Jon Parker, who went to the recent Italian Grand Prix at Monza, tells us about his first visit to the ‘Temple of Speed.’ The report includes some excellent advice for fellow fans looking to tick Monza off their F1 bucket list.
We found return flights from London Gatwick to Milan Linate for under £150. As with most Grands Prix, when flying the key is to not fly back the day after the race, but to wait an extra 24 hours, explore the local area and get a much cheaper return flight. In this case, the local area was the gorgeous city of Milan so an extra day of sightseeing was always going to be a bonus.
In the end we booked six days away, staying in central Milan at Hotel Ideale, a decent 3 star hotel with a good breakfast for £27 each per night. Be aware that when staying in Milan, the city council adds on an extra €4 per person per night tax. Our hotel did not communicate this to us until it was time to pay.
Where to sit at Monza
I was after grandstand tickets so we could enjoy the action and not have to worry about leaving our seats unattended in the general admission area scrum, but didn’t want to break the bank. After looking closely at grandstands in the run down to Parabolica and at the first chicane, where all the action often happens, I plumped for 26C (Right Lateral A), which offered a fantastic view opposite the podium. From here we could see and keep track of every pitstop (something I like to keep on top of during a race), watch the cars coming to the grid and the start of the race, and see the cars exit out of Parabolica.
We were also in prime position for the unique phenomenon that is the track invasion during the Monza podium – a bucket list moment for any motorsport fan for sure. 26C was unbeknown to me the Ferrari stand, meaning we had the best atmosphere all weekend hanging out with the tifosi and their colossal Prancing Horse flag.
Our grandstand was the only one we found in the whole circuit to have proper seats rather than old-school concrete benches. Also when choosing where to sit, bear in mind the benefits of a sheltered grandstand in the scorching Italian sun – it makes it far more pleasant and enjoyable. The big screens can be hard to see in the bright sunshine at times, though.
Trackside at Monza
A Monza Grand Prix weekend is how I imagine Silverstone used to be – a real festival atmosphere, great live music and hugely charismatic commentators and fans.
On the Thursday we ventured to Monza circuit for the first time. We bought our train tickets at a newsagent within Stazione Centrale, Mussolini’s famous station and another display of fabulous Milanese architecture. On the train there were ubiquitous adverts for combination bus and rail tickets for sale at the station but nobody at the station had heard of them – in typical Italian style the system was confusing but not quite so much as to be a major issue.
Shuttle buses to the circuit did not start running until the following day so we had to walk for over an hour through the park. To be honest though, we weren’t complaining – Monza is a beautiful town and the adjacent Royal Park is one of the finest parks in the world. The weather was glorious and with the sunlight streaming through the trees and the sound of cars in the distance, we were getting excited for the weekend ahead.
Once in the circuit we headed under the track to the support race paddocks before wandering over the bridge on the far side of the circuit to explore the old Monza banking. Like Brooklands in the UK, it’s a must for all motor racing fans with any interest in the history of the sport. Don’t make the mistake I did of wearing flip flops or you may struggle on the steeper bits!
The traditional Thursday pit lane walkabout was underway by the time we returned to the modern part of the circuit so we jostled with the crowds and between us got autographs from Sergio Perez, Pastor Maldonado, Daniel Kvyat and Marcus Ericsson – not a bad haul! The shops were also open on the Thursday, a good day to buy souvenirs before the crowds get huge.
On the Friday all the grandstands were opened up to anyone with a grandstand ticket, so we checked out vantage points all around the circuit during GP2, GP3, the Porsche session and F1 free practice. All three chicanes are fantastic places to watch a session from, as is Curva Bissano between the first two chicanes, the Lesmos corners and the run under the old banking, and of course the inside of Parabolica.
The weekend just got better and better – seeing our hero Lewis Hamilton take pole and then sensationally come from behind to win the Grand Prix was magnificent and we were jumping up and down in our seats. I’ll never forget the epic podium celebrations with the mass of people dressed in red, the confetti and the streamers – it was an atmosphere unlike any other.
When it comes to getting around Milan, the best bet is to purchase the very reasonable Metro day ticket for €4.50 which gives you unlimited travel on the subway trains, trams and buses for 24 hours. It’s not bad for the tenth most expensive city in the world, although food can be deceivingly pricey – we found a restaurant selling cheap pizza but they charged €5 just for a bottle of water.
We arrived on the Wednesday evening before race weekend and briefly explored the centre of Milan and the famous Il Duomo cathedral. The main square is breathtaking, particularly at night with the stunning architecture all lit up.
The following evening we took the subway to Porta Genova and the beautiful Venice-like canals. I’d certainly recommend a trip there for an evening meal, as well as the many restaurants around Il Duomo.
On our final day after the Grand Prix weekend, we explored Milan properly. I had booked us a self-guided tour of the San Siro football stadium for €17 each, which was well worth it. We browsed the Moscova markets, the lush parks of Giardini Pubblici and Parco Sempione, and Castello Sforzesco – Napoleon’s castle, as well as Napoleon’s Arch of Peace. Milan is currently a brilliant mix of old and new with neoclassical architecture like the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II adjacent to the modern fashion outlets of Gucci, Prada etc at Via Monte Napoleone; Milan is also host to Expo 2015 which you can currently see being set up.
- Leave plenty of time to get from central Milan to the circuit. Door to door it took us two hours from our hotel and it can be more if you time it wrong. The train leaves Stazione Centrale for Monza very 30-60 minutes (more are put on on Sunday but on Thursday it’s one an hour). It takes around 20-30 minutes to get to Monza station, then you have to buy a shuttle bus ticket for the bus which takes you just over halfway to the circuit through the park. On Thursday there are no shuttle buses, so it’s a 70 minute walk through Monza town.
- Trains do run from the circuit back to Stazione Centrale in the evenings but the ones to Garibaldi F.S. are more frequent so it’s usually better to get one of those and change there for a Centrale train. In four days we never got asked to show our tickets on the way back.
- On the Sunday the authorities encourage fans to get the trains from Centrale to the back of the circuit at Lesmos station – unless your seats are that side of the track, you are probably better off ignoring this and doing the normal train to Monza station and then shuttle bus up through the park.
- The €4.50 Metro day pass is brilliant value and you will get your money’s worth in just a couple of trips, but be aware that this does not cover regular trains, only subway trains, buses and trams.
- Monza/Milan in September is hot – you will get through more bottles of water in a day than you think so be aware that they are €1 at some trackside stalls but more expensive at others.
How much did it cost?
- Tickets – £223.48 each for weekend grandstand; flights – £147.77 each EasyJet London Gatwick to Milan Linate return; 3* hotel – £164.67 for six nights in Milan including breakfast
- Total spend – £1131.52. Milan is one of the top ten most expensive cities in the world so we only ate out properly a couple of times, but I did spend about €150 on gifts/souvenirs. Expect to tip at least 10% for meals – sometimes they will expect more at nicer restaurants.