The Italian Grand Prix (Gran Premio d’Italia) is one of the longest running events on the Formula One calendar. The Italian Grand Prix was also one of the inaugural Formula One championship races in 1950, and has been held every year since then. The only other championship race for which this is true is the British Grand Prix, and the only other inaugural F1 races that are still on the calendar are the Monaco Grand Prix and the Belgian Grand Prix. Every Formula One Italian Grand Prix since 1950 has been held at Monza except in 1980, when it was held at Imola. The Italian Grand Prix counted toward the European Championship from 1935 to 1938. It was designated the European Grand Prix seven times between 1923 and 1967, when this title was an honorary designation given each year to one grand prix race in Europe.
Motor racing has always been extremely popular in Italy, the first Italian Grand Prix motor racing championship took place on 4 September 1921 at a 10.7 mile (17.3 km) circuit near Brescia, which had been the site of the Gordon Bennett races in the early 1900s. However, the race is more closely associated with the course at Monza, a racing facility just outside the northern city of Milan, which was built in 1922 in time for that year’s race, and has been the location for most of the races over the years.The Autodromo Nazionale Monza was completed in 1922 and was just the third permanent autodrome in the world at that time; Brooklands in England and Indianapolis in the United States were the two others. European motor racing pioneers Vincenzo Lancia and Felice Nazzaro laid the last two bricks at Monza. The circuit was 10 km (6.25 miles) long, with a flat banked section and a road circuit combined into one. It was fast, and always provided excitement. The 1923 race included one of Harry A. Miller’s rare European appearances with his single seat “American Miller 122” driven by Count Louis Zborowski of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fame.
The 1928 race was the first of many tragedies that befell this venue. Italians Emilio Materassi in a Talbot and Giulio Foresti in a Bugatti were battling around this fast circuit. As they came off the banking onto the left side of the pit straight, one of the front wheels of Materassi’s overtaking Talbot touched one of the rear wheels of the Bugatti. Materassi lost control of the car, the car then swerved left, cleared a 10-foot wide ditch and ploughed into the unprotected grandstand opposite the pits, killing Materassi and 27 spectators, and injuring another 26.It was the worst accident in motor racing history and would remain so until the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Italian Grand Prix went on a three-year hiatus until the 1931 race, held in late May instead of the traditional early September, was won by Giuseppe Campari and Tazio Nuvolari, sharing an Alfa Romeo. The race was something of an endurance race in those days; it took ten hours to complete the race. The great Nuvolari won again in a shortened 1932 race, this time held in early June.
In 1933, with the race being held this time at the traditional timeframe of early September, disaster struck again. Three top drivers were killed during three heat races. There was a reported patch of oil on the south banking that had come from a Duesenberg, driven by Count Carlo Felice Trossi, and Giuseppe Campari in a Ferrari-entered Alfa Romeo and his protege Baconin Borzacchini in a Maserati were already battling ferociously; and Borzacchini and Campari went through the south banking on the first lap, wheel to wheel. Borzacchini went through the oily patch, lost control, spun wildly and the Maserati then overturned and violently flipped multiple times, and by the time the wrecked car came to a stop, Borzacchini was pinned underneath his car, not having been thrown out. While Borzacchini’s Maserati was crashing all over the track, Campari swerved to avoid him, and by doing this, his car went up and flew off the banking and crashed into trees situated right next to the track. Campari broke his neck and was killed instantly, and Borzacchini died later that day in a Monza hospital.
Prior to the third heat, there was a drivers meeting to discuss the oil patch and it was cleaned up. on the eighth lap, Polish aristocrat Count Stanislas Czaykowski was on the south banking when his Bugatti’s engine blew up, a fuel line broke, the fuel caught fire after touching the very hot front section of the Bugatti where the engine and gearbox were and the burning fuel sprayed onto Czaykowski. Blinded by the smoke and flames on him, he went up and flew off the banking- at the same spot where Campari and Borzacchini had crashed. The Polish driver, unable to put out the flames on his body which was fueled by the fuel from his wrecked Bugatti, then burned to death. Italian Luigi Fagioli was declared the winner of the event.
Enzo Ferrari, who had been close to Campari and Borzacchini; the former deciding to defect from Ferrari’s team to Maserati, became hardened by this tragedy. Today, racing historians conclude that the events of this race marked a watershed, notably for Enzo Ferrari. It was the end to the joyful era of racing and the beginning of a harsher new age. Safety in those days was completely non-existent. The circuit’s condition was virtually identical of that to an ordinary town and country road, except instead of the surface being made of dirt and/or tarmac, it was made of tarmac, concrete and/or bricks. Spectators often stood very close to or even next to the track and they had no protection of any kind other than common sense. What was particularly tragic about Campari’s death was that he had announced his retirement at the French Grand Prix two months earlier, to focus on his opera singing exploits.