Formula 1 Expert & Columnist
Rachel's Diary: The magic of Monza
Sky Sports' Rachel Brookes on the magic of the Italian GP, a family affair with Monza, and chasing that all-important shot of the week...
Last Updated: 11/09/15 1:47pm
I love the Italian Grand Prix, my waistline might not be so enamoured though!
I was covering it for Sky Sports News HQ and it was my fourth visit to the race at Monza. We arrived on Tuesday and after a quick visit to the circuit to find out the latest on the Lotus/Renault situation and film some shots we went back to our hotel via a special restaurant. In 2012 Daniel Ricciardo told me about a pizza place that he said made the best pizzas in the world. As someone with Italian heritage I took him at his word and my cameraman and I made our way there one evening. He was right. The pizzas were amazing. So this year with a different cameraman and a producer we stopped off on our way back to our hotel. Luckily they managed to squeeze us in - even on a Tuesday night the place is packed. It didn't disappoint and started off the week in great fashion.
On Wednesday we were back at the track as I needed to film some more pieces for my report on the future of Monza. I decided to do my "piece to camera" on some of the old banking behind the Parabolica. It is not as steep as the North Curve but steep enough for me walking in wedges! In order to get the framing just right and avoid the large trucks parked behind we had to do a few takes and at the end of it I felt like I had done an hour on a stairmaster! I spoke to Ivan Capelli, the former Formula 1 driver and current President of the Automobile Association of Milan about how the negotiations with Formula One Management were going. I would hate to lose Monza from the calendar. The fans' passion alone could power those V6 engines. He told me they are working hard and that their aim is to still have the race in 2022, the centenary of the first Grand Prix at the track.
Thursday ran to the usual European schedule except for one surprise. In Monza the fans can get really close to the drivers when they arrive at the circuit so it is always worth positioning your cameraman outside the paddock gates for driver arrival shots. On Thursday my cameraman Simon captured Lewis Hamilton arriving. He stopped to sign some autographs and that was when we noticed he had dyed his hair blond. Once word spread it was the mission of the weekend for all the photographers and cameramen to get the first shot of Lewis without his helmet or cap on. In the end it took until the podium on Sunday.
On Friday we saw evidence of the step up Mercedes had made by using their seven engine tokens and the developments in the power unit with 2016 in mind. We also heard from Pirelli about their tyre pressure recommendations for the weekend. They wanted to increase the pressure to make the structure of the tyre stronger, but as a result there would be less surface area of tyre in contact with the ground meaning less grip and more wear. While the drivers wanted lower pressure in order to have better grip, less wear but as a consequence a weaker structure. Having heard Anthony Davidson and Crofty talking about it by using an egg as a comparison on commentary I asked the guys in Mercedes if I could have one to demonstrate. They suggested hard boiling it for obvious reasons if I was going to break it, but as I found out, they like their boiled eggs runny!
Lewis had the edge over Nico in practice but unusually for Nico he wasn't confident he knew where or how he could make up that time. Nico was a tenth ahead of his team-mate in sectors one and two but over two tenths down in sector three. He told me he was going to study all the drivers' on-board camera footage to see where he could find that time. You can never underestimate the homework some drivers do to try to eke out even the smallest of advantages. While he was studying videos and data we were having dinner with Christian Horner in the Red Bull motorhome. It is something the team try to do for all media in Europe and this time is was Sky's turn. It was a lovely dinner with great company and plenty of off the record conversations. It is always nice to enjoy a meal and talk about things other than Formula 1 but of course the odd bit of racing chat inevitably creeps in.
On Saturday my parents were at the track. They had grandstand tickets for the Saturday and Sunday, and thanks to a lot of kindness in the paddock they had passes for a couple of hours in the morning to see where I call my office on a race weekend. I was still doing live reports into Sky Sports News HQ every hour so unfortunately couldn't spend time with them. The paddock is often called a family and on occasions like this they come into their own. Thanks to some lovely people they had coffee in Ferrari and a tour of the garage, more refreshments in Mercedes and an extensive tour of Force India. They had a fantastic time and made their way out to their seats in time for qualifying.
After we had finished in Saturday evening there was a barbecue in our TV compound for all our Sky colleagues from Italy and Germany as well as us from the UK. I took my parents down to meet everyone but no sooner had my Dad just got chatting to Johnny than we had to go as I had made a very special booking that evening.
