In the history of F1, and in the heart of Monza citizens, a special place is occupied by the 'Monza Gorilla'. This was the nickname that British drivers gave to Vittorio Brambilla, a pure driver able to compete and succeed in an era where there was no circus, when the paddock and the pit lane were, if not really open, were easily accessible, where there was less money and where enthusiasm could sometimes achieve miracles.
The town of Monza recently celebrated Vittorio, giving his name to the new square located at the Vedano entrance of the Autodrome Nazionale, a short distance from the track access gates.
The ceremony was moving, the Major of Monza, Roberto Scanagatti, began by remembering Brambilla as a man and as a sportsman, before unveiling the street signs that read Piazzale Vittorio Brambilla.
The celebration then moved inside the circuit where on exhibition were some of the cars and bikes driven and ridden by Vittorio during his career.
Beside his family and brother Tino, there was a significant presence of local administrators from the ACI and SIAS management, while TV motorsport anchorman Nico Cereghini took the audience back in time, showing old films, speaking with two of Vittorio's mechanics and some of the many Italian drivers that at the time were present in F1 including Bruno Giacomelli, Gimax (Carlo Franch), Beppe Gabbiani and Carlo Facetti.
Also, much appreciated by the audience, were video tributes sent from Emerson Fittipaldi and Maurizio Flammini.
Why was Vittorio so much appreciated in spite of racing with minor teams and winning certainly than other Italian drivers? Most likely because he was the living Italian symbol of an era of motorsports when passion and hard work could more than compensate for the lack of money and resources typical of a minor team.
He started racing in the minor series and rose through the ranks as far as the Formula One World Championship.
He was born among car, bikes, pistons and cylinders, his father was the owner of a car workshop which was subsequently managed by Vittorio and his brother Tino.
In the beginning, Tino was the better known of the brothers, winning races in the 1968 F2 European Championship with the official Ferrari Dino.
At the beginning of his career, Vittorio participated in a 500cc motorbike world championship race (finishing a credible 12th). Subsequently, after winning the Italian F3 Championship, he moved to the F2 European series with Tino's old car. During this period, he began the long lasting relation with Beta Utensili, whose branded cars many will remember because of their (peculiar) bright orange colour.
With Beta's support, Vittorio bought a new March 732 BMW, which gave him his real start and culminated in two victories over the European champion Jean Pierre Jarier.
With a BMW he fought Lauda and Stewart in the 4 Hours of Monza, a round of the Touring Car European Championship.
In the same year, he made contact with Enzo Ferrari, who was already watching Vittorio due to his combativeness and mechanical competence. Unfortunately, 'il Drake' had other plans for the team (Lauda and Regazzoni).
Again, with the help of Beta, now his personal sponsor, in 1974 Vittorio entered the F1 world with an official March 741 Cosworth at Kyalami in South Africa.
It was the beginning of an F1 career of 74 Grands Prix over seven seasons with March, Surtees and Alfa Romeo.
With a car clearly outclassed by the top teams, Vittorio nevertheless obtained his only F1 pole position in Sweden, at Anderstorp, and lead the races, albeit for a few laps, at Zandvoort and Zolder.
The rain and difficult weather conditions were his speciality, when the elements levelled the playing field. His sole F1 victory was in the 1975 Austrian GP, when, under heavy rain, the race was stopped before the end thereby earning half points for the championship.
Sadly many will remember the race because of Mark Donohue's fatal accident during the warm up. Others, however, will remember the fact that Vittorio was so excited after taking the chequered flag that he lost the control of his March, crossed the finish line backwards and hit the barriers destroying the front of the car. The damaged nose was subsequently given pride of place in his workshop. Again, in the rain, he finished fourth in Belgium (1977) with the Surtees.