The great cathedral of racing, Monza, a monument to speed and the setting of some of motorsport’s greatest moments.

Mind you, it wasn’t all cushty all the time. When Professor Sid Watkins showed up after taking charge of Formula 1’s safety brigade for the 1978 Italian Grand Prix, he found the place more befitting a circus than a circuit for the world’s best drivers.

Immediately after the race started there was a tremendous mess with 10 of the 24 cars on the grid smashing into each other after Ricardo Patrese’s Arrows hit James Hunt’s McLaren to set off the chain reaction.

When the good Prof tried to reach the scene, he was stopped by the police from doing so. Meanwhile the shambles continued on the accident scene, where instead of the marshals Hunt was left to pull the injured Swede Ronnie Peterson out of his Lotus.

No sooner had the race restarted was there another accident, and with a barrier damaged the track crew had to fumble for hours fixing things while the tifosi got increasingly agitated in the stands. Before the sun faded the race hurriedly restarted once again in a shortened format.

Trying to tend to the injured Peterson also proved a problem, because the medical team now couldn’t leave the circuit by helicopter since they’re not allowed to fly in the dark, and shimmying in road traffic with the tifosi was hopeless too. Luckily Professor Watkins’ driver was one Mario Andretti, who was forced to find a shortcut through some fields and eventually reach the autostrada to get to the hospital.

‘Super Swede’ Peterson’s story ends tragically, but Monza fixed its act in succeeding years and finally in 1995 the track built a state-of-the-art medical centre on the site.


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