It’s hard to put into words quite how steep the banking on the old oval track that cuts in and out of the circuit here in Monza is: walking up it at the steepest part is hard, walking down it is harder, and trying to traverse along the top of it is harder still, one foot lower than the other and at an angle which is trying to throw your body off balance (and down a steep incline) with every step, forcing you to hang onto the armco now installed at the top.
Or, to put it another way, I’ve skied down shallower slopes, albeit a little longer.
But the feeling of peace when you stand at the top of that famous ramp, next to the crumbling concrete structure slowly eroding on top of it, is amazing. You stand there, clinging to a barrier which wasn’t there back when they raced on this piece of tarmac to avoid falling, and you can’t help but think that those racers, all those years ago in their tiny, screaming cars, must have been certifiably insane to race on this.
And then you peer over the edge at the 30m drop, and the trees almost close enough to touch, and you know it.
But what better place to bring racing drivers, right? Especially ones who have won the last round of races in Spa, that other notoriously old-school hangover from the early days of racing, because who would better understand the dangers, and the appeal, of driving a circuit like this.
“You’re right, we should have gone there for the photo,” Alexa agreed much later, when I returned from the walk just before dusk. “I’ve never actually been out there before, but I don’t admit that to anyone. Is it far?” Too far to make a driver walk, I sighed; they moan about having to walk to the pitlane…
But the shoot was not without its compensations, at least. All of the driver shoots in Monza have been done either sitting next to a crumbling patch of armco behind our paddock or in a nearby tunnel, which has the advantage of looking very ominous and brooding in the background while the guys try to look moody and interesting in front of it.
Neither option appealed much to the guys, so Alexa looked around and, more in desperation than by design, suggested they could sit on a nearby park bench. Stoffel Vandoorne gave a look which didn’t do much to disguise his disapproval of the idea, but Alexander Rossi saw a couple of girls working at a nearby food stand and thought they’d be a great addition to the shoot.
“Okay, go and ask them then,” Alexa sighed.
“No way, you’re the Head of Communications, it must be your job to talk to them!” the American laughed, leaving her little option but to approach them and ask, in very broken Italian, if they had any interest in having a photo with a couple of racing drivers. To their credit they looked extremely dubious, but when their boss waved them away they followed Alexa over, and the guys set to work trying to make them laugh.
Which is why, given that it was his idea, it’s kind of ironic that Alexander looks so worried in the photo.
But he was delighted when Alexa managed to get a copy of the photo printed, as she asked him to sign it for them. Stoffel was even happier: “You’re going to give this to them? Great idea! And while you’re there, could you get their phone numbers?”
“What do you think I am? If you want to talk to them, why not write your number on there!”
Naturally that shut the conversation down cold, and it was only when she was carrying the photo over to the food booth that she realised that, perhaps, it may have been more sensible to get two copies made, given there are two of them. Nevertheless, they made an effort to look happy, while presumably wondering if they were supposed to rip it in two.
Next up was the new car launch for GP3, with former champions Daniil Kyvat, Mitch Evans and Alex Lynn on hand to pull the covers off and give admiring glances. “Daniil will be up the front,” Alexa announced to the trio, “and Alex, you’re the reigning champ so you should be too. Mitch, could you stand at the back and make sure they don’t break any of the aero parts with the cover?”
“Good idea,” Alex sniggered, “you can clean up behind us!”
The launch went off without a hitch, with Alexa and Leandra’s blood pressure nearly returning to normal within 3 hours. Sensing they might need a little space, I decided to take the walk over to the old banking. Which was a great idea.
What was a less great idea was deciding to walk back through the woods, because surely I only have to walk in the general direction of the paddock and I’d be back, right? And I did get back, only an hour or so later than I planned, and mercifully before the sun set completely.
Dear reader, I should give a little language advisory at this stage: if you are of a gentle disposition, perhaps you should skip ahead 3 paragraphs.
The next morning walking over to the pitlane with the Racing Engineering guys (with very little in the way of whinging, incredibly enough), Alexander was looking to have a little fun at teammate Jordan King’s expense. “Hey Alexa, look at his hair! He looks like a virgin, right?”
It should be noted that it was not the most flattering of styles, to put it mildly.
“Don’t you worry sweetie,” Alexa cooed, “I’m sure there are girls out there somewhere who like that sort of thing…”
“Yeah,” the American laughed, “and she’s great at getting girls, so you’ll be fine!”
And after yesterday’s rain, everyone was looking to take advantage of the glorious weather today: ahead of qualifying the drivers were spread out all around the paddock soaking up the sun, with Raffaele Marciello behind his pits with his trainer and a football, alternating being thrown high for a header and low to be kicked back, Jan Mardenborough playing keepie uppies with a little ball and gigantic headphones on in between push ups and short sprints, Marlon Stockinger skipping faster and slower behind his pit and Julian Leal turning some weights over and over in his hands for his trainer, simulating a heavy steering wheel, while Simon Trummer wandered around chatting to people from his old teams.
Alex Lynn was standing in front of the Trident truck when Alexa was walking around to grab a few shots for Instagram, admonishing him for standing in front of the wrong logo: “you did that in Budapest too, when I was trying to get your photo.” “I know,” he smirked, “I did it on purpose to try and reinvent the magic...”
Sitting here now, post penalties, it seems to have worked for him so far, if somewhat less so for poor Mitch. And if Alex does end up getting a win, I’m going to suggest a photo shoot out at the old banking before we leave: I reckon he’d love it, and Alexa really should see it on one of her visits here.
But if we do, I am bringing a compass with us: I’ve got a flight home on Sunday afternoon, and I’d quite like to be on it…