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Italian Grand Prix: A history of speed

Modified 05 Sep 2013
Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Toro Rosso celebrates on the podium after winning the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on September 14, 2008 in Monza, Italy.  (Getty Images)

Sebastian Vettel of Toro Rosso celebrates on the podium after he won the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on September 14, 2008 in Monza, Italy. (Getty Images)

It’s not for nothing that Monza (Italy) is called the ‘temple of speed’. It was and still is the fastest track on the F1 calendar with long straights intercepted by slow chicanes and right-handed corners. Yes, the track layout has only right-handed bends apart from the chicanes; a rather uncommon sight.

It was at this track that the highest speed was recorded during an F1 race weekend, when Juan Pablo Montoya reached speeds of over 365kmph in his Williams. High speeds definitely seem glorious but at the same time, they can be extremely dangerous, as the Tifosi have experienced in front of their eyes many times in the past.

With such high speeds, slipstreaming is very common and very useful too, albeit difficult to master as Ferrari learnt during last year’s qualifying session. High speeds, huge shunts and extremely close finishes too have all played an important part in imparting Monza the legendary status it has today.

Top five covered within the blink of an eye!

Yes, you read that aright. In the closest finish ever in F1 history – the 1971 Italian Grand Prix – the top five cars crossed the finish line just 0.61 seconds adrift. Not only that, Brit Peter Gethin won his only race just 0.01 seconds ahead of second placed Ronnie Peterson.

It doesn’t quite end there. This race was the fastest ever in terms of average speed: a staggering 150.754mph! Slipstreaming was at its very best during those days and Gethin took the perfect opportunity at the Parabolica (the final corner) on the final lap when he never looked like winning as he was in third.

A fitting tribute to the “il Drake”

When Enzo Ferrari died in August, 1988 the situation at Ferrari was pitiable. McLaren had won each and every of the 11 races and the Prancing Horses weren’t even given a whiff of a chance against the powerful Honda engines on the straights of Monza, a month later.

Yet it seemed to be the perfect tribute for the man, who made what Ferrari is today, that Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost both retired, handing Gerhard Berger the win in front of the ecstatic Tifosi. Coincidence or not, that would be their only win that season.


Fangio just sneaks through to win the championship

In one of the most dramatic endings ever to a Drivers’ Championship – even a maestro like Juan Manuel Fangio had to fight it out by the skin of his teeth in the last race to clinch a title – the legendary Argentine had to borrow his teammate’s car to win the required points.

But it was not straightforward. When Fangio’s car’s steering arm broke, he sat in the pits seeing his championship chances slip by. Then teammate Luigi Musso came into the pits and was asked to hand over the car to Fangio but Musso refused.

Finally it was Fangio’s other teammate Peter Collins, who saved the day with one of the best acts of generosity ever by handing over his car, even when he himself had a chance of becoming champion.

Fangio ultimately finished second behind Stirling Moss. Collins defended his move by saying that he was still young and had enough time to win a championship. Sadly that day never came and he died just two years later.

Super Sebastian

Rarely do we have a wet weekend at Monza but boy, did it pour in 2008. With the rain and the slippery track requiring more downforce, Toro Rosso got the setup perfect, and that handed Sebastian Vettel his first pole (to become the youngest pole-sitter ever).

Everybody was impressed with the young German, but the odds were stacked against him in the race. But Vettel put in a champion-like performance and controlled the race from the start to finish and won by over 12 seconds from McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen. With the youngest pole-sitter record already under his belt, he became the youngest race winner too.

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Published 05 Sep 2013, 12:28 IST
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