Grapevine: Paddock Life: Monza edition

AUTOSPORT brings you its regular column of life inside the paddock. This week: Monza

Grapevine: Paddock Life: Monza edition

No place quite pulls the heart strings for racing fans like Monza. The Autodromo that stretches its legs through the park oozes atmosphere and history - and it is the perfect place for Formula 1 to wave goodbye to the European season.

When the autumn sun blasts through the trees on hazy race morning, and the tifosi pour through the ancient park gates, there is no better place on earth to be.

With just the flyaway races left this season now, it meant the final appearance of the year for the motorhomes, which will now all be packed up and put into boxes until the Spanish Grand Prix next May.

This year's Italian Grand Prix had more than the usual number of goodbyes though - as those who will not be coming back next year waved themselves off.

On Friday night, Bridgestone hosted a special event at the Paddock Club for an official goodbye following its long tenure in the sport - while on Saturday the crowds flocked together for a BBQ celebration for the final ever European Formula BMW race.

The category has seen its fair share of stars through the years - with Sebastian Vettel, Timo Glock, Nico Hulkenberg, Bruno Senna, Christian Klien and Sebastien Buemi all coming together for a fun-filled evening.

The Monza paddock is always packed with people - as the numerous Italian fans sell their right arms to try and get passes off teams, sponsors, their friends or anybody who can help them to get close to their heroes.

This year saw more than its fair share of celebrities too - and well beyond the normal Italian footballers, soap stars and singers who pop in for a bit of the action.

Actor Hugh Grant - self-confessed lover of 'beautiful women, beautiful cars and cats' was invited to Monza on Saturday after a visit to Maranello earlier in the week to spec-up a Ferrari for a 50th birthday present for himself.

He had only been due to attend on qualifying day but loved it so much he returned to the track on Sunday - and was seen busily snapping away on his camera on the grid in front of Fernando Alonso's car.

Indy 500 winner and IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti was also in town, as a guest of watch maker TW Steel. It was the first opportunity he had had to see cousin Paul di Resta drive a Formula 1 car, as he stood in the Force India garage on Friday - before spending a brilliant afternoon sat on the banking at the Ascari Chicane watching the F1 boys do their stuff.

Also present at the weekend were the Stereophonics, who played an F1 Rocks concert in Milan on Saturday night, plus electro-rock stars Kasabian - who were guests of Santander and Red Bull over the weekend.

Kasabian's lead singer Tom Meighan was hugely excited about being back at an F1 for the first time since Monte Carlo last year.

"It's my second grand prix," he told AUTOSPORT while enjoying the sunshine at Red Bull's Energy Station. "I was in Monaco last year and that was amazing. It is a great honour to be back.

"F1 just blows me away - it's like Glastonbury on wheels. The noise is amazing and you get a really big buzz off it. I really don't know how fans can stand hearing that noise for hours - but they do!!"

When asked if his love of F1 meant he was tempted to get in a racing car himself, he shook his head.

"No. And I never will! I wouldn't be able to do it. I don't drive anyway so have no interest in getting in a racing car. I'll just keep watching it!'

The final race for the motorhomes provides the perfect opportunity for F1 teams to say their thanks to those who have worked with them over the course of the season since Spain - and it was McLaren's honour to host the British press pack on Thursday night.

Times have changed a lot at McLaren in recent years - with its once 'grey' image replaced with a far friendlier ambience that has made the Brand Centre one of the social hot spots of the paddock. Heck, the team even pumps out some mighty fine tracks on its sound system during the day.

McLaren made sure to keep up its fun factor at the British media dinner where, rather than simply laying on a feast, it put on a bit of a quiz.

McLaren PR Steve Cooper laid down some devilishly difficult questions - which included elements on chassis numbers, guessing which F1 writer penned famous paragraphs from the past year and -'Can you name the 16 British drivers who have raced for McLaren in F1?' The use of telephones and Blackberries to try and find the information was banned...

It was clear the hardcore specialists were going to come out on top - and all money was on the crack team of AUTOSPORT's Tony Dodgins, Motorsport News' Simon Arron, plus F1 Racing's James Roberts and Tom Clarkson to triumph.

However, the proceedings really hotted up when bonus points were awarded to the team who could come up with the funniest press release. The challenge was to devise a statement from the made-up SpeedTech Grand Prix team rubbishing reports in the newspaper that its star driver - and famed ladies' man Bjorn Knobjokke - had had a gay affair.

Many attempted to win the challenge, but the night was stolen by James Roberts, who stood up as Speedtech's team principal - a certain Don Rennis - and proceeded to bring the house down with a perfect impression of the man who used to run affairs at McLaren. Let's just say that this would be an 'inappropriate format' to provide any more details about what was said.

Roberts duly secured the points and helped his team capture overall glory - which earned all of them a signed half-scale replica of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton's helmets. Good one boys!

Lots of people in F1 over the years have learned that a verbal agreement isn't worth the paper it's written on, but Jarno Trulli showed he remains one of the sport's true gentlemen when he honoured a promise in the paddock at Monza.

Back in Monaco, Trulli had brought his and Karun Chandhok's races to a premature end when he launched his Lotus over the top of the HRT at Rascasse late in the GP.

As a way of saying sorry for what could have been Chandhok's best finish in F1, Trulli offered to get his rival a case of fine wines from his Podere Castorani vineyard - and he duly delivered it in the paddock at Monza.

"He has certainly paid his due for climbing over my head ," smiled Chandhok, as he packed his wine away for the journey back home.

The end of the European season means that only the flyaway races are left - and that heralds an awful lot of plane travel coming up for F1's paddock people over the next two months.

It's the scale of that plane travel that makes people try and avoid flying as much as possible before then - with most people electing to drive from home to Spa last month rather than by air.

Yet while driving to Italy was a step too far for some - unless you happen to be lucky enough to be a resident of Monaco - Bridgestone's PR Andy Stobart had the most unique way of getting between Spa and Monza: by bike.

Keen cyclist Stobart had spent his Spa weekend finalising his route and in the end of completed the 1200 kilometre journey to Monza through seven countries.

But he did not take the most direct of journeys - having had a few detours which included the Sauber factory in Hinwil and Toyota Motorsport's facility in Cologne. He confessed to questioning the wisdom of his route, however, when after a few days he found himself at Michael Schumacher's kart track at Kerpen - only a few kilometres from where he had started in Spa!

"It was truly amazing," said Stobart at the weekend, as he recalled to many people his incredible journey.

And amazingly, despite the physical toll of cycling that distance, he was actually a bit disappointed to be flying home from the Italian Grand Prix rather than getting back on his bike.

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