Friday, February 17, 2012

The Autodromo di Monza Part Two: Alta Velocità Magic

For those of you who didn’t read part one of my Monza adventure I decided to visit the legendary Autodromo di Monza for the very first time this summer. After hitting a few humorous bumps along the way, I finally found myself on the pit lane side of the track and my Monza experience truly began.

Although I was standing right beside the pit lane, I decided to try and find the famous Alta Velocità banking before doing anything else. The Pista di Alta Velocità is surely towards the top of every Formula 1 fan’s list of must-see places. At some point we have all watched racing documentaries where various presenters struggled to climb the steep banking and secretly told ourselves that we could reach the top easily. Call it the ultimate armchair enthusiast’s challenge, being able to say that you too have conquered the Alta Velocità banking comes with major bragging rites amongst fellow fanatics. Of course, this is just the superficial reason for wanting to visit the historic relic.

To the average person, the Pista di Alta Velocità is little more than a decaying piece of track with incredibly steep sides. In fact the city of Monza itself has threatened numerous times to have the banking destroyed in order to make way for new developments in the park. As a Formula 1 enthusiast, I find this idea almost sacrilegious as the Pista di Alta Velocità, which stopped hosting Grand Prix after 1961, is a physical reminder of the courage and talent that it took to be a race car driver during the sport’s infancy. Here is a video link to give you some idea of what drivers who tackled it were facing.

I had read that the best place to get onto the banking was at the first corner. The Pista di Alta Velocità intercepts the modern-day Formula 1 circuit at this point and it is only a short distance away from the pit lane. As I walked amongst the woods around the track, the sounds of nature surrounded me. Birds chirped happily, bees buzzed about noisily and I became an all-you-can-eat buffet for a gang on hungry mosquitoes. At this point my stomach began to growl like an angry beast and I also was in desperate need of the facilities. Sweating, starving and now covered in mosquito bites, I was contemplating turning around when finally I arrived at the grandstand that overlooks the first corner. Much to my amusement I immediately noticed a large path that was both free of overgrown bushes and mosquitoes. Surely taking it would have been much easier than clambering through the woods on my quest to find the Alta Velocità banking. Oh well, at least no one can ever accuse me of not being committed.

As I approached the grandstand, it was not immediately obvious where the Pista di Alta Velocità began. I climbed up onto it, hoping to get a better view and then suddenly it became obvious to me, the Pista di Alta Velocità passed directly beside the foot the grandstand itself. When I looked down, there it was! I felt triumphant and took a million photographs as I excitedly rushed onto the old circuit for the first time.

The thing that instantly struck me was just how high the banking really is. Photos and films do not really do it justice and it is in fact so steep in some places that it appears to be almost vertical. I was only able to get just over halfway to the top and I did it mostly by shuffling on my bottom awkwardly. I have no idea how on earth classic Formula 1 cars managed to negotiate it at racing speed and it is no wonder that the Pista di Alta Velocità’s demise was due to its dangerous nature. Looking upon its weathered surface invoked images of the great men who lost their lives at the Autodromo di Monza and the banking harboured a ghostly presence. Maybe the only reason for this was because the area was spookily still and quiet, but personally I think that it is the circuit’s history of tragedy that gives its silence meaning. As I wandered along the banking, I took a moment to pay my respects to men like Alberto Ascari and Wolfgang Von Trips. The rusted metal siding creaked from time to time in the wind and I couldn’t help but feel that if there is such a thing as ghosts, many of them haunt the Autodromo where their mortal lives ended.

After soaking up the Autodromo di Monza’s history, I decided to make my way back to the pit lane to see where the modern-day magic happens. As I approached the entrance, I noticed a collection of small stores selling Formula 1 merchandise as well as a café that was open. Although I had momentarily forgotten about my hunger with the discovery of the Pista di Alta Velocità, it suddenly became unbearable and I went inside the little café to see if I could buy something to eat. On the walls were photos of Ferraris and several people were watching a small television screen in the corner. I ordered a pizza in broken Italian and the man behind the counter became instantly fascinated. Where was I from and why was a woman exploring the Autodromo all by herself in the middle of July? When I mentioned that I was a tifosa from Canada the man became extremely animated, he was a huge Ferrari fan and loved Gilles Villeneuve. After talking for a long time, he disappeared into the back room and emerged carrying a small bundle of Monza merchandise. Apparently meeting someone with as much passion as I have is a rarity and he wanted me to have some souvenirs to remember my day at the circuit. I absolutely loved the fact that the employees at the Autodromo di Monza were enthusiastic about racing and especially Ferrari. Talking to someone who understood what it was like to have a life-long obsession with the scarlet red cars was one of the highlights of my trip.

After finishing my pizza and saying goodbye to the café tifoso, I made my way to the Monza pit lane. Although it was obviously less colourful then it is during a race weekend, I still had a fun time wandering around and checking out the view that the team personnel have of the grandstands on the other side. I even managed to climb on to a marshal’s post near the start/finish line and took some wonderful photos of the phantom grid.

As the sun sunk lower in the sky, I decided to bid farewell to the Autodromo di Monza, at least for that particular day. What started off as a shaky excursion had ended up turning into the perfect afternoon and I would definitely recommend a visit to the circuit during any time of the year.

On a side note, if you are interested in the plight of the Pista di Alta Velocità, there is an online petition that can be signed by those who would like to see it saved and even restored. Let’s conserve this amazing piece of Formula 1 history for future generations!


  1. So u had no issue with security?
    Must be nice to live/work/travel/visit in a non police state like Australia is unfortunatly
    Do the Valentino park mission, "banking" on u to find the sacred Enzo bench-seat
    Thanks and ciao