Live the passion

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When you stand under the podium in Monza the world ceases to exist, in some weird way you cease to exist, you become part of that energy, you breath with it, you scream with it, and you cannot quite believe that this can be real.

Monza wasn’t really planned for me three weeks before the race, but it suddenly came on the radar, when stuff got sorted out in the real life. I have always wanted to go to Monza, and it was not really about the event, it was more about the circuit. God she is beautiful! For a while before I started going to races, I didn’t quite get all the old-school-circuit kind of talk. I think after being to Spa twice and now having visited Monza, I begin to understand what people mean. There’s something about it, that I personally cannot put into words. Sheer realisation of the history of the place is enough for it to be breathtaking, but what comes on top, is the incredible energy the fans bring to the circuit. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt if you are a bit of a Ferrari fan.

You get a taste of it on Thursday already. The crowd in front of the Ferrari garage is incredible, with all the things that come with it. I don’t know why I even tried to get a glimpse of the drivers in all that, but I got even more than I have ever expected, in the circumstances, since a lovely gentleman who was closer got Sebastian’s autograph for me. To be honest, after the WEC, which gives you that lovely opportunity to be polite, I still feel a bit guilty that I didn’t have a chance to say a simple thanks to Sebastian.

The pit-walk with the “autograph session” (and it’s about time I stop complaining about the one in Hockenheim in 2014) was to meet with Alena, whom I keep meeting at the races even though we never make plans to. She was the one I have spent most of the time with, and whom I am infinitely thankful to, since without her this weekend wouldn’t be as good as it was.

After the pit-walk we headed to the park where Ferrari organised their SFmeet event. It took us about half an hour to get there, even though Alena knew the general direction. The crown was there already, entertained by Marc Gené, Davide Valsecchi and a lovely lady, who I assume is some sort if Italian TV presenter. Maurizio Arrivabene, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen were supposed to arrive too. They did after a while. And it was amazing just to watch them, trying to piece together enough Italian knowledge to understand something, since what they were saying was instantly translated.

What impressed me most, was the way Seb went about it, I had an impression he couldn’t quite believe the support that he receives at Ferrari, especially considering his previous relationships with the Italian F1 fans. What surprised me was Kimi: he was smilinig, talking, and signing autographs, well lots of it. Even when he and Sebastian were asked back to the stage to say their good buys, he didn’t come up and kept signing stuff for the fans who gathered there. It was really interesting just watching them for such an extended period of time.

Since we had general admission tickets, we used most of the Friday to do the research, where to watch the race from, hopping to one or other grandstand. Monza turned out to be a really good place to be with GA tickets, you get the whole internal part of Parabolica, you have some space at Ascari chicane, with the screens here and there. The only thing, obviously, you have to be willing to set your alarm a bit earlier to be there to grab the best spots. All the banners on the main grandstands are really impressive. Monza is Ferrari’s home race, and I don’t think any team will ever enjoy such a passionate support as Ferrari does. Everything is red in Monza, and I think that everyone becomes a bit if a Ferrari fan over there.

For the rest of the weekend we chose the concrete grandstand right at the pit entry on the inner side of the circuit: it gave us a nice view of the cars on the track, a slow motion close up at the pit entry and two screens, one right behind us and another one on the other side of the track. It turned out to be a really good place to watch the race, too.

During the free practice sessions, the qualifying and the race, every time the red car was in sight people kept cheering for them, no matter whether it was a timed lap, no matter which driver was at the wheel people kept cheering. A lovely moment was when there was a shot of Seb getting his earplugs in on the screens, the crowd cheered… well I love that smile on his face, when he realised, he was the reason why.

The qualifying was great, with Ferrari in second and third, at the track where Mercedes were always going to be unreachable and Williams always a threat. Kimi did a better job than Seb in quali, and while being visibly disappointed Seb was a great sportsman about it.

On Sunday, I have persuaded Alena to go to the track quite a bit earlier, and while she hated me when we were on the train, she changed her mind, once we grabbed the last places on the spot we wanted to. We expected the waiting to be a bit boring, but we were kept entertained by GP2 and GP3.

We watched bits and pieces of the first GP2 race, and I was really happy to see Mitch on the podium in the first one, especially after the penalty and last row start. The second race went even better, and it was great to see him win. I think he is the only one I actually follow in GP2, thanks to Mark Webber, and he seems to be quite a talented young man, but in my opinion he will never make it to F1: Mark might be a right man to help him become a good driver, but he’s a wrong man to help him get a drive.

We made acquaintance with the guys around us, with a lot of funny moments, with a gentleman from the UK who spent his time firing up the people using his megaphone, we did the waves and chatted to more or less everyine around us. Including a couple of gentlemen from Germany, who said it was their 10th time in Monza, and explained us what was the quickest way to get to the podium from where we were.

