F1: Italian Love Affair
Some of you may have not yet attended a Grand Prix, some of you may have attended your first GP in recent years and the rest may have fond childhood memories of their trips to see their F1 heroes. In the old days, I remember going to Monza with my father at the tail end of the summer holidays. Our trips to Italy normally served the purpose of visiting family, but for my father and I, it was much more than that. To a young boy, the promise of an adventure on trains and cars through mountainous countrysides with his hero was the ultimate end to a summers dream.
I watched Formula One religiously throughout my childhood from a very young age thanks to my father’s influence. I played with F1 cars, I made F1 sounds and dreamed of the day I would be one of the fearless pilots battling for the victory. A dream I assume I share with most of those reading this now. Rushing through the manic Stazione Termini in Rome, I can remember the familiar aroma of espresso as my father pulled me along as I nearly snapped my neck to look at the Gelato bar. The colours were so inviting and vivid and each bar we passed seemed to have toy cars in display cases, just to taunt me. Standing on the platform waiting for the train, I can remember the distinctly sweet smell of pipe tobacco. I was too excited to feel tired.
What I remember most about Monza from those days is probably the sound. It was deafening and wonderful. I learned many things growing up the son of a mechanic. By the time I was six years old, I could distinguish burning clutch, brakes, rubber and the exhaust of cars running rich. My father would sometimes pick me up for me to get a better view. It must have been tiring lap after lap. I can the elderly gentleman behind us handing me his little chequered flag. I needed to get my father’s approving nod before taking it. Looking back now, I wish I would have had a camera back then. My father had a bulky Polaroid which he detested because it was so bulky and thus my memories are confined to what little I remember of those epic adventures. Perhaps its best that way.
As an adult, the love affair continues. It’s still all about the senses. Now I can fly directly into Malpensa, Milano and enjoy that espresso and gelato at my own pace. The toy cars are still there in their display cases and while I still sneak a peak at them and smile, I’m now skewed by sensibility and know I can buy them cheaper elsewhere. Ferrari and F1 paraphernalia is readily available from the moment you clear the baggage claim.
There is a certain romance in Italy that can’t be explained. Perhaps Shakespeare was on to something when he made Verona the scene of his masterpiece, Romeo and Juliet. Milano (or Milan as the rest of the world knows it), is very urban and fast paced. Everyone is usually dressed in the Urban-Chic style one would expect. It’s not inhospitable but the city seems to have little time for casual wanderers. Wait staff are usually efficient and somewhat sterile, prices are usually inflated and the feeling of ‘purpose’ seems to be ever-present. Still, one of the most enjoyable things for me to do is to sit in the Piazza del Duomo across from La Galleria and the cathedral to my right with my ‘pizza al taglio’ in hand and just “people watch”.
Just minutes outside of Milano’s city center and the pace slows considerably. It’s not far at all to Monza, the GPS says just over 60km and 45 minutes but we all know it can be done in under 30. In 2004, I specifically landed in Rome so I could drive to the Italian GP with a stop in Modena first. Whoever designed the back-roads in Italy must have been a Motorsports fan. The entire country is one race track after another it seems. Like the voluptuous curves of a young Sofia Loren, my hire car caressed every cambered curve. It danced over rolling hills and ducked through dark mountain tunnels with spirit.
The atmosphere at Monza is palpable. The fickle Tifosi want nothing more than a Ferrari victory. Some are true Motorsports fans and are there to appreciate the historic circuit and to celebrate their heroes, both past and present. Few will ever stand on the unique Monza podium which extends above the crowd
The sights and sounds along the way are just as memorable as race itself. The only thing more tantalizing than the aromas on the journey or the tastes that give your mouth an orgasm. And while the sex in this love affair is strictly on wheels, the sensations at Monza are enough to make you soil your trousers. At 340 km/h, the circuit known as the “Temple of Speed” is just as seductive as the old world romance of the country renowned for its passion of good food, fine art and fast cars.