The stars have aligned this year, with two names that are synonymous with Italian motorsport both celebrating significant milestones at the Italian Grand Prix. Monza celebrates its 100th year, while Pirelli marks 150 years since its foundation. What links the two most prominently at the moment is Formula 1 – so there is no better place to celebrate these birthdays than at the Italian Grand Prix, which this year has Pirelli as title sponsor.
There are a number of exciting initiatives planned throughout the weekend to celebrate in style, including a few things that are really quite eye-catching. But all will be revealed as part of a big surprise over the Monza weekend. From the moment that Andrea Bocelli sings the Italian national anthem before the start of the race, it will be a huge festival of Italian motorsport. And there’s plenty happening before and after as well, with the past linked firmly to the future. Let’s take a step back and see how it all began…in a world that was very different to what we know now.
Giovanni Battista Pirelli initially established a company to produce elastic rubber items in Milan in 1872, opening his first plant a year later. He was a traveller and pioneer who had simply spotted an industrial opportunity: making tyres was never actually his end goal.
The era in which he lived was opening up boundless opportunities: for the first time people were able to travel extensively, thanks to the railways and ships of the steam age, which allowed an exchange of ideas and goods on a scale that had never existed before.
Pirelli saw that tyres would be the future direction of his rubber business, as the horse got gradually left behind when it came to everyday transport. But Pirelli’s first tyres weren’t for cars. Instead, they were for bicycles, in 1894.
It was just a handful of years before the company entered into motorsport, as it expanded rapidly on a global scale. In 1907, Prince Scipione Borghese won the Peking to Paris race aboard an Itala equipped with Pirelli tyres. Then in 1922 – a century ago – Pirelli was listed on the New York Exchange; the first Italian Group with shares traded on the US market.
In the 1950s Pirelli first competed in the Formula 1 world championship. Fast forward to the 1960s and 1970s and Pirelli continued to expand with facilities in Greece, Turkey and Germany.
In the 1980s Pirelli was back in Formula 1 after a lengthy break, and then the modern era of F1 tyres began in 2011, when Pirelli embarked on its current contract – which, after a series of extensions, now runs to the end of 2024. Giovanni Battista Pirelli died in 1932 – exactly 90 years ago next month – but his adventurous spirit still lives on within the company that bears his name.
So that’s a brief history of Pirelli. But what of Monza – which was born 50 years later?
The idea of building a circuit in the famous Monza park came about shortly after the First World War, when the burgeoning Italian car industry needed a facility to test its latest products – and potentially to show the world its strength through sporting success.
Two pioneers of the industry – Vincenzo Lancia and racing driver Felice Nazzaro – laid the foundations in February 1922. In just 110 days, the entire complex was completed. The combined road and high speed oval course, grandstands, service roads and other spectator facilities were all ready as promised for the Italian Grand Prix – long before Formula 1 as a world championship had even been thought of.
Two Pirelli-equipped Fiat 804s finished first and second, with that 1922 race won by Pietro Bordino.
Throughout the years, Monza was constantly reinventing itself with new features added and removed; mainly for safety reasons. The famous banking stopped being used for F1 after 1961, and the circuit was gradually made shorter and more secure, with the addition of new chicanes and corners. One of the very few current circuits to have been on the original F1 world championship calendar in 1950, Monza has never lost its unique character in all that time – nor its reputation as the “Temple of Speed”, with some incredible records being set over the years.
Monza is where the closest-ever finish in grand prix history took place, for example, when first and second places were separated by just 0.01 seconds in 1971.
Pirelli’s global headquarters is located just half an hour from Monza, on the outskirts of Milan, so in every way this is a home race for the Italian firm. Time to hold your breath, as Monza and Pirelli have a combined total of 250 candles to blow out on the metaphorical cake this year….
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