This is something I love about Formula 1. Ultimately we are all there for the love of sport, and it’s not really important whom you support. When we were chatting to Rob Smedley in 2012, and he asked who we were supporting I said It takes 22 to tango. It’s 20 now, but as years go by, I think it’s the way to go about it for me. We all just love the sport, the sport is what unites us, even though I am not sure I will ever be able to feel quite as united with a Maldonado fan, good job they are in short supply. Another positive surprise was the amount of cheering Lewis got.

The grid girls had very nice, but not too comfy shoes, and the flags they were carrying were quite heavy, one could easily see it, oh and initially they were supposed to wear hats, which didn’t work out quite as good for aerodynamic reasons. Oh and amount of Chiao Bellas flying their way was quite significant. The aeroplanes and Fratelli D’Italia which everyone around sung in unity were impressive, especially after the WEC, where the Germans didn’t even stand up for their national anthem, let alone sing it.

The thing about races live it that it’s just that. Racing. Because, you have no idea about all the irrelevant stuff going on: you have no clue about tyre pressures, about Williams filing complaints. You are there for all the right reasons, and whatever happens happens between the lights-out and the chequered flag. Those who watched the race on TV will obviously know more about how it went, they will have a better overview.

The gap Lewis had was incredible, it brings back the memories of 2011 and 2013 when there was nothing and no one on Sebastian’s way. Now Lewis enjoys a great car, and he is a great driver. After the horrendous start for Kimi there was only one way he could go: up. And I think ultimately Ferrari had a good race: Kimi made the show, Seb did the job. We had a bit of a scare, when at the pit entry Manor almost crashed into Kimi.

We headed towards the podium, for which we had to take the tunnel under the track, with about 7 laps to go, which was pretty scary, since Rosberg was closing the gap to Sebastian. In the crowd in front of the gates, a gentleman who stood next to me had the live broadcast on his phone. Needless to say, he was quite a popular man. When Rosberg retired, the crowd cheered, which is not that surprising, we are in Monza after all.

The chequered flag fell. Lewis won (and at that point in time no one in the crowd really knew anything about that bullshit going on with the tyre pressures). Sebastian brought home his red machine in respectable second. Felipe inherited the third step on the podium, and Kimi fought his way back to fifth, after being last into first corner.

The thing is, when you are in a middle of a crowd which is trying to squeeze in to quite a narrow gate, you can’t really move, and even if you wanted to get out, you’d have zero chances. Cognitively you realize that it’s in fact a really dangerous situation. But there is not much of a conscious activity going on when the crowd carries you towards the podium in Monza, where two of your favourite drivers occupy two first steps.

I will never forget that podium, the emotion of being a part of this enormous, unbelievable crowd, the chanting, the singing, flags waving around, that piercing blue sky painted white-red-green by the confetti and ribbons, and those three men up there. Lewis happy with the performance, Lewis who’s done an incredible job, who is on top of the championship standings quite firmly right now, Lewis who hopefully knew that in Monza it’s not about the driver, it’s about the suit. Felipe, who is still firmly in Tiffosi’s hearts. And Sebastian. The same crowd, who mercilessly booed him in 2013 was chanting his name, not Ferrari’s – his. The look of pure happiness and sheer disbelief on his face was just amazing. The man is living his childhood dream, and he has this childish awe to be able not to take it for granted. The way he tried to protect Lewis, showed what an amazing sportsman he is: he shook Lewis’s had, hugged him, and when he did, the booing (which ultimately accompanies any non-Ferrari driver in Monza) stopped – the chanting started: people were screaming Lewis’ name.

The funny bit was with that Ferrari flag, that Seb has had at the end: he tried to get it from the pole, but then seemed to be denied, he shrugged and let it go. But I guess once the people who were waving it realised what he was up to, Seb got the flag, which he proudly waved up there.

Seeing Sebastian on the podium in Monza, and more importantly seeing the response he got, the love, the admiration, the appreciation he enjoyed was an amazing experience. Especially after the horrendous 2013 when he was so cruelly treated.

When I was walking towards the pole position, people in the crowd were congratulating each other: Ferrari fans, Hamilton fans – it didn’t matter really. Walking the track after the race is one of my favourite parts of the weekend, and Monza is a beautiful circuit to walk, the colours are just so vibrant, Spa has it, too. I think I have pictures with every curb over there now. At the end we made it to the oval too, which is quite steep.

Monza is an unbelievable place in an unbelievable country where fans have the passion for the sport which cannot be matched. Monza has the history, Monza is one of the places where the motorsport began, and…

If we take this [race] away from the calendar for any shitty money reasons, you are basically ripping our hearts out.
— Sebastian Vettel

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