The 1961 Italian Grand Prix will always be remembered for the tragedy that occurred on lap two on the terrifying Monza track.
The 1961 Italian Grand Prix will always be remembered for the tragedy that occurred on lap two on the terrifying Monza track. Wolfgang Von Trips, tangling with Jim Clark whilst in the midst of a tense championship battle with his team-mate Phil Hill, speared off the track at high speed killing himself and 14 spectators. The race continued with the drivers unaware that such a devastating loss of life had taken place.
As I was still 22 years in the making when this accident happened, I can only look back upon this day via various media resources but one thing that stands out instantly is just how daunting and dangerous the old Monza layout was. The track existed largely as it does today minus the various twists and turns put in place to slow the cars down in an attempt to prevent more accidents at high speed where drivers and spectators could get injured. I say the track was largely the same as it is today but there is one giant difference that is hard to ignore.
After the final corner, where Vettel and Co will now go on to blast down the pit straight and start another lap, the drivers of 1961 would still have plenty to do before starting their next run round the track. Staying tighter inside the corner they move right and join the ominous and extremely daunting banked oval section of the Italian venue. The cars being tilted at seemingly impossible angles they keep their feet planted to the floor as this roller coaster ride takes them over the top of the present day track and and back down level again, just in time for the next banked corner which again takes them to angles that seem extreme even today 50 years since they were last raced on. Only once this oval is complete can the drivers cross the start finish line, ready to take on another lap.
It?s little wonder that after so many tragic accidents this section was laid to rest, and with it a small part of Formula 1 died.
As a sport, F1 is marketed as the bravest drivers taking on the most daunting race tracks created by man, but in reality it is anything but. The element of danger was a large part of what the early fans found so appealing. I?m not suggesting that fans would like to see drivers getting injured or worse still killed in a race car, but knowing that a driver was taking his life in his hands had a certain attraction and sense of awe that cannot be reproduced in today?s health and safety orientated world. Accidents are often celebrated now in a pantomime style as your favourite driver drives past his defeated rival who climbs out of his crippled car without a scratch on his body. In times past, rivals would stop at the scene of accidents and try, often in vain to save the life of their fallen rival but I doubt that thought even enters the mind of a modern day racing driver as he pushes the extremes and takes any risk he can, knowing that if it goes wrong he will more than likely have a large run-off area to correct his mistake and rejoin the race.
So at this point I?m starting to realise just one of the many examples of ways in which this sport has lost a little something over time. Year upon year we start a new season with the addition of another Herman Tilke designed track in a country that few have ever considered visiting and upon viewing the dull and soulless circuits with corner after corner of nothing special, why would anyone want to make the effort.
It?s about time this changed, I?m not suggesting we bring back stupid and dangerous race tracks where drivers or spectators are in any more danger, but I think we need the illusion that these cars are travelling at speed and that if a mistake is made, then they will not be sliding across an acre of tarmac before coming to a gentle stop.
n F1 car driving at Monaco looks like it is travelling at twice the speed of a car racing around in Bahrain as he is never more that a couple of meters away from barriers and landmarks that appear and disappear in the blink of an eye.
Some character needs to be given to these new venues before the fans will let them into their hearts. The racing spectacle has improved dramatically in the last couple of years with the once almost extinct art of overtaking happening up and down the grid every lap! The issue is these manoeuvres are all happening on a piece of tarmac that could be anywhere in the world, and as such they get forgotten and only remembered when you watch a review of the season on Sky Sports F1. Looking back at some of my favourite moves from the last few years, most of them were on classic tracks where the corners are etched into our brains and as such, they live on in the memory of every F1 fan. I still get goose bumps thinking about Webber overtaking Alonso on the run down to Eau Rouge in Belgium last year, but I couldn?t tell you where most of the multiple overtaking manoeuvres took place at last weeks Bahrain Grand Prix.
You ask any Formula 1 fan who was alive in the 50s and 60s about their favourite tracks and it will not be long before they reel off corners that were terrifying and memorable, ask a fan who has only been watching the F1 for the last 10 years and I doubt you will get anywhere near the same level of emotional and evocative answers.
Want to be a guest writer on VitalF1.com?