Very few racetracks invoke genuine fear within racecar drivers and the high-speed Autodromo Nazionale Monza circuit (located near the town of Monza, Italy) is one such track with a lucrative history of legendary speeds and spectacular crashes resulting in many high-profile and unfortunate deaths. From its inception in 1922, 9 drivers and 27 spectators lost their lives within the first 10 years of its existence – the sheer number of crashes alone, was extraordinary.
The high speeds attained on the original design of the track (with little to zero run-off area, mind) pushed both car and driver to the limits of their capabilities, with any major mechanical (or driver) failure linking with road-holding manageability often resulting in a life-threatening crash of an extremely violent nature. Over the decades though, safety concerns were addressed and many revisions to the circuit were added and improved upon with various chicanes and extended run-off areas being added.
After extensive damage to the track occured during World War II, the Monza circuit was repaired for the 1948 season and then revamped, yet again, in 1954 – this time with a newly-built, steeply-banked 2.64 mile re-introduction of a section of the original oval track that was used from 1922 to 1933. The ‘new’ high-speed oval section was incorporated into the existing circuit design and saw truly incredible speeds… along with growing concerns.
Various manufacturers (and drivers) deemed the new banking section unsafe, especially as the tires used in the day simply weren’t capable of providing adequate enough performance to withstand such conditions and were usually prone to disintegrating along the bumpy, rough surface of the oval. The controversial banked oval-section only saw F1 action in 1955, 1956, 1960 and 1961 along with various other races such as the ’57/’58 ‘Race Of Two Worlds’ series – a race-series utilising the oval circuit alone and saw pole-position speeds of 177 mph… Astonishing when you consider the pole-position speed for the Indy 500 in the same year was 144 mph.
The end for the oval came in 1961 after the horrific crash and subsequent death of Wolfgang von Trips along with 15 spectators when Trips’ Ferrari collided with Jim Clark’s Lotus and hurled the car airborne into the crowd. Although the crash happened just prior to the Parabolica curve section (and nowhere near the oval itself), it was enough of a shock and blow to the circuit owners who then took precautions of further reducing speeds on the legendary track and eliminating competitive F1 usage of the high-speed banked oval section outright.
Sections of the oval were altered throughout the 1960’s and remained in use (albeit, in a slightly neutered/shortened/chicaned state) until 1969, yet the original high-speed circuit was captured on film one last time in the 1966 film ‘Grand Prix’….
The famously daunting (and slowly disintegrating) oval section barely escaped complete destruction in the 1990s and (thankfully) remains a cherished, historical view of a dangerously frightening time in motor racing negotiated by incredibly brave drivers achieving speeds that must have been beyond the realms of ‘unbelievably scary’.