Paddock Cat & the magic of Monza

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If you love Formula One, you love Monza. It’s one of four tracks on the 2012 calendar that featured in the inaugural World Championship in 1950, but no other circuit in the world oozes so much history and passion for racing.

The track – real name ‘Autodromo Nazionale di Monza’, colloquial name ‘La Pista Magica’ – was built in 1922 in just 101 days. The original concrete banking that formed part of the original layout can still be seen today; it lies adjacent to the modern track and provides a poignant reminder of the sport’s past.

After the trials he experienced at Spa, Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso refletcts, “It’s not only the history of the circuit that makes Monza special, it’s also the fans and the speed. We reach higher top speeds here than anywhere else and the fans are amazing. They make so much noise and one of the best victories of my career was here, in 2010, when I won the race for Ferrari. It was an amazing experience to win in front of the Tifosi and I would love to do it again on Sunday.”

Getting to Monza has been no mean feat for the teams. The Belgian Grand Prix ended at 3.30pm last Sunday, after which they had to pack up, transport everything the 850kms to Monza and then prepare their cars for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix. Remarkably, the first teams were fully set-up in the Monza paddock by lunchtime on Tuesday. None of the mechanics had had much sleep over the previous two days, but such is the nature of these back-to-back races.

Jerome d’Ambrosio made his first appearance of the year in an FIA press conference on Thursday. He’s replacing Romain Grosjean at Lotus this weekend, after the Frenchman was issued with a one-race ban for triggering the first corner shunt at Spa-Francorchamps. Despite claiming Belgian nationality, Jerome says Monza is also something of a home grand prix.

“My grandparents were Italian,” he says. “They were from Naples, and I also spent a lot of time racing in Italy during my karting days and in the junior formulas. I’ve probably spent more time racing in Italy than anywhere else, so it’s great to be making my race debut for Lotus at Monza.”

He might be Belgian, with Italian ancestry, but the Lotus mechanics have given him a very British nickname. They call him ‘Custard’, after the English brand of Ambrosio custard. Such is the humour in an F1 pit garage.