The Autodromo Nazionale Monza is a permanent racing circuit which currently hosts the Italian Grand Prix. The Italian Grand Prix has been held at Monza annually since the Formula 1 Championship was founded in 1950, except for 1980 (when it was held at Imola). Originally opened in 1922, it closed down during World War II, and did not re-open until 1948. It has a high banked oval (which has not been used in a F1 race since 1961, although a portion of the film Grand Prix was filmed there in 1966, and the 1000 km of Monza used it with chicanes in 1969), a road course for F1 cars, and a smaller junior circuit.
Monza currently is a complex with two major (and overlapping) components: the boomerang-shaped road course, varying in length over the years between 5.7 and 6.3 km; and the high speed oval, originally slightly banked asphalt, but with huge banked concrete curves built in 1955, only to be abandoned less than 15 years later. But the track has had a large number of configurations and revisions through the years.
The circuit was constructed in a royal park just north of the town of Monza in the spring of 1922. The original plans called for a wide variety of roads and curves, but this soon ran into opposition, because of the proposed removal of most of the trees and foliage of the park. A compromise was hammered out, where the speed oval and some connecting roads would be constructed, along with upgrading several of the existing roads and paths in the park. The track was constructed in 110 days, using 3,500 workers, with the majority of the focus on the banked oval. After the road surface was completed, it was allowed to cure over the summer, a novel concept for the time. On August 20, several local drivers took turns driving Fiats around the track as officials made speeches and fans gawked at the wonderful new track.
What they saw was a 10 km long (now believed to be somewhat shorter than that) road/oval combination. The front straight was enormous, close to 100 meters wide. And it was necessary, as the cars went by twice in the course of a lap. A full lap would start on the driver's left side of the front straight, then went down to the Curva Grande and on to the road circuit. After having passed under one of the large banked turns on the back part of the circuit, the cars returned after having negotiated a semicircular (and also banked) Curvetta, somewhat north of the current Parabolica. They were now driving down the right side of the front straight, and just past the pits, entered the first of the two very long 180° curves, banked for higher speed, one of which passes over the road course using a small bridge. The cars exited the second banked corner on the left side of the front straight, thus completing a lap.
Three weeks after the grand opening, the Italian Grand Prix was held. It was won by Pietro Bordino, driving a Fiat 804. Bordino also recorded the fastest lap, at 4:05.0. Another, less positive Monza custom was started that weekend, when German driver Gregor Kuhn was killed, after he lost control and crashed into some trees. Two people died on the track in 1923, and another driver was killed in the 1924 race. Then there were no fatal incidents until the 1928 Italian Grand Prix. On lap 17, Emilio Materassi suddenly swerved left along the main straight. The car managed to jump a 4 meter wide moat, placed there to protect the spectators, and crash into the grandstand. Materassi and 27 spectators were killed, and over 100 were injured. This was the worst accident in racing history until the 1955 Le Mans disaster, and the Italian Grand Prix was suspended until 1931.
But racing continued at Monza. In 1929, a new race, known as the Monza Grand Prix, filled the gap in the schedule. Modifications had been made in the spectator facilities, and the race was often run using a chicane on the south turn of the speed oval. The Monza Grand Prix continued as a separate event (except for the war years) until 1952, and the name was resurrected once as a Formula Two race in 1980, when the FIA ordered the Grand Prix moved from Monza until safety upgrades were made.
With the advent of the first European Championship, the Grand Prix returned to Monza in 1931. The full circuit was still in use, but other events sometimes used the new Florio Circuit. By virtue of a new section of road, known as the Florio, cars on the back straight would make a sharp left, and about 1⁄4 km later turn right on the high speed oval. This compromise configuration measured 6.662 km/4.140 mi, cutting out the northern high speed corner, and the south corner of the road course. But in 1933, another dark day forced changes. That year, in hopes of drawing a large crowd, the organizers scheduled a double header. The Italian Grand Prix was held in the late morning, on the full circuit without major incident. In the afternoon the Monza Grand Prix was staged, using only the high speed circuit. During the event, three of the top drivers of the day, Giuseppe Campari, Baconin Borzacchini and Count Stanislaw Czaykowski, were all killed on a damp track, by going over the wall in the south curve. That day is still remembered as "Black Sunday" in Italy.
