The five Kings
of Monza F1

Jackie Stewart, Gerhard Berger, Jean Alesi, Damon Hill and Johnny Herbert are five drivers who enjoy a special relationship with Monza. Because each of them has an incredible story to tell about this hallowed track; something that is still deeply personal to them to this day. Even with the passing of the years, the Italian Grand Prix venue retains a unique and inimitable significance. With the hallmark being pure speed.


Jackie Stewart is best known as an illustrious three-time champion who retired from racing nearly half a century ago, having won his final title in 1973. But on 12 September 1965, Stewart was barely 26 years old: in those days a very young age to be at the forefront of motorsport. He was the second driver for the BRM team alongside the more experienced Graham Hill, who had already been crowned champion three years earlier and who would go on to repeat the feat in 1968. 
On paper though, the 1965 Monza race was ideally suited to Jim Clark. The famous Scot claimed pole position and then roared off into the lead, at the wheel of the Lotus 33 that would ensure he won nearly all the races that year. But Stewart did not allow himself to be intimidated. By the sixth lap he was already in front. He would lose and regain the lead another 14 times throughout the course of this frenetic race. In the final change of lead, Jackie overhauled his experienced team mate just three laps from the flag to eventually win by 3.3 seconds.


Gerhard Berger completed two stints at Ferrari: from 1987 to 1989 and then again from 1993 to 1995. So it was logical that his relationship with Monza would be a close one. As a driver who spent a lot of time dressed in red, this was in many ways his home race. But the Austrian’s win there in 1988 had an even greater significance. It was the very first victory for the Prancing Horse following the death of the legendary Enzo Ferrari, who had passed away on 14 August that year. Yet none of the early signs predicted a Ferrari victory that weekend.
The season had been dominated by McLaren-Honda, with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost winning all the races that year. Apart from one, which happened to be Monza. It looked set to be yet another grand prix that was in Senna’s pocket. But a crucial misunderstanding during an overtaking move meant that Senna collided with the Williams of Jean-Louis Schlesser, clearing the way for the two Ferraris of Berger and his team mate Michele Alberto to finish first and second.


The Englishman enjoyed a real love story with Monza. Damon Hill actually missed his what would have been his first Italian Grand Prix in 1992, during his debut season with Brabham. Having failed to qualify six times from the first eight races, the team finally folded in August for financial reasons – before the Monza race took place. But Damon got his own back the following year, in 1993. Hill was driving for Williams, which curiously ran him with race number zero because reigning world champion Nigel Mansell (who was entitled to the champion’s number) had left Formula 1 for IndyCar in America. Hill’s team mate at Williams was Alain Prost, who would go on to clinch his third title at the end of 1993. But Monza belonged to Hill, after a fantastic race. The Briton won there again in 1994, after some bad luck for Jean Alesi in the Ferrari.


For at least two years, Jean Alesi was synonymous with Monza. In 1994, he took pole position with Ferrari: the team with which he had finished second at Monza the year before, driving the tifosi quite literally crazy. At the time, the Ferrari 12-cylinder engine was the most powerful in Formula 1 and the long straights of Monza were practically made for it. At the start, Alesi authoritatively took the lead, building up an advantage of more than 10 seconds in the first 13 laps. Then, disaster: the Ferrari made a pit stop, but when Alesi got going again, a transmission problem forced him into retirement.
In 1995, on lap 33 of 53, the two Ferraris were leading again with Alesi in front of Berger. But once more, destiny decided to play a part. The TV camera mounted on the rear wing of Alesi’s Ferrari became detached and incredibly landed on the other Ferrari of Berger, breaking part of the front suspension. Alesi maintained the lead and was already dreaming of victory, when just 10 laps from the end his right rear wheel bearing caught fire. It was game over. Again.


The first man to cross the finish line at the 1995 Monza race was Johnny Herbert in the Benetton-Renault, at the end of an unbelievable grand prix. Before the pit stop for the two leading Ferraris of Berger and Alesi, there was an incredible series of coincidences and drama. Williams driver David Coulthard went off on the formation lap but nonetheless managed to reclaim his pole position, thanks to a second start that was held precisely because too many cars had gone off on the sand pulled onto the track by Coulthard’s bizarre accident. On lap 13 though, Coulthard definitively went off at the Roggia corner. Nine laps later, Damon Hill in the second Williams hit the Benetton of Michael Schumacher, with both retiring. And so the race ended with Herbert taking his third grand prix win (which was also his second race victory that year), more than 17 seconds ahead of Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren. 

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