was my 5th race I have attended and the sound of those engines still makes me smile. Being a professional photographer from the States, I of course had brought my camera and a variety of lenses to capture photos of racing and of course the atmosphere from the weekend but was hugely disappointed to see how high the catch fences at Monza are. 25 or 30 feet high in places so even from the top of the grandstands, it is impossible to shoot over them. I knew I was going to have to work to get any kind of decent photos from the weekend. In search of better photo opportunities, I walked back over the pedestrian crossing and up toward the exit of the Ascari chicane and just enjoyed standing at the famous corner listening to the cars bounce and rumble over the curbs then scream by on their way toward Parabolica. There I stood for the rest of practice 1 just enjoying the morning sun and the scream of V8 engines.
With Practice 2 set to go a little later on, I headed North, deep into the middle of the circuit in search of the famed Lesmo corners. In my meandering along the side of the track along one of the many paths that line the circuit, I happened upon the section of track where the cars pass underneath the old banking. I immediately fell in love with the spot for two reasons. The first being that it provided a clear shot onto the track which sits below and to the right of where I was standing and has very low catch making it a good place to take photos of the cars as they pass under you. The second reason I fell in love with this spot was the noise. You’re very close to the cars as they accelerate downhill away from the second Lesmo and toward the entrance to Ascari. The tunnel under the old banking creates a fantastic echo and as a result, the cars are beyond loud as they come by you. You don’t just hear the cars fly past, they’re so close and so loud that you feel them inside of you. Standing there, it feels almost like someone is trying to rip your shirt off and punch you in the stomach. After spending an hour at this particular spot, I again picked up and headed toward the second chicane where I simply sat and enjoyed a beer and some kind of specialty Italian sandwich that most of the vendors were selling. Whatever was in it, it was enjoyable and I just sat and enjoyed the remainder of my afternoon at Monza before heading back to Bergamo for the night.
Saturday morning, I made the mistake of thinking that it would be an easy walk to the circuit. All of the websites I visited said it could be done, so I tried it out of impatience waiting for the free bus that took fans from the train station in Monza to the gate of the track. The travel guides were right. It can be done…but it is no fun. 3 miles later, I arrived at the circuit tired, blistered and sore and it was only 8:30 in the morning. I headed back toward the old banking overpass to shoot FP3. The morning sunlight reaching through the trees left beautiful pockets of light on the track so I took advantage of the clear view, low catch fencing and perfect sunlight to take as many photos as I could of as many cars as I could. In my standing there, I heard a familiar accent and got chatting with an F1Fanatic reader, Chris and a friend of Chris’ from the UK. We shared some laughs, some photography talk and some F1 talk and went our separate ways following the end of practice 3. I headed back toward the front side of the track to the exit of parabolica where the cars accelerate past toward the finish line. There was a TV monitor to watch qualifying from plus a clear view of the cars so I camped out and watched Alonso take a stunning pole lap with the other tifosi in the area. It was great cheers, high fives and air horns all around as the matador took such a dominant pole position. Following qualifying, I was wandering back toward the back side to watch GP2 action when I stumbled back into Chris whom I had met earlier. The three of us decided to go check out the old banking of the original autodromo. We left the circuit and headed toward the area Chris had accessed the banking earlier in the morning. We climbed a steep embankment and made our way through scrub brush before popping out onto the old banking. Evidently the Italian security on the old banking on race weekend is very tight, sometimes guarded by armed officers with dogs. But the particular area we had headed to was covered only by a few young kids that looked no older then 18 or 19 who were more preoccupied with sun bathing and throwing a frisbee around than stopping us. We ended up sitting on the old banking for over an hour taking photos, climbing to the top of the VERY steep banking and having more photos taken finally just enjoying the afternoon sun sitting on the crumbling concrete tarmac. It is a beautiful piece of artwork that means much to any auto racing fan. To enjoy it on a beautiful Italian afternoon with the sound of GP2 cars flying around the track nearby made for a perfect end to the day. I again headed back to Bergamo to get some sleep before a long day at the races Sunday.
