Monza doesn’t answer to anybody or anything, as the fastest circuit in the GP3 Series. Its corners may not have the absolute peaks of Silverstone or Spa (although the second Lesmo has given drivers a few things to think about over the years) but its straights with the highest maximum speeds of the year – and subsequent braking areas where the cars slow down to road speed from warp speed for the chicanes (especially after the pit straight) mean that cars are always on the limit and then some. That’s what makes it so spectacular to watch and drive.
Engines, chassis, suspension, and tyres struggle not to be squashed by the massive vertical aerodynamic loads from start to finish of the lap. But in the end, it’s maximum speed that counts. That comes both from the engine itself and from each car’s individual ability to cut through the air with minimal downforce, at speeds similar to a jet taking off, which make the single-seaters want to part company with the ground. It’s a comparatively rare set of circumstances: most drivers describe it almost as surfing, which makes it not exactly easy to hold the ideal line on the straights.
Speed has always been of the essence, no matter who wins, and no matter in which series. What grabs every driver’s attention about Monza is the sheer weight of history that surrounds the place. This is the tradition that today’s GP3 drivers know that they are following . In 1971 – one of the last years when the track was devoid of chicanes – Peter Gethin won at an average speed of 241kph. That’s not the average speed of his fastest lap by the way. That was his fastest average speed over the course of the entire race. And, five years later – at the end of a race that will be remembered above all for a heavily bleeding Niki Lauda’s astonishing fourth place, on his return from the fiery Nürburgring accident only six weeks earlier that nearly killed him – March claimed the last Formula 1 win of its illustrious career. At the wheel was Ronnie Petersen: a driver often to be found sideways at 240kph, rally style. He was not particularly bothered back then about the fact that his hastily thrown together car used tiny Formula 2 brakes (no relation to the current Formula 2) . After all, who needs to brake at Monza?