“You are entering a crazy, crazy place,” said Donato as we queued up behind a camper van full of Lithuanian race fans.
The first thing that hit me was the pulsating beat of a powerful sound system. The second was the flashing lights.
“Is there an on-site discotheque?” I inquired naively.
As I quickly discovered, the campsite was full of F1 nuts who take camping very seriously.
Many had arrived several days before the race, planting a flag to mark their territory before competing over who could build the biggest, most elaborate pleasure dome.
The field butts right onto the race track, and the earliest arrivals had constructed multi-tiered viewing platforms, complete with deck chairs, sun parasols and televisions. Downstairs, professional music systems and in at least two cases home cinemas provided evening entertainment. Cold beer was on tap 24/7.
Now I’m not averse to a bit of roughing it — the cold showers and squat toilets didn’t faze me — but I wasn’t prepared for the testosterone-fuelled antics that overtook our camp once the cars became silent.
On our first night we were woken by some Swiss lads setting off smoke flares and fire crackers to show who was King of the Campsite. Then we were roused by a drunk English man trying to get into our tent after getting lost on his way back from the toilet.
“It takes a certain kind of woman to appreciate camping in Monza,” agreed Jillian Campbell, 25, who’d traveled from Thurso, Scotland. “We come here for the party.”
“And the men,” volunteered her sister Susan.
For Campbell, Monza is a family affair. She comes every year with her aunt and uncle, Irene and Don McGee, whose passion for F1 was the main theme of their wedding.
Irene, who says she caught the bug from her husband, walked down the aisle to the Italian national anthem carrying red and yellow tulips — Ferrari colors — tied with a black and white checked ribbon. Her honeymoon was spent at Imola, Italy’s second racetrack.