Grazie per tutti i ricordi
I love coming to Monza: it's been my favourite race of the season for years, and I have so many memories tied up in the place, from living down the road in Milan for a few years and it being my home track, to all the amazing races I've witnessed over the years, and all the personal memories which have seeped into me like the ever present sun into my bones.
But what is it like to be an Italian racing here? "It's crazy!" Luca Ghiotto laughed as we went to the fanzone this morning, "I had to have help from the guards to get through the crowd to get into the paddock today!" Which made me think: what is it like for the other Italians?
"It's funny for me to race here," Raffaele Marciello began as we stood in the truck before the race, "because in Italy they say I'm Swiss, and in Switzerland they say I'm Italian, but I just say I'm Italian! To be here in Monza is quite busy, because the organisation is not the greatest here (laughs), a bit messy maybe, but it's nice because it's so special: Monza is a different track to the others, so fast, and I love to come here.
"I was with Ferrari of course, but I wasn't famous like the F1 guys so nothing strange or crazy happened, but of course I would have people come and give me their hand, grab me for a photo or something: I'm sure they do that for everyone else as well! And in the car I know where the Marciello fans are, because they're in Ascari, and they're all in yellow!"
"It's amazing, even more because we are GP2 drivers," Luca confirmed, "how would it be if we were F1! It's crazy, and we're only the little F1! The track is incredible, and with the crowd it's such a pleasure to race here, and there will be at least 3 more years here, which is great.
"Of course we have been missing an F1 driver for 5 or 6 years, so now the fans are closer to the lower categories: maybe if I was here in 2011 we wouldn't have so many people who know me or the other Italian drivers! I have my own fan club here, and it's amazing when I leave the paddock and everyone is shouting "Luca, Luca, sign this, take a picture!"" They're all just looking for a new hero? "Of course!"
"Of course it's very different from last year when I was with F3," Antonio Giovinazzi confirmed, "although already there were people asking me for a photo or an autograph, but it's really special now. Yesterday when I finished 2nd in qualifying I saw everyone in the tribunes saying hi to me, and it was something special: I saw the people all waving to me so I waved back to them to say thank you for supporting me.
Most Italian drivers I've known have had good results at Monza - Luca Filippi used to tell me he had a secret way of driving here, but he would never tell me what it was - but why do Italians go fast here? "Yesterday I didn't go so fast!" Raffaele laughed. "In F3 I had a great weekend here, a 1st and a 2nd, but at least for me I don't think I give more because it's Italy, because you have to give everything everywhere: okay, you might have a special helmet design or something, but for me it has to be like a normal weekend where you give all you have anyway."
"Of course there is the extra power, let's say, from the crowd," Luca argued, "and I love the track and know it really well, so even apart from the crowd I feel very comfortable here, but with the crowd it makes us go even quicker! Unfortunately there was a little problem with the safety car today, which maybe stole us from the podium, but without that I was P3 behind Pierre and Norman: I'm a bit disappointed, because sometimes people are too lucky! But I don't mind, because I am sure that one day I will be lucky too. Maybe tomorrow!"
And the main beneficiary of that luck was Antonio. Does it make a difference being Italian to win this race compared to the others he's won? "Yeah, of course! It's maybe the best moment of my career to start last and to win the race here, in front of my people: it's just an amazing sensation! I was really happy on the last lap before I came in: I could see all the people were so happy for me, and it was just sensational!" You'll need a bodyguard to get out of here! "Yeah!"
And for the teams, it's scarcely any different. "For sure, racing in Monza along with F1 is really incredible for an Italian team," smiled Rene Rosin, team principal of PREMA, "it's one of the fastest circuits so clearly it's amazing, and we've had great experiences here in other series, but nothing like this!
"I'm a bit surprised how much people know us here: in other categories it wasn't like this, but in GP2 people really know us and ask our drivers for autographs and photos, and it's really nice to watch. It's quite nice to come through all the people outside the paddock here! Normally when you want to come to work you want to get started quickly, but here, like in Silverstone, it's really good to see that the drivers can get closer to the fans, take photos and autographs, even if sometimes it gets a bit crazy!"
And the guy who is best placed to know what it's like on both sides is Giacomo Ricci: the likeable Italian is a GP2 race winner, and is now team manager at Trident. "It's a fantastic sensation to run in front of our fans, especially this season because there are more people here than in the past few years, but at the same time it's a bit more pressure for the Italian teams and drivers! It's funny: every year we try so hard to make the best result in Monza, but so far for Trident it hasn't worked perfectly! But tomorrow we have an opportunity with Antonio [Fuoco] and Luca: let's see if we can get a double podium!"
Does it make a difference to the team, racing at home? "For me it's exactly the same as for the [Italian] drivers: let's say we have huge pressure here, we have all the sponsors, fans and a team owner who really desires to do well at the Italian Grand Prix! On our side we really feel a great pressure: it was a shame today for the safety car for Luca, but tomorrow I really hope we can have a good chance!"
And maybe that's what brings the Italian drivers, teams and fans together: a mutual love of an amazing circuit, and a dream that better days are just around the corner. In bocca al lupo, as they say around here.