September 05, 2015

MONZA, Italy (AP) Thundering down Monza's finishing straight at speeds unrivalled at other circuits, Formula One drivers both make history and zoom past it.

On their right, gone in the blink of an eye at 335 kph (210 mph), are old steeply banked and now disused curves where their predecessors diced with death decades ago.

Weeds poke through cracks in the concrete. The rusty trackside fencing and barriers are covered with thick creepers. But shut your eyes, let your imagination go, and you can picture drivers from the 1950s and `60s hurtling round the dizzyingly steep banking, hearts in their mouths.

Suddenly, snapping the reverie, comes the high-pitched scream of Sebastian Vettel's turbocharged V6 Ferrari, racing past on the modern track that hugs the old one in parts and tunnels under it at one of the fastest points.

This coming together of F1's present and past feels magical and poignant. That and the hair-raising speeds reached at Monza make it the most special of circuits. It would be madness to take it off F1's calendar.

F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone seems to measure Monza's worth solely in dollars and cents. He says Italian authorities must fork out the same as other circuits to continue to be part of his show after their current deal expires next year.

F1 media report that Ecclestone is seeking 25 million euros ($28 million) per year, and that the Italians are 10 million euros short.

''The bottom line,'' Ecclestone told Autosport.com, ''is we've got something to sell, and they have to decide whether they want to buy it.''

Money, money, money. How charmless.

The billionaire's perpetual search for yet more of the stuff continues to take F1 to new corners of the globe, but looks crass and shortsighted when the added venues have none of Monza's storybook appeal.

Like Sochi. That soulless Winter Olympic playground will host its second grand prix next month, another sorry example of sport serving up fresh coats of whitewash for President Vladimir Putin's Russia, in return for money.

The grand prix here on Sunday will be Monza's 65th - more than any other venue. When built in 1922, the track became racing's third permanent venue after Brooklands in Britain and Indianapolis in the United States. The list of winners since its first grand prix in 1950 reads like a who's who of F1: Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher - to name just some.

The fastest circuit on the F1 calendar, Monza has seen tragedy, too. Wolfgang von Trips and 15 spectators were killed when his Ferrari disintegrated and plowed into the crowds in 1961, which proved to be the last year that Monza's treacherous banked curves were used in F1.

These layers of history can help one forgive, at least for the length of the Monza weekend, the unattractive and shallow money-obsessed sides of F1.

At Monza, amid the Italian throngs so passionate about racing and Ferrari, and to an extent at the other most storied tracks in F1, the series comes as close as it ever can to having soul.

When world champion Lewis Hamilton starts on pole for Mercedes, the British driver will be adding another page in F1's history book that the newer venues have contributed little to.

Fittingly, it was an Italian, Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene, who best expressed how the loss of Monza will, if it comes to that, ultimately hurt Ecclestone's F1 cash machine.

''Every person that is losing his own culture, he's losing the roots,'' Arrivabene said. ''He's not anymore a person.''

So that bottom line Ecclestone talks about shouldn't be the be-all and end-all. The history and spirit of Monza has value, too.

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John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester

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