For the 1934 race, the organizers overreacted to the previous year's tragedy slightly. Colloquially known as the "Mini Florio", they conjured up the shortest possible track configuration for the Grand Prix, then added chicanes in each of the longest corners. The cars started on the left side of the track, but just before they would reach the north banked curve, they made a very sharp 180° turn, so they were heading in the opposite direction on the same straight. (Despite the obvious possibility of head on collisions, the race went without incident.) The cars continued against the normal flow of traffic, turning left onto the Curvetta, which had been modified with a "bus stop" style chicane. The cars continued down the back straight, still going the "wrong" way, until they turned right onto the Florio straight. Then they turned right again, and followed the course through the south speed curve, which itself had a bus stop chicane near the location of the three fatal accidents the year before. This shortest of all Italian GP circuits measured 4.329 km/2.690 mi.
While the 1934 circuit was tremendously popular with the fans, as they could see their heroes for almost half a lap, it was less so with the drivers and teams. Starting in 1935, the cars would run on the full Florio circuit but with the bus stop chicane in the south speed corner. The track now measured 6.952 km/4.320 mi. In 1938, the race was run with four simple traffic barrier chicanes, along with the bus stop. This lengthened the track slightly to 7.000 km/4.350 mi.
Immediately after the 1938 race, work commenced on a major redesign of the circuit. At the behest of the organizers, engineer Aldo di Rionzo drew up plans to make Monza far safer, while at the same time more challenging for the drivers. The first changes were a demolition of the old banked curves. There was a slight reshaping and tightening of the Lesmo corners. The Curva del Vialone was moved to the southwest and reshaped. A new back straight was constructed, parallel to the old one, but about 50 meters west. This new straight continued to just beyond where the old south speed curve was, then made a sharp, 100° right turn. After a short straight, another sharp right of 80° put the cars onto the main straight. The two new corners were called Curva de Vedano, in much the same way that those at the other end of the circuit are both Lesmo curves.
The front straight was now almost two km long, and the cars would be going close to 250 kmh at the end. A secondary circuit was created at this time, primarily at the request of Pirelli, for variety in tire testing. A sharp, 45° right left the main straight just before the Curva Grande, and after a short straight, the new section turned 135° right, joining an extension of the back straight. The testing section was never intended for competition, but that did not stop local amateur racing groups from using it on occasion.
The new main circuit was scheduled to be used for the 1939 Italian Grand Prix on September 10, but the work was running behind. Italian government officials leaked rumors that the work would not be completed in time, however no one involved in the planning was surprised when the European war broke out on September 1, ending most racing for the duration.
The war was not kind to Monza. Much of the surface had been broken up by tanks and other armored machinery, and the buildings and grandstands had been damaged by fighting. In 1947, the decision was made to rebuild the track by the 1938 plan. The absence of a totalitarian government meant that it was somewhat harder to get approval and funding, but eventually the work started in the spring of 1948. The first race of the new course was the Monza Grand Prix, almost exactly 10 years after the last event. The Italian Grand Prix returned in 1949, after two years on patchwork street circuits, and used this course until 1954.
Never content to let a good thing be, after a while the Monza management became restless. Soon a plan for a new high-speed circuit had been created, because the thought of someone else having the fastest track in the world was too much to bear. Not long after the 1954 Grand Prix, construction started on a new high-speed oval at Monza. But instead of somewhat narrow banking, built on an earthen berm, these would be built of very wide and concave concrete slabs, supported by reinforced concrete pillars. The northern curve was built on exactly the same footprint as the old track, but the new southern curve was several meters north of the old track, and of a slightly shorter radius. This also required a rebuilding of the road course, as the southernmost part of the current circuit was being cut off by the new banking. What was built at the south end of the road course is the current Parabolica corner, which is actually not a parabola, but two adjacent arcs with different radii. An adjustment to the first Lesmo corner ensured that the new combined road and oval circuit had a lap length of exactly 10 km (6.214 mi), and once again featured the cars passing down the front straight twice per lap.
