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The Circuit

The magic and misery of Monza

  • Story Highlights
  • Built in 1922 Monza is the oldest track on the Formula One calendar
  • La Pista Magica has hosted some of the greatest races and deadliest crashes
  • One of the quickest tracks in the world with speeds of up to 370 kph
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The final European race of the 2009 Formula One season is being held at one of the world's most historic tracks. Monza hosted its first race in 1922 and has been the spiritual home of Italian motor sport and Ferrari ever since.

The 1951 Italian Grand Prix was won by Alberto Ascari. Four years later he was killed at Monza.

The 1951 Italian Grand Prix was won by Alberto Ascari. Four years later he was killed at Monza.

La Pista Magica, as the Italians like to call it, is set in the grounds of a former royal park, 12 miles north of Milan and has hosted many of Formula One's defining races and tragedies.

Britain's Sir Stirling Moss, a three-time Formula One winner at Monza told CNN: "It's a very good circuit. And being in Italy, it has a lot of atmosphere -- particularly if you're driving a red car. The Italian crowds are passionate about their racing."

It is the fastest track Formula One drivers visit all year with speed in the straights approaching 370 kph (230 mph).

"It's the only one left with such speed," Force India's new driver Tonio Liuzzi told CNN. "Nowhere else in the championship can you reach top speeds."

Liuzzi, who has completed two Monza Grand Prix for Toro Rosso, says the first time you race at Monza can be daunting. "You have really low downforce and you can get a bit scared if you think of the speed you are approaching the Ascari or the Parabolica."

The Parabolica is probably the best known turn at Monza. It comes at the end of the fastest straight on the track and starts the final loop round into the home straight. Photo View photos of Monza through the years »

The corner was the scene of one of the sport's biggest tragedies in 1961. German driver Wolfgang von Trips was killed when his Ferrari collided with the Lotus of Jim Clark. Von Trips' car flew off the track, spun into the crowd --protected by a chain link fence -- and killed 15 spectators.

"It was an awful day," Stirling Moss, who was competing in the race, said. "He was a really charming guy. We used to lose three drivers a year, but he was quite a special person."

But it wasn't Monza's worst crash. In 1928, Italian Emilio Materassi died along with 27 spectators when his lost control of his car and plunged into the crowd.

Von Trips' accident signaled the end of the road for the high speed oval and its vertiginous banking. It always led to a compromise in how the car was set up for a race says Moss. "The handling on the banking was completely different," he said.

The decommissioning of the high speed ring reduced the length of the track from 10 kilometers to 5.8. But it was never demolished and still sits among the undergrowth, gradually giving itself up to nature.

The derelict oval has become part of the allure of Monza. "It's an old school circuit," Liuzzi said. "When you're racing there you sometimes look between the trees and see the old parabolicas and banking corners. You can feel the history at Monza and that's what makes it so special."

The technical challenges that Monza presents have never diminished the excitement or quality of the racing there -- not least Moss's first victory in 1956.

Moss's Maserati developed a split in the fuel tank and with five laps to go he was running on empty. A desperate Moss signaled to fellow Maserati driver, Liugi Piotti that he needed a push. Piotti obliged by using the nose of his car to push Moss into the pits. A refueled Moss returned to the track and won the race.

One of the greatest drives ever seen at Monza wasn't a win but a third place finish by Scotland's Jim Clark in 1967. Clark started on pole and was leading until a puncture forced him into the pits. He returned to the race over a lap behind in 16th place. Undaunted, Clark stormed through the field, recording one lap record after another eventually regaining first place. But with the checkered flag in his sights, Clark's car ran out of fuel and he had to settle for third.

Four years later Monza witnessed one of the closest finishes in Formula One history with five cars being separated by 0.61 seconds. In a slipstreaming battle Peter Gethin beat Ronnie Peterson by 0.01 seconds.

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All the great Formula One world champions have won at Monza -- Schumacher five times, Fangio three, Prost three and Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna have both won there twice.

For all the attraction of Formula One's growing band of new circuits, it's places like Monza that get motor sport enthusiasts pulses racing. It epitomizes all that Formula One once was and what it is still about today -- speed, passion, skill and most importantly courage.

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