The Italian Grand Prix weekend at Monza marks one of the highlights on the calendar for many reasons. It's the last European race of the year before the gruelling fly-aways, it is the last of the true high-speed tracks left on the Formula One tour and it has history and passion that oozes from every inch of the legendary circuit. This year was my fifth visit to the La Pista Magica in six years, but sadly not all went to plan.
After a great day at the track on the Thursday, which included a morning track walk and an afternoon catching up with friends and speaking to the drivers for their thoughts ahead of the weekend, I headed for dinner with a fellow Irish paddock regular at a renowned pizzeria five minutes from the track. While also being known for its delicious pizza, I later learned that the street is a hotspot for robberies, and sure enough when I returned to my car after dinner my rucksack had been swiped from the boot of my hire car, complete with laptop, iPod, jacket and even business cards!!
I later found out that it was the same restaurant from which Karun Chandhok and Chris Goodwin (Bruno Senna's manager) had their belongings stolen in similar circumstances last year. With no damage to the car – it appears they cloned the signal from the remote control locking, allowing them to open and close the car without trace – it was not until I had returned to my hotel for the night that I discovered an empty boot. Thankfully they had left me my passport (saving me a trip to the Irish embassy in Rome on Monday), airplane boarding tickets and house keys.
Come Friday night, GP2 driver Giedo van der Garde suffered similar misfortune when his car was raided, with the thieves taking his and his trainer's bags from their car.
Friday morning was spent scouring the paddock for a laptop to loan for the rest of the weekend but, despite astounding help from all concerned, not one spare computer could be located in one of the most high-tech playgrounds on the globe. Friday afternoon was then spent slugging through the dense Monza traffic in search of the local police station to make an inconsequential police report about the theft. After returning to the paddock some hours later for a final sweep it was time for dinner with the ever-knowledgeable Joe Saward, not to the same pizzeria as Thursday night I might add!
Thankfully by Saturday Saward had sourced a spare laptop for me courtesy of Sunday Times journalist Jane Nottage. To say she saved my weekend was an understatement as it meant I was able to keep Manipe F1 up to date with session reports and results. A reliable internet connection would have been useful though, thanks Monza.
As a race-by-race accredited journalist (rather than those permanently accredited folk) I'm not allowed onto the starting grid of Formula One races but, being at Monza, I made a special effort to get onto the starting grid of a support race, and was granted my wish by GP3's press officer Amanda who got me onto the grid for race 1 on Saturday evening. Despite it only being the feeder series to GP2, the buzz on the grid was amazing. You really feel part of the occasion as drivers and teams prepare their cars for the half-hour race in tremendous heat.
I took a break from pizza on Saturday night and headed north to Arcore to have dinner with an eclectic bunch of people, including a fellow Irish scribe, Red Bull team members, the drummer from the Manic Street Preachers and a farrier nonetheless. But it was early to bed however, for it was going to be an early rise for Sunday morning.
Ireland were getting their Rugby World Cup campaign underway against United States so I had to be sure to be in early enough to get my morning's work done before sitting down to watch the match in the McLaren motorhome at 8.30. Although an expected victory was secured, the manner in which it was achieved left much to be desired, and left me feeling short-changed as I had missed Irish GP3 team Status Grand Prix notch up another victory in the season finale. It was a deserved end to the season for a great team after an otherwise lacklustre year.
The race was a disaster for another Irish interest however, as Conor Daly was punted into retirement from third place on the first lap by champion Valtteri Bottas. Conor had risen from 17th on the grid to sixth during Saturday's race and, after holding third place off the line, was certain to challenge for victory before being cruelly robbed of his opportunity. He'll definitely be a star to watch next year.
Another Irish star, Adam Carroll, more than did himself justice over the course of the weekend too, taking the underperforming Super Nova to fifth in Saturday's GP2 race before slipping to 11th on Sunday.
Being the last race of the European season meant the GP2 and GP3 prize-giving party was to be held on Sunday night and, after completing all post-race work, it was straight to the venue beside Milan's Linate airport. After a quick congratulations to Status GP race winner Antonio Felix da Costa and a quick catch-up with Carroll, it was over to the Daly family for the rest of the evening to get to know Conor and Derek's extended family from Dublin. Lucky for me as a Corkman it was a week before Dublin beat Kerry in the All-Ireland final two days' ago!
Monday afternoon was spent taking in the sights and sounds of central Milan, before making my way to Bergamo, north-east of the city, for my flight to Dublin. There I bumped into some fellow hacks for one final post-race chat, before boarding the plane to the capital filled with many race fans sporting countless Ferrari caps and t-shirts.
I got talking to one particular pair of fans (going by the name of @rojoproductions) whom I had been in touch with on Twitter just before boarding my flight to Milan on the Wednesday. After discussing everything from ticket prices and Felipe Massa's disappointing form, to the quality of F1 journalism we had touched down on Irish soil before we knew it, before hopping on a shuttle bus to a Dublin Airport hotel to relax for the night.
I was very fortunate that I was surrounded by such great people throughout the weekend that put Thursday night's incident well and truly in the shade. The atmosphere at Monza is always special, but it's a shame that there is still a small group of people out there hell-bent on disturbing the peace. It's a pity too that the police seem to turn a blind eye. However, with most items now replaced, life has returned to normality again.
A couple of pints of well-poured Guinness was the perfect way to end a near-perfect weekend at Formula One's spiritual home. Just one valuable lesson to be learned: Never leave anything valuable in a car. Ever.