Italian Grand Prix
Race sponsor: None
Date: 04 - 06 September 2015
One of the oldest motorsport venues on the planet, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, located in Monza’s Royal Park, is also one of the most atmospheric and intense stops on the annual Formula One tour around the world. It is a thrilling combination of speed – the circuit’s layout means it is the fastest of the year – history and Italian style. There is always considerable intrigue as the European part of the season ends and thoughts begin to move to the following year and, of course, Ferrari and their vocal, colourful army of fans, the tifosi.
It is one of the must-attend events of the season, and yet in 2014 there were the first murmurs that its long-term future may be under threat. In July, Bernie Ecclestone, speaking to Gazzetta dello Sport, said: “I don’t think we’ll do another contract, the old one was a disaster for us from a commercial point of view. So it’s bye bye after 2016.”
Long-term observers of Ecclestone will be aware that this kind of provocative public comment usually has an ulterior motive behind it: in this case, his comments might well have been a way to spur Italian officials into action. Just weeks later, former Ferrari Formula One driver-turned-television commentator Ivan Capelli became a board member at the Automobile Club of Milan, an organisation influential in the local promotion of the race. Capelli acknowledged that improvements are necessary to secure a deal for 2016 and beyond.
“I think Monza does need to do a step forward because it is not possible that Monza lives as it does,” he said. “It must produce something to improve its situation. I think that for the teams, the garages are average for Formula One now. “We also have to do a lot for the spectators, that is one of the objectives.”
As the new year began, however, there was still no sign of a deal, although Francesco Ferri, the newly-installed director of SIAS, the Automobile Club of Italy’s dedicated motorsport promotions division, suggested that Monza was beginning to consider life without Formula One. “If we do not extend the contract that expires next year, we have prepared a ‘plan B’ for the maintenance of the circuit, a number of competitions and the development of complementary activities.”
Speaking in January, former Jordan GP and Cosworth marketing director Mark Gallagher believes that while “they wouldn’t take Formula One away from Italy, because of Ferrari,” the potential does exist to take it away from Monza “if there’s some politics”. Italy has two other circuits which could be brought up to Formula One standards: Imola, which hosted the San Marino Grand Prix until 2006, and Mugello, which hosts the Italian round of the MotoGP world championship. “But it’s hard to see it changing,” Gallagher adds.
Italy remains a vital commercial race and not just because of Ferrari. “In the same way that Barcelona is a great place to start the European season, Monza is always a wonderful place to finish it,” Gallagher says. “The turnout very much depends on Ferrari but in terms of the teams and corporate clients it’s the last chance to arrange corporate hospitality in Europe, it’s also an event which is very popular for bringing people to if you’ve run incentive programmes or competitions where corporate hospitality is part of the outcome.”