From the stands
Three F1 Fanatics share their experiences of watching Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
Italian reader Gabriele Russo made his first visit to a Grand Prix in the Paddock Club, George Boyter stood with the fans at the Parabolica, and Nic Redhead joined in the crowd at the iconic podium celebration.
Read on to learn more about their experiences at the track.
I’ve been following F1 from the age of seven and had never been to a race.
So when my friend Claudio invited me to Monza this year in the Paddock Club, I was almost crying for joy. Believe me, it was an amazing weekend.
The hotel and the drivers
I stayed at the Hotel de la Ville, which many drivers and team staff choose for the Monza weekend. Mark Webber, Jarno Trulli and many more where there and I managed to take a picture and have a few words with most of them.
Christian Horner, Tony Fernandes, Patrick Head and Ron Dennis were also there.
Felipe Massa was also there and was really nice, as were Martin Whitmarsh and Martin Brundle. Pedro de la Rosa even thanked me for the picture.
I also talked with Bruno Senna on Sunday evening after the race, he is a nice and cool guy and said he just went for it at the first corner with Buemi to take ninth place, very brave move indeed.
But the one I really had a hard time with was my F1 hero, Michael Schumacher. He was at the hotel as well, but as you may know he’s very elusive and doesn’t like to have people around him.
I tried four times to get a picture with him on Sunday morning. Finally I cornered him outside the breakfast room when he was about to leave with his bicycle for the Autodromo. After this picture, I’m the happiest man on earth.
Friday: The Paddock Club
On Friday I had the opportunity to see the free practice from the Paddock Club lounge with three friends. It’s an amazing experience, especially if you’re not used to first class service.
Just after you pass the gates, a waiter offers you a drink or a glass of champagne – and that continues all day long.
The general Paddock Club is just above the second part of the pit lane – the first part is for the guests of the top teams.
You can follow the action both on the upper floor, which is open and you need earplugs because of the noise the F1 cars make, and down the lower floor, which has a soundproof glass and gives you the opportunity to see the drivers and the pit stops happening only a couple of metres below.
This was the very first time I had the chance to see real F1 cars in action and it was fantastic, I loved how the cars behaved and sounded and seeing pit stops in front of you is so cool.
I like being able to appreciate how different the handling of the cars was and we could see how much the fuel increased the sector times on the live timing.
Before second practice we had a very tasty lunch – I was suprised most waiters and cooks were English and not Italian – and then back to watch the drivers.
We were impressed by McLaren and Red Bull and at the end of the day we all agreed that Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton were probably going to be on the front row.
With our pass we could also have a pit walk. It was great fun – obviously the Ferrari box was the one everybody targeted and there was little chance of getting a good photograph.
We managed to take a picture with Bernd Maylander and hold a Renault steering wheel in our hands.
We also entered the support paddock which hosts the GP2, GP3 and Porsche crews and cars. The difference with the F1 paddock is huge but it was great nonetheless and we met Jules Bianchi, Luca Filippi, Romain Grosjean and the other GP2 drivers coming back after their free practice session.
Saturday, Vettel owns everyone
The following day was pretty tiring as it was hot and we were in the grandstands.
We arrived at the circuit late because of the traffic so we missed most of the final practice session.
For the qualifying and race we had four seats in the Tribuna Alta Velocita, the one towards the end of the main straight just before the Rettifilio. We soon discovered the place was perfect as you can see the drivers approaching the first corner and heading to Biassono.
Unlike Friday, there was a lot of people and the crowd at the shops and stands was huge. Qualifying was good, we were happy when Senna managed to get into Q3 with his last lap.
Then Vettel simply destroyed everyone else with a tremendous last run. I was a bit disappointed when Button came back to the pits on his final attempt – and I didn’t like Schumacher’s last run either.
Sunday, what a race
The grandstands were full. In addition to the home fans we saw many were British supporters plus some Spanish, German and Finnish. We were treated to one of the best Italian Grands Prix I’ve ever seen.
I screamed for joy as Schumacher took fourth on the opening lap. The safety car came out and we had the chance to see our beloved Bernd in action.