It is every Ferrari fan’s dream to go to Monza, but it is even more of a dream to go to Monza and celebrate a Ferrari win with the tifosi on home soil. With Alonso on pole, and Massa not far behind in third, it was shaping up to be a good chance to do just that. With that in mind, I decided again to head back to my favorite spot at the old banking to watch the start of the race. I knew the noise levels there would be tremendous, which is why we really love going to F1 races isn’t it? I arrived at 7:30 in the morning on race day as I had heard that traffic and crowds can be unbearable on race morning and I knew they would be particularly bad with the chance of an impending Ferrari win. The crowds in the area I had chosen to watch from were honestly not that bad. There were a few hundred people, but not the thousands I was expecting. Many hours of waiting later, the sound of engines warming up echoed through the trees of the park in which Monza sits. It is a distinct sound that an F1 engine makes and cannot be mistaken for anything on this Earth that I’ve ever heard. As the cars came by on the warmup lap, barely on the throttle and mostly warming tires, I decided that despite my usual ritual of keeping the ear protection off for the first lap, I was not going to be able to do so for this particular race. The noise just from the cars warming up was too much, and I’m no chicken when it comes to noise. Finally, we heard the sound of the race start and 40 seconds or so later, we heard the sound of the field screaming toward us from the exit of second Lesmo and boy was I right. Even with the earmuffs on, the noise of 24 cars, minus one Lewis Hamilton was incredible. Indescribable actually. Much to the dismay of all the Ferrari fans in the area, we saw Alonso chasing Button and not the other way around. Knowing I wanted to join in on the meleé of the post race celebrations, I walked along the inside of the circuit toward the second chicane where I watched Alonso’s continued assault on Button. I happened to be at a point where the cars passed directly parralel to me so I was clearly able to see how close Alonso was to the Mclaren’s gearbox. Every single fan in the area had some sort of Ferrari paraphernalia on and all of us were willing with all of our hearts for Alonso to try diving up Button’s inside. When he eventually did pass the Mclaren, there were screams, cheers high fives, hugs and waving of flags to go around for everyone. It was like the entire track lit up with excitement. With some 15 laps left in the race, I walked along the Curva Grande toward the first chicane where people were already lining up to run onto the track following the race. With a TV screen within view, I was able to watch Alonso fullfill all of our hopes and dreams to seal a Ferrari victory. As soon as the last car had passed by us on the warmdown lap, the chain holding the gates closed was unlocked and a flood of people wearing red spilled onto the track. Me and thousands of others sprinted down the straight toward the podium. People in the stands to the right and left of us cheered and blew air horns as we continued running down the straight. I eventually hit a wall of people shortly after the finish line and stopped to take a few photos of the ceremony. When Alonso lifted his trophy, the place went wild. Air horns blowing and cheers for Alonso filled the air. Despite common sense, I weaved my way through the thick crowd almost directly under the podium where people were still waving flags and chanting in many languages. It was a special feeling. After 10 minutes of soaking in the atmosphere and joining in on the chants for Ferrari, I walked back toward the first chicane to walk the circuit. The rubber was still hot and sticky as I walked the entire 3 mile circuit enjoying every moment of my final hours at the historic circuit. I filled a water bottle full of gravel trap rocks from the second Lesmo, took some photos and finally made the long walk back to the bus where I hopped on that followed by a train back to Bergamo before leaving the following morning back to the UK.
Ferrari’s win made the weekend that much more special, but even had they not done as well as they had, it would have been a great weekend anyway. Monza is truly a special place and only reinforces my opinion that the older historic GP venues need to be saved and preserved if only to keep the sport firmly tied to it’s roots. I’m tired of seeing Bernie threaten these classic racing venues to only be replaced by soulless expanses of tarmac. At Monza, you can feel the history of Grand Prix racing. Take a walk through the woods in the morning sun with the roar of cars echoing through the trees and it is not hard to imagine Mansell, Senna, Prost, Stewart, Ickx and all those other famous names that make the sport what it is screaming through the forest from the exit of the lesmos, down the hill and back up again toward Ascari before making the long run to Parabolica. It is an amazing place that should be on the calendar as long as Formula One exists as a sport.