As an Italian and a racing fan, I must say I’ve never been to Italy but I’d always heard there were two famous races there – the Tirreno Alhambra and the San Gimignano – and the race known as the Hakkinen Grand Prix. But what race was it? Was it the fastest race of all time or just the one that was held on the most famous hill on the planet? It turns out to be neither and in fact the races are unrelated.
It wasn’t long ago that I attended the Italian GP in San Gimignano and when I got off the plane I realized this race was something completely different. There was no mention of British driver Juan Pablo Montoya, whose 262km per hour average speed in qualifying for Williams at Monza back in 2020 was the second fastest lap in F1 history and only Ferrari’s Felipe Massa – another winner – had topped it before. In fact, only three drivers in history have ever equalled Montoya’s qualifying record and even then, it was for the very same circuit. The last man to beat Montoya’s qualifying record was Mario Andretti, who ran a blistering qualifying lap at Monza in 1990 but had to settle for third. This race was also the final race for three of the world’s greatest motorcycle racers and they had each won the race.
In fact, Hakkinen was a well-liked figure among Italian motor racing fans. He had won the title with Honda back in 1970 and had later retired to become a driving instructor. He also appeared in a special programme for the Italian Grand Prix in 1970 as part of an annual programme to celebrate the anniversary of the first race. Then again, he was a familiar name in the paddock because he was often regarded as one of the sport’s fast men and he had won some major races including the Tour de France and the first of the Nurburgring 24 hours races. However, his only win in Monza came in a Formula Three event and he was disqualified from the race for driving on the track in the pit lane to start the race and being caught racing with another car. So there were many reasons why Hakkinen would have won the race and yet it seems his absence is a more important reason.
Another reason why the Hakkinen Grand Prix was missed is the fact that it takes place in the shadow of the San Gimignano mountains which cover a huge portion of the circuit. And whilst it may be true that a big part of the course is located inside the mountains, it is also possible to take a direct road through them, so this race is much closer to the city than the other races. Although it’s not quite as high as Monza, the hill is steep and there is no doubt that a rider who is not accustomed to the terrain will struggle to keep up with it, so it is much harder.
When the race was announced on the podium it caused many fans to panic and it seemed to be a bad omen for the Hakkinen Grand Prix, but as I sat down I realised it was simply not the case and in fact Alber Elbawi was actually the faster driver in the race as well as beating Montoya’s qualifying record by a second, meaning it was possible to catch him if you knew how to ride the race. The race went well from start to finish and the race took just a couple of hours, as it is hard to see how the race can be any faster. Despite the altitude, it was surprisingly easy to follow the topography as the track is flat and even when there are corners you can make the necessary adjustments to get through safely. The race was won by Elbawi and the race was a great example of why racing in Italy is so popular, as the Italian riders are able to use their own unique skills and it is clear that they know what they are doing.
So despite the fact that the Hakkinen Grand Prix was missed it was a good race, especially since it is a great example of how to race in Italy. Of course if there is another race in Italy that you want to watch then there should not be any problem in finding out who is going to take the win and if you miss the Hakkinen Grand Prix then you can always watch it at a later date on television or in another country.