At more than 360kph, reached at the end of the pit straight, the drivers have to rely blindly on the transmission and brakes to slow them down as quickly as possible to 70kph: the entry speed for the first chicane. Think about it: slowing down from around 360kph to 70kph means shedding 290kph. In the space of no more than 40 metres. It’s a technical and human challenge of the highest order.
And those chicanes at Monza aren’t really a matter of choice: instead they are an absolute necessity. In 1971, Englishman Peter Gethin won for BRM at a Monza that was devoid of chicanes, setting an astonishing 242.615 kph average speed throughout the entire race. That average speed record would remain a benchmark for more than 30 years. In 1971, Monza was essentially a high-speed loop consisting of fast straights linked by just a few corners.
On the straights the cars would line up closely behind each other, to benefit from an aerodynamic tow. Then, as the corners approached, they would duck out of the slipstream, hoping for the perfect slingshot to make an overtaking move . This meant that Gethin won not only the fastest grand prix of the entire last century but also the closest, with just millimetres separating the top five. Ronnie Peterson (March), Francois Cevert (Tyrrell), Mike Hailwood (Surtees) and Howden Ganley were all covered by just 0.61 seconds behind the victorious BRM, which won by a mere 0.01 seconds!
And then Monza changed. The chicanes were introduced and that had a profound effect on average lap speeds, as well as total race distance covered. However, this didn’t affect the peak maximum speed. And that’s how Monza managed to maintain its record-breaking magic. Following Gethin’s record, we had to wait 32 years for it to fall. Michael Schumacher, in his all-conquering Ferrari, won the 2003 Monza race at an almost unthinkable 247.585kph: nearly 5kph quicker than Gethin. It’s a record that still stands today. And then, in 2018, Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest-ever pole position in Formula 1 history, again for Ferrari: at 263.587kph.