History is everywhere at Monza, which has been hosting the Italian Grand Prix since the 1920s. The old, banked oval track is still visible near the Monza circuit used today. The 5.7-kilometer, or 3.5-mile, circuit has four long straights where speeds can reach 340 kph or more.
“Monza features the highest straight-line speeds of the year at around 350 kph, the highest average lap speed and, at 83 percent, the highest percentage of the lap spent at full throttle — not for nothing is it known as a ‘temple of speed,”’ said Norbert Haug, vice president of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport.
The circuit, which this year hosts its 61st Italian Grand Prix, is also known as “La Pista Magica,” and the Italian fans, or tifosi, who flock to the circuit are as legendary as the home Ferrari team that they worship.
Monza, 15 kilometers north of Milan, is the third-largest city in Lombardy and an economic, industrial and administrative center with textile and publishing industries. It has a population of more than 120,000 and is a cross between a suburb and a small provincial town. In its long history, Monza was subject on and off to rule from Milan, but it is now the capital of the Monza and Brianza Province and is surrounded by many other small towns — including Desio, Lissone and Arcore — and filled with restaurants, shopping areas and residential neighborhoods.
Evidence of human inhabitation in the area goes back to the Bronze Age. It is primarily known, however, for its Romanesque-Gothic Duomo of Monza and the royal park in which the racetrack is located. The park was created in 1777 along with a royal villa for Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. Twice the size of Central Park in New York City, it is one of the biggest urban parks in Europe.
But for the world-traveling Formula One fan, the greatest tourism asset aside from the race and the historic track is that it is only a short train or car ride — about 20 minutes — from Milan. Mixing the race with opera, nightlife, fine dining, fashion or museums is thus a main event at the Italian Grand Prix.
Milan is the second-largest city in Italy, with a population of about 1.3 million, and more than 7.4 million in the greater metropolitan region. In the Middle Ages, the city was one of the most prosperous Italian cities. It was captured by Napoleon in 1796. In the 1800s it became an important cultural center for writers, artists and composers. It was heavily bombed during World War II, but in the post-war years it underwent considerable growth and attracted workers from throughout Italy and elsewhere. Today, it ranks 10th among European Union cities in terms of business and finance.
“I think it’s very important that Formula One keeps hold of these ‘classics’ — which also includes circuits such as Spa, Silverstone and Monaco — while also investing in new venues for the future,” said Martin Whitmarsh, the director of the McLaren Mercedes team.
But the Italian Grand Prix is always a place where the Italian fans gather to see their home team: Ferrari. Born in Italy in 1898, Enzo Ferrari raced in the 1920s and 1930s, mostly for Alfa Romeo, founding the Scuderia Ferrari in 1929 as the Alfa Romeo race team. Just before World War II he severed his ties with Alfa Romeo and founded his own company. But the first Ferraris were not built until 1946. Enzo was a charismatic leader with above all a love for cars and racing, but also huge respect for his best drivers, like Tazio Nuvolari and Gilles Villeneuve. A victory in Monza is always the biggest success for the Ferrari team.