Italian Grand Prix: A history of speed

Modified 05 Sep 2013
Niki Lauda attends the World Premiere of "Rush" at the Odeon Leicester Square on September 2, 2013 in London, England.  (Getty Images)

Niki Lauda attends the World Premiere of “Rush” at the Odeon Leicester Square on September 2, 2013 in London, England. (Getty Images)

Speed kills

With Monza becoming faster year after year – and safety in F1 given no priority in the 60′s and 70′s – accidents were bound to happen and many would turn fatal. Three promising drivers – all with a shot at the title – lost their lives on the track.

Wolfgang von Trips lost his life in 1961 after crashing into the back of Jim Clark and as a result, his car launching into the air and into the stand, killing 14 of them along with him.

Jochen Rindt lost his life during the 1970 final practice session, when under braking at the Parabolica he lost control and crashed heavily into the barriers.

The 1978 race start was a chaotic one and Ronnie Peterson turned out to be the unlucky one. Having already damaged his car in practice, he had to take the spare car, which was customized according to Peterson’s diminutive teammate Mario Andretti; hence the Swede had trouble adjusting in it.

The green light to signal the start of the race was given before all cars were stationary on the grid. This bunched the whole field up at the first corner, highly increasing the chances of a collision. And in a melee involving Ricardo Patrese, James Hunt, Vittorio Brambilla, Carlos Reutemann, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Patrick Depailler, Didier Pironi, Derek Daly, Clay Regazzoni and Brett Lunger, Peterson’s car swerved right and crashed into the barriers before rebounding back onto the track and catching fire. The Swede died in hospital the next morning.

Italy vs. England – or is it?

The early 50’s were a straight fight between Italian and German carmakers. But after the 1955 Le Mans disaster, German representation in motorsport reduced dramatically. The British teams were on the rise, and towards the end of the decade were really starting to threaten the Italian stronghold on motorsport.

At one point of time, the Italians were so afraid of the “garagista” (the famous name given to the British teams by Enzo Ferrari), that they decided to reintroduce the fearsome banking for the 1960 race to disadvantage the British cars. In the end, the British teams withdrew and there was no competition. Ferrari completed a dominant 1-2-3.

Schumacher-Hill at it yet again

Things between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill were never the same after Adelaide, 1994. It would be no surprise if the pair exchanged blows if the opportunity presented itself. And such an opportunity did arise next year at Monza.

While trying to pass a backmarker, the two collided and as you might have guessed it, all hell broke loose. Schumacher jumped out of his car and rushed angrily towards Hill and started a heated conversation. It was only because of the stewards that it didn’t turn into something very serious. We could have easily had another Nelson Piquet vs. Eliseo Salazar again.

Is that a mummy?

In the 1976 Italian Grand Prix, there was a certain driver who looked a tad bit weird; his face was so heavily bandaged that you could easily mistaken him for a mummy.

Who else could it be but Niki Lauda. Just six weeks after his horrific accident at the Nurburgring, he was back in the car. Legend has it that blood could be seen seeping through his bandages. Lauda would have been in unimaginable pain with that helmet on, experiencing high G-forces for one and a half hours in the heat. Say whatever you have to about his attitude, but the one just can’t undermine the man’s tenacity.

RUSH, an upcoming film on the rivalry between drivers James Hunt and  Lauda, is due to be released on September 13, 2013, just after the Italian Grand Prix; a fitting tribute about the glorious history of the Italian Grand Prix.

Published 05 Sep 2013
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