The combined circuit was used for the Grand Prix in 1955 and 1956, but it was soon obvious that there had been an enormous error in the construction of the new banking. The designers assumed that the concrete slabs would maintain a rigid surface, despite only being held up at intervals. But in reality the concrete could not completely support it's own weight, and sagged a small amount between the concrete pillars. The unfortunate result was an extremely bumpy ride, easily the worst surface in Grand Prix racing in decades. Suspension problems and breakdowns were common, and the tire manufacturers were horrified at what was happening to their products. After the 1956 race, the Grand Prix reverted to the road course, now measuring 5.750 km/3.573 mi.
But the organizers had another trick up their sleeves. In an effort to justify the oval track, and recoup some of their investment, they created an event called The Race of Two Worlds. The idea was to host a Formula Libre event, using only the now 4.248 km/2.640 mi oval only circuit. But the race would be run in a counter clockwise direction, hoping to attract Indianapolis 500 cars. (An urban legend contends that Indianapolis cars could only turn left at the time. This is not true, as it would have been impossible for the cars to exit the pits, or avoid accidents, if that were the case. They were simply designed to favor left-hand turns at speed.) Several of the top Indy teams traveled by ship just after the 1957 500, and took on the best that Europe could offer. Ultimately the events were not successful, and were discontinued after 1958.
But the late 1950s brought the Rear Engine Revolution, and the organizers were hopeful that these new cars could handle the banking better than the old front engined cars could. Additionally the full circuit was seen as benefiting Ferrari, and their greater top end speed. So the Grand Prix was run on the full circuit again in 1960 and 1961. But the new cars had many of the same problems that were evident five years earlier, and the banking was even bumpier. The last straw was when Wolfgang von Trips collided with Jim Clark in the 1961 race, killing himself and 15 spectators. The accident was partly attributed to the springing necessary for driving on the banking at speed, even though the accident happened at the Parabolica on the road course.
Monza reverted to the 5.75 km road course once again in 1962, and spent much of the decade improving what they had, instead of trying to build something grandiose. A rash of new speedway construction had put the 'fastest track in the world' title out of reach, so the organizers aimed for the the best and safest road course. But the cars had changed and the dramatic increase in cornering speeds meant this configuration became became a slipstreaming paradise. In 1969, the top four finishers were within 0.19 seconds of each other at the flag. Then in 1971, the top five cars were within 0.61 seconds at the flag, with Peter Gethin beating Ronnie Peterson by 0.01 seconds and François Cevert by 0.08. The slipstreaming battles had to go.
The teams arrived in 1972 to an altered circuit. The almost-flat-out Curva del Vialone that led onto the back straight was now a slower left-right-left combination called Variante Ascari. And the front straight was divided to keep the cars to the right, until they could negotiate a very slow left-right chicane, just before the start of the banking. The only time that the left side of the front straight was used was at the start of the race, which completely skipped the first chicane. While the length of the track changed only slightly, up to 5.775 km/3.588 mi, the pole time was a full 13 seconds slower than in 1971. The races were slower and somewhat safer, but the track was less popular with the fans. So the engineers went back to work.
Visitors in 1976 found a subtly changed but much safer track. Drivers were once again routed to the left side of the main straight, which gave room for a wider pit lane. The chicane on the front straight just before the banking was now just a bad memory, but it was replaced by a pair of left-right chicanes, 100 meters further down the track and known as the Variente Rettifilo. The change was welcomed in principle, but the second chicane of the pair was regarded as overkill.
Another change was the gentle kink between the Curva Grande and the first Lesmo, the Curva della Roggia, was now a left-right chicane, now called the Variante della Roggia. The changes added more than nine seconds to the lap times, but the cars were running just past the grandstands, and were reaching higher speeds before the braking point, so the tifosi were happy.