Unfortunately the tifosi soon fell silent when Vettel showed how superior his car was, but his pass on Alonso was nothing compared to the fight between Schumacher and Hamilton.
It was priceless, pure talents battling like Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost used to.
Another driver who had a very good race was Bruno Senna, with a pass on Buemi at the first corner in front of us that, for me, was worth the price of entry alone.
the end of the race we chose not to go for the podium because it was going to take too much time from our place, so we watched the trucks coming back with the cars of Nico Rosberg, Vitaly Petrov and Vitantonio Liuzzi.
It was an incredible weekend in Monza, watching a sensational race with your favorite driver making a great performance.
Having the chance to be in the Paddock Club and meeting personally the drivers and the managers was the icing on the cake. It was my first F1 race, but now I’m sure it will not be the last.
What made the Italian Grand Prix ‘great’?
A great start from Alonso got the tifosi on their feet. Great duelling between Schumacher and Hamilton divided opinions. Great overtaking from Jenson Button (as usual) had aficionados purring.
But what truly makes F1 great is the fans. Their unstinting loyalty and devotion goes unrewarded and unrecognised.
This is my first Italian Grand Prix and it’s a no-frills effort. Solo biglietto ingresso – single ticket entry. That’s it. No rucksack, no drinks and no hat because I’ve forgotten to bring one.
By two o’clock the sun is beating down. I’ve staked my claim on a piece of concrete up against the fence at the inner clipping point of the Parabolica with the truly, madly, deeply brigade.
Many are taking a last chance to expose their summer tan. The dress code has gone out of the window. I’m surrounded by tattoos, pot bellies, paunches and bum cracks.
Others feel the need to cover up. McLaren fans sport grey, silver, black and fluorescent red, depending on year. Sponsors logos are neatly laid out but the team name is virtually indistinguishable.
On the other had there are a thousand different Ferrari tees in three shades. Vintage blood red, scarlet and the less satisfying Marlboro near-orange of a few years ago.
Williams don’t figure, nor do Red Bull who haven’t cracked the merchandise market here so far.
Many Finns sport Lotus regalia in honour of Heikki Kovalainen, others continue to show allegiance to the absent Kimi Raikkonen.
Bravo Fernando as he charges down the inside at the start to lead the first lap. But it’s only a matter of time before Vettel gets by and strokes off into the distance – which he does.
The Schumacher-Hamilton battle is all hammer and tongs – just what we came to see. It’s brave, brilliant driving – and then Button audaciously breezes past the pair of them.
The race runs its course. Vettel deservedly wins because, even with an obvious car advantage, he doesn’t put a foot wrong. Button is best of the rest and Alonso ensures the red of Maranello is on the podium.
As I walk out through the Parco Reale, hot, sweaty, burned and hungry I drink the best beer in the world – partly because it’s cold and also because it’s the first one I’ve had all day.
The MP4-12C blag
We caught a train from Garibaldi which took around 20 minutes to get to Monza. From there we had to take a local bus service to the circuit as the dedicated buses for the weekend did not start until Friday.
The poor locals must not have been impressed as there were enough fans to fill several buses when one finally did turn up!
We made our way to the circuit and arrived just in time to see Nico Rosberg heading out onto the track for a run and he was kind enough to return our cheers of “Nico!” with a quick wave.
The pit walk was very busy as expected and the large crowds with warm weather made the going pretty tough. Last year at Spa I spent the whole time waiting to get autographs from the McLaren drivers and came away with nothing, so this time I decided to just take my time to explore the whole length of the pit lane. This yielded autographs from both Sauber drivers and some good pictures of the Force India and HRT drivers too.
That evening McLaren tweeted that from the opening night of a new showroom for their MP4-12C road car. We decided to head over to see what was happening. To our surprise, after striking up a conversation with a few of the McLaren employees in the smoking area, they agreed to let us in so we could take a few pictures.
We were not expecting this at all and had a great time checking out not only the roadcar (which they let us sit in) but also the world championship winning MP4-5 and one of Jenson Button’s helmets. Many thanks to the guys at McLaren for making an early highlight of the trip possible.
