When talking about historic circuits in Formula One it’s hard to overlook the blindingly fast Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, the track which has hosted the most Formula One Championship Grand Prix’s ever. After being the title decider in 1950, Monza has hosted a race in every single season of Formula One except 1980, when the historic Imola circuit was born.
One of the key reasons Monza is still ridiculously popular with fans and drivers alike is the zero-to-little effect track layout changes has had on it’s undeniably quick character. Since the inaugural Grand Prix in 1950, Monza has remained a blast through the Northern Italian countryside no matter which of the 10 track configurations used.
The circuit used in the 1950 iteration of the race is not to dissimilar to what we have today. The only real differences are the absence of the chicanes and Parabolica, with Curva Grande and the Lesmos in roughly the same configuration as they were then today.
But perhaps the most historic layout Monza ever chucked up came in in 1955. The race wasn’t held on the shorter 5.7km circuit we know today, but a mammoth combination of the Grand Prix circuit and a high speed ring which totaled to a 10km lap. After drivers negotiated corners that still exist on the circuit today, Curva Grande, the Lesmos and Parabolica for example, the flimsy 1950s Grand Prix cars would enter the incredible 38.69 degrees banked oval which consisted of two never-ending curves. These curves were aptly named, ‘Curva (Sud and Nord) Alta Velocita’ which converts into English as North & South Bend High Speed.
This layout of the track is the most historically known and was featured on the calendar in 1955, 1956, 1960 and 1961. Unfortunately, the incredible banked circuit would meet its end in 1961 when popular Ferrari driver, Wolfgang von Trips, (as well as 15 spectators) lost their lives in a violent accident. Although the incident didn’t occur on the banking but on the entry to the Parabolica corner, the 170mph+ speeds the drivers experienced were deemed too unsafe.
Thus the modern circuit was born, from 1955 to 1973 Monza ran a layout roughly identical to that of today, minus a few key changes: no chicanes to limit speeds. The modern day Turn 1/2, Turn 4/5 and Ascari chicanes were all simply part of the wild rapid straights back in these days.
Skipping ahead, 1974 saw the original addition of the Ascari chicane, as well as a left/right chicane mid way down the start/finish straight. Ascari was remodeled and made faster in the following years whilst 1976 saw a new innovation in the Turn 1 chicane. It became a double left/right turn which would remain in place up until 1999. 1976 also saw the first addition of the Variante del Roggia, or Turn 4/5 at Monza today. The corner was originally closer to the Lesmos, but moved to it’s current position in further track changes in 1995.
At the dawn of the century the modern Monza circuit most of us all know and love was born. Turn 1 was cut from a double chicane to a single. Both Ascari and the 2nd chicane were also lightly re-profiled. Since 2000, no other major changes have occurred to this circuit.
This is why Monza is so special. Although chicanes are generally related to bad thoughts – the ones here are historic, unique and have an insane amount of character. 1/2 requires precision and patience, 4/5 requires heavy use of the kerbing to gain the best laptime whilst Ascari demands a particular line to nail a lap. They’ve been put in exactly the right places so they don’t disrupt the flow of the track. Even with them installed it’s still the fastest circuit on the calendar and eats weak and struggling engines for breakfast.
So it’s pretty surprising to hear rumors and talk of potentially altering this circuit or even removing it for the 2017 Formula One season. In recent years, the Monza contract has been a fierce talking point and only recently discussion begun about a potential shift back to the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola. Formula One without Monza would be like bread without butter, it’s not really a major difference on paper – but it is certainly noticeable and unbearable. This sport is already under fire from the fans in the recent years, a true old school circuit losing its respectful place on the calendar would only make them angrier.
But if this doesn’t happen – it has been proposed that Monza will support a new layout which will bypass the first chicane in 2017. Some have been left concerned but I say this: History repeats itself. Monza has kept it’s character in the previous 10 layouts and changes. There’s no reason to believe this small change will affect the one thing we love about Formula One’s most historic track: the insanely ridiculous speed.