The Italian Grand Prix at Monza is always one of the absolute highlights of the Formula 2 calendar, and it’s particularly special for Pirelli as the company’s headquarters is just half an hour away from the track. The circuit’s illustrious history and unique high speeds are part of the attraction, but it’s the passionate home crowds that really make the occasion.
In the run-up to this year’s event, an extra-special treat was laid on for the Italian fans: the Formula 1 Milan Festival, which Pirelli – sole tyre supplier to Formula 2 as well – played a key part in.
The close proximity of Monza means that the city always has a degree of racing fever during the Grand Prix, but this year was a different story, with festivities throughout the week leading up to it. The main event was on Wednesday before the race, when a circuit was marked out around the area of Darsena (literally docks in Italian) and the ancient Navigli canals.
Italy’s own Ferrari is always the focus of attention for the tifosi, and both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen were there to please the crowds.
F1’s other Italian-based outfit Toro Rosso also brought its drivers, former F2 star Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley. These days it might be Red Bull’s junior team, but it has a long history dating back to the perennial underdog Minardi: one of the best loved teams in Italy.
The third team taking part was Sauber, which may be run out of neighbouring Switzerland but now has a definite Italian flavour thanks to its partnership with Alfa Romeo: a brand that was founded in Milan 108 years ago. A set of vintage Alfas were used for the driver parade, before Sauber brought the noise, quite literally, with the sound of one of its older V8-engined cars reverberating between the buildings as reigning Formula 2 champion Charles Leclerc and his Swedish team mate Marcus Ericsson performed crowd-pleasing donuts.
The event gave the Italian fans a good opportunity to get to know Leclerc, a young driver who could well be a Ferrari hero of the future. He certainly pleased the audience with his fluent Italian, and it seems as though he may have taught his friend Gasly a few words too. The drivers were followed onto the stage by Pirelli’s head of car racing Mario Isola, who spoke to his fellow Milanese about his passion for Formula 1 – and of course Formula 2, a vital stepping-stone to the top level.