Although the transport links are pretty much as good as they reasonably could be it is still quite a jaunt to get to and from the circuit each day, and as a result we missed the start of first practice.
For Friday, most of the grandstands are available to all including those with general admission tickets such as ourselves. We caught what we could of the first session from the stands along the start/finish and those near the first chicane.
After that session we did a bit more exploring and tried to access the banking, but unsurprisingly there was a decent official presence to stop you from doing that. After quickly scoping out the Ascari chicane we headed over to the della Roggia for second practice and got ourselves into position in the grandstand with a good view of the cars approaching head on from Curva Grande.
We managed to get some good photos from here by shooting through the fence, and also using a small gap in the fence for the TV camera. Schumacher stood out as a driver who was consistently attacking the kerbs.
After a while we headed back over to Ascari, going via the bridge where the banking crosses the straight leading to that chicane. This was a very impressive place to watch, and mostly hear the cars as they blasted through the short tunnel. It is breathtaking just how close to the cars you can get. We finished the session in a grandstand at Ascari.
For the following support race sessions we made our way down to Parabolica where we were going to aim for on Saturday, and were fortunate enough to catch some action when several GP3 drivers went off into the gravel.
Snapping spinning Maldonado
We were able to get into the circuit a bit early than the previous day and made our way to the General Admission seating area past the by the exit of Parabolica and just before the cars pull over to enter the pits. With the wide line they take out of Parabolica we could get unobstructed views of the cars over the fence which appeared to be one of the few GA areas where this was possible.
Qualifying was great though we were significantly aided by the excellent Fanvision TV. I would strongly recommend hiring one of these to anyone attending a race, even if you are going to be sat in view of a large screen.
We were pretty much level with where Maldonado spun in Q1 and I was able to get a couple of blurry photos of his car getting ever more sideways.
Under the podium
On Sunday we made sure we got up early enough to take the first service from Centrale to the special stop by the Lesmo corners which eliminated the the long walk from the free bus drop off point.
We made a beeline for Ascari in the hope of getting in the GA seating area, expecting the DRS zone to provide some action. Unfortunately, the stand was already full, seemingly with people who had camped there overnight, so we headed back to our previous vantage point at Parabolica.
The atmosphere was amazing, especially when Alonso took the lead. Things did fall a bit flat when Vettel resumed his normal service but there were still great battles down the field.
We were very much in the minority, cheering when Button passed Alonso for second, and although from a personal viewpoint I would have loved the race to be slightly longer so Hamilton could have a shot at the podium too it was great to see a Ferrari driver up there at Monza.
With a few laps to go we had our belongings packed up, ready to sprint onto the track once the marshals allowed us to run to the podium. The only way to describe the atmosphere was one of pure celebration and I can’t imagine what it would have been like had Alonso been a couple of steps higher.
James battled his way to get Jackie Stewart’s autograph.
After that we took the opportunity to tour the track. After three long days of walking and standing in the baking sun we were all exhuasted, but still buzzing after what was a brilliant weekend.
I think for a return visit I would make the effort to save up for a grandstand seat by one of the chicanes to see more of the action during Saturday and Sunday, and also look to stay nearer the circuit in Monza itself to try and minimise time spent travelling to and from the circuit.
But the atmosphere was tremendous. The Italian fans are passionate about the whole of F1 – not just Ferrari. There were also many committed fans from around the world. It really is a must for F1 Fanatic to visit.
Thanks to Nic for supplying some of his pictures from the race for this article.
If you’re going to a race this year, find other F1 fans who are here:
- 2011 Singapore Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Japanese Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Korean Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Indian Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix discussion
From the stands
- F1 still struggling to gain a foothold in India
- Why the Hungarian Grand Prix is a must-see race
- Why the Spanish GP was better in person than on TV
- Watching Brazil’s spellbinding F1 season finale
- Silverstone fans’ mixed views on the rain-hit weekend
- Nigel’s memories from the last 37 British Grands Prix
- F1 Fanatics meet up in Melbourne
- Watching at the Paddock Club, Parabolica and podium at Monza
- In the Paddock Club and in the stands at Spa
- Steven’s 51 F1 race visits in 25 years