The aftermath of the tragic events of the 1978 race saw only detail changes made in the front straight. The pit lane was lengthened, and stronger penalties were imposed for straying too far to drivers right on the front straight. But those detail changes seemed to work, and the track did not change configuration for another 17 years, the longest such period ever until the present interval (since 2000, 19 years).
The 1995 race saw the introduction of some major changes to the northeast section of the circuit. In order to tighten (and slow) the Lesmo corners, while minimizing the number of trees removed, the straight between the two corners was moved a few meters west. The Variante della Roggia was also moved west a few meters, and overall the track length was reduced from 5.8 to 5.77 km. Despite the slight shortening of the track, lap times went up by roughly two seconds.
2000 gave us the last major change to the circuit so far. The old double-chicane of the Variente Rettifilo was gone, replaced by the new Primo Variente. The front straight continues to about where the old chicanes started, but now makes a very sharp, 90° right, followed quickly by a 110° left. A short distance up the road, the main straight is rejoined with a very gentle right hand bend shortly before the Curva Grande. The old Curva Grande itself, while unchanged, now had a new name, becoming the Curva Biassono. And the Variente della Roggia (also unchanged) became the Seconda Variente. The lap distance was now 5.793 km, and the change managed to add about another second per lap.
In 2010, a short cut was constructed to soften the Primo Variente slightly, but this was only for FIM motorcycles.
Possible future change
There were rumors of a major change in the circuit, where the track would skip the Primo Variente entirely, make a 45° right to bypass the Curva Biassono, and rejoin the circuit with a tight left-right chicane. This would probably cut off close to half of a kilometer of track length, and would be the first major change to the circuit since 1955. It was reported that these changes would be completed before the 2017 race, but the circuit web site makes no mention of changes to the circuit, or of any major construction projects.
The current circuit, which has been used since 2000, features the Road Course layout without using the banked oval. The 5.8 km circuit is the fastest on the current calendar in terms of average speed.
The circuit starts with a long run from the start/finish line to Variante del Rettifilo, a slow right-left-right chicane, which leads directly into Curva Grande, a long, fast right hand sweeping corner taken at up to 210 mph. Braking for Variante del Roggia is tricky in the shadows of the bridge and trees, and this left-right chicane requires accurate braking. Out of Roggia is a short run to the double-right-hand Curva di Lesmo, a tricky section which requires the use of all of the track. A good exit from the second Lesmo corner is necessary to maximise speed down the bumpy straight leading to Variante Ascari. In 2011, this straight was the first of two DRS zones on the Monza circuit. Ascari is a fast left-right-left chicane where all the run-off is used on exit. This leads to a long straight and a tricky braking point for Curva de Parabolica, an increasing radius 180° corner with a gravel trap on the outside. A good exit is essential to help with the run to the start-finish line.
Grand Prix Winners at Monza
|V T E||Italian Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Monza (1950 - 1979, 1981 - Present), Imola (1980)|
|Races||1950 • 1951 • 1952 • 1953 • 1954 • 1955 • 1956 • 1957 • 1958 • 1959 • 1960 • 1961 • 1962 • 1963 • 1964 • 1965 • 1966 • 1967 • 1968 • 1969 • 1970 • 1971 • 1972 • 1973 • 1974 • 1975 • 1976 • 1977 • 1978 • 1979 • 1980 • 1981 • 1982 • 1983 • 1984 • 1985 • 1986 • 1987 • 1988 • 1989 • 1990 • 1991 • 1992 • 1993 • 1994 • 1995 • 1996 • 1997 • 1998 • 1999 • 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004 • 2005 • 2006 • 2007 • 2008 • 2009 • 2010 • 2011 • 2012 • 2013 • 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018 • 2019 • 2020|
|European Championship Races||1931 • 1932 • 1935 • 1936 • 1937 • 1938|
|Non-Championship Races||1921 • 1922 • 1923 • 1924 • 1925 • 1926 • 1927 • 1928 • 1933 • 1934 • 1947 • 1948 • 1949|
|v·d·e||Nominate this page for Featured Article|