I have another reason for loving Monza. In 1964 my Dad spent a week at the circuit setting some world records. He and his team took an old Ford Corsair around the track for six days and nights solid, driving for three hours on and three hours off. My dad hired the hotel De Ville on the edge of the park for the team to stay in and he told me the story of how one morning he woke up and couldn't hear the car going around the banking so ran all the way from the hotel to the track only to find the crankshaft had broken after six days of running.
So on Saturday night I booked dinner at the Hotel De Ville so my Dad could go back and have a look around. I dropped my parents off as I went to find somewhere to park and when I arrived the manager was chatting away to them and welcomed me like an old friend. It turns out he is the son of Senor Nadi, the manager of the hotel when my dad hired it out in 1964, and so could not do enough for us. We had a wonderful dinner surrounded by lots of Formula 1 people and I heard stories of that week 51 years ago. At the end of the meal the lovely David Tremayne, a well-known motorsports writer, joined us for dessert and he and my Dad reminisced about people and places, and a lot of cars, I had never heard of before.
On Sunday the circuit really comes alive. The fans are some of the most passionate in the world, second only to the British fans of course. The drivers arrived and made their way through the throngs of fans at the gate. It is always interesting to see who the loudest cheer is for. Felipe Massa is still held in great affection by the Ferrari fans and got a wonderful reception. He may have played second fiddle to Fernando at Ferrari but the fans love him for all he did and his smile always seems bigger in Italy. It was a shame that Sebastian Vettel didn't use that entrance over the weekend, choosing instead the other end of the paddock where there were only a few fans. He really missed out on the welcome Ferrari fans give their drivers at their home race.
Inside the paddock my first interview of the morning was with Eric Boullier. We went along to McLaren and I found every TV screen in their motorhome showing Sky Sports News HQ and the team inside eating breakfast. No pressure then! The interview was live and was a chance to ask exactly what the latest was with their driver line-up for next year. McLaren had been reportedly keen to maintain the same line-up and that was the impression I got from Eric. So it seems the decision is in Jenson's hands, provided he is happy with what is offered of course. He branded their Belgian GP 'an embarrassment' and I had asked him at the start of the weekend in Italy if he still felt the same two weeks on and he said he did. He also told me that day he wasn't enjoying Formula 1. There are plenty of aspects he still enjoys but I can't imagine what it is like for him and Fernando to do all they can to qualify on Saturday and then watch as cars pass them by on Sunday. They couldn't even battle each other at the end of the Italian GP as Fernando retired with an electrical issue. It must be tough for the whole team but I hope those two drivers get to battle at the front of the field once more before they call it a day.
The post-race investigation into the Mercedes tyre pressures brought back memories of Australia 2014. Then we were one of only a handful of crews who stayed in the paddock to find out the outcome of the investigation into the fuel flow breach on Daniel Ricciardo's car. That result eventually came through in the early hours of the morning so as you can imagine there was a fair amount of concern that flights might be being missed that night. It's always a difficult situation. A journalist I trust and hold in high regard rushed past me saying "he's going to be disqualified". It would be easy for me to go with that, given that he is usually a very reliable source, but in these instances you have to do your own research, your own digging and you have to be certain before you say anything on air. We waited for the official word. In Australia it had come from the FIA via the speakers in the press room first before pieces of paper with the handwritten result of the appeal were handed out. Here I had my producer in the press room listening out for any announcement and I stood in the paddock constantly checking emails and trying to find out what I could, all the time ready to break the news live when we got it. As it happened Toto Wolff came out of the FIA offices and stood in front of the Mercedes motorhome to reveal that there was no penalty and that the result stood.
After the race I went for dinner with my parents who had booked that pizza place I mentioned earlier. They had managed to get a table for Sunday night after the race and as we tucked in to the best pizza in the world Daniel Ricciardo walked in. Guess he can't stay away either!
While the rest of the paddock woke up at home on Monday morning we still had some work to do. After an early alarm my cameraman and I drove to Milan to another hotel where we got on a bus to a Petronas event. They were launching a new oil for road cars but we had been told we would have a one-to-one interview opportunity with Lewis. The morning was all in Italian but once at the Museum of Science and Technology there was a presentation in English. We were asked to set up for our interview with Lewis in one of the labs so if you saw it hopefully that explains all the microscopes behind him.
At these sorts of events they always ask you to ask about the reason you are there. So I did. Unfortunately that only left a few minutes to ask him about anything else. It might seem a lot of time and energy for three minutes 18 seconds of interview but you never know when they might say something very important….or when you might get the first proper glimpse of his new hair….
Ciao until next time….