Italian Grand Prix: Glory and tragedy fuel eerie Monza

monza tifosi
The Italian Grand Prix is live across the BBC Sport website and BBC Radio 5 live on 2-4 September

From one sublime monument to the grandeur of Formula 1 to another.

Four days after leaving the majesty of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium's Ardennes mountains, the sport decamps to the royal park of Monza in Lombardy for the oldest race on the calendar.

They are very different places, but they share two key characteristics - high speed and a tangible sense of history.

Spa faces a challenge from Japan's Suzuka for the claim to be the world's greatest race track, but nowhere rivals Monza for atmosphere.

All the greats have raced there; and some of them have died there, too. Legend has it that you can feel their ghosts, that the park's ancient trees whisper their secrets. And when you walk into the paddock, resplendent in golden early autumn light, you can almost believe it.

So little has changed at Monza over the years that there is a direct connection to yesteryear. In the concrete grandstand on the pit straight, the retro timing tower opposite the pits, the crumbing old banking, which in the 1950s used to form part of the race track.

monza banking
The famous, and frankly terrifying, banking

Chicanes have been added to slow down what used to be a crazily high-speed blast, but the old corners remain, and their names alone stir the soul - Curva Grande, Lesmo, Parabolica.

A threat hangs over this amazing place, though. This year is the last of its current contract and the organiser and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone have been arguing unsuccessfully over a new deal for years.

It's the age-old problem for tracks in Europe without vast government backing - Ecclestone wants more money than the circuit can afford to pay.

The word is that it has been worked out and Monza will be saved, but nothing has been officially confirmed. Until it is, there will be a lingering doubt and fear about what could happen.

It's almost unthinkable that Monza could be lost. If it was, a part of the sport would die.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel said last year that taking this race away from the calendar for money reasons would be "basically ripping our hearts out".

Andrew Benson

Legends

ascari
Alberto Ascari won twice for Ferrari at Monza, but would lose his life there in 1955
Sebastian Vettel
Sebastian Vettel's first win was one of the sport's most unlikely - victorious in the lowly Toro Rosso during a soaking wet weekend in 2008

20 years on

schumacher wins in 1996
"That better not be one of mine." Michael Schumacher on his way to a famous underdog home Ferrari win in 1996 - in a dog of a car

40 years on

niki lauda
Niki Lauda returned from his awful 1976 accident to race at Monza - listen to BBC Radio 5 live's F1 preview show at 21:00 BST on Thursday, 1 September for an interview about Lauda's return

Ferrari's pleasure and pain

Ferrari

Royalty

monza
Surrounding the circuit is Monza's Royal Park
enzo ferrari
And the royalty who once stood within, Enzo Ferrari - founder of the marque

The circuit

Monza

Best corner

hamilton at parabolica
Parabolica: The final corner on the circuit is high speed and a serious challenge to all. Get it wrong and you will be overtaken - or worse

Jimmy Greaves?

jimmy greaves
Funny old game, F1: Even ex-footballer Jimmy Greaves has displayed his silky skills in the royal park - in a Ford Escort
mansell at monza
Not everybody is blown away by Monza's beauty - but Nigel Mansell had already ticked off a win there a year before this picture was taken in 1992
monza 1973
James Hunt leads the way in the 1973 charity circuit run, as fellow driver Jackie Stewart has trouble burning off dinner (far left)

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