Its early September, the time when all Italian eyes focus on Ferrari and its annual quest to win the Italian grand prix at Monza. All of Italy expects Ferrari to shine at this track, the Italian Temple of Speed. It is Ferrari’s home grand prix and the Ferrari faithful -the tifosi –are out in force to see the red cars with the prancing horse on their flanks dominate. This year, Ferrrari used the last of its allotted engine tokens to upgrade the performance of its cars in time for Monza. (The token system is an arcane and complicated provision in the rules that not 10 Formula One fans on earth understand.)
Ferrari is owned by FIAT. Sergio Marchionne, the FIAT supremo, was on hand to see his team vanquish its rivals at Mercedes Benz but it was not to be. On Saturday afternoon, under a warm September sky, Hamilton stamped his authority on this year’s qualifying session, coming home 0.4 seconds ahead of his teammate, Nico Rosberg. He was a full 0.8 seconds faster than Sevbastien Vettel, the first of the Ferrari drivers. o.8 seconds is an eternity in Formula One, where timing is done down to the thousandth of a second. As one point, a camera caught Marchionne turning away in disgust. Some think if Ferrari does not somehow snatch a victory in tomorrow’s race, it might be arrivederci for Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivebene.
Being in Monza is a fascinating experience. One of the great race tracks of all time, the setting is ideal for race fans. There are plenty of food trucks and portapotties. The track is inside a huge regional park with lots of trees and grassy areas for fans to relax between on-track activities. There are also some uniquely Italian touches, such as having to have your ticket scanned to get out of the grandstand area, leading to huge lines at the exits.
With 200,000 fans all wanting to leave at once after qualifying was over, the organizers reserved one of the tunnels out of the infield for vehicles, then sent an ambulance through the other tunnel that was jammed with boisterous fans. Naturally, chaos ensued, but we all got out eventually. No one was hurt or killed, which seemed a minor miracle.
The tifosi are everywhere, with their Ferrari banners, Ferrari hats, and Ferrari T shirts. The stands erupt in cheers every time a red car goes by, even if it is just on a warm-up lap. Near me, three young boys ranging in age from about 6 to 10 danced, hollered and waved a Ferrari banner every time a red car came into view. They start ’em young in Italy.
Hamilton’s pole setting drive was a thing of beauty. You can watch all of it in the video I took of it on the jumbotron across from my seat. My tickets are in a grandstand at the entrance to the famous Parabolica. For a hand held camera, I think it came out reasonably well. Enjoy it before Bernie makes me take it down. He doesn’t like it when anyone gets to view Formula One activities without paying for the privilege.
Tomorrow is race day. The odds are excellent that Lewis Hamilton will lead from start to finish. If so, he will record his 50th grand prix victory and be well on his way to securing his third world championship in a row. He really is becoming one of the great drivers in the sport. Although it never hurts to have the fastest car, he has outshone his teammate Rosberg consistently these past three years.
Last week, he started last but still managed to finish third. Say what you will, Lewis Hamilton is one heckuva race car driver. His pole position at Monza today was the work of someone who is a master of his craft.