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Buongiorno Monza

  • Story Highlights
  • With five races left in the championship, there are still four drivers in contention
  • Last year's Italian Grand Prix overshadowed by Schumacher's retirement announcement
  • The circuit is loved by Ferrari fans but has a tragic history
  • Long straights make Monza the fastest track in the F1 calendar
  • Next Article in World Sport »
by James Snodgrass for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- As we enter the closing races of the 2007 season, just four races remain after Sunday's Italian Grand Prix at Monza. And there is still a four-way battle for the Championship. Lewis Hamilton, with 84 points, is five points ahead of his McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso.

Alonso, who had to sit out most of the morning session with a technical problem, put in the fastest lap in the second practice session

Ten points behind him is Ferrari's Felipe Massa, with 69 points. And running just one point behind him is his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.

This means that all four drivers are in serious contention for the championship title. With five races, and 10 points for each race win, there is still everything to compete for.

And the competitive spirit was the essence of Friday's practice sessions. In the morning session Ferrari was dominant, with Felipe Massa pulling in the fastest lap. But it was a disappointing session for Fernando Alonso who had to watch the action from the pits because of technical problems with his McLaren MP4-22.

By the second session these technical glitches had been overcome and a determined Alonso took to the track with gusto, putting in the fastest lap of the session, beating his team-mate Hamilton by eight tenths of a second. Which puts him in good stead for Saturday's qualifying session.

Alonso, the reigning world championship has struggled to retain dominance this season with competition from his rookie team-mate and McLaren's policy of not favoring one driver over another. He had assumed that he would get the kind of first driver status he enjoyed at Renault.

Monza is one of the most iconic tracks in Formula 1. Its famous long straights allow bursts of flat-out speed. It holds the record for the fastest (unofficial) speed recorded in Formula 1. In practice for the 2005 Italian Grand Prix, the Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya reached 231.5 mph (372.6 km/h) in his McLaren MP4-20.

Autodromo Nazionali Monza -- to give the track its full title -- has seen many momentous events in the sports history. Most recently, in 2006, Michael Schumacher used the Italian Grand Prix to make the announcement of his imminent retirement. The seven-times world championship-winning German chose his moment carefully. Monza is the home circuit to Ferrari (with whom he won five of his world championships) and is a shrine to the 'Tifosi' -- as the army of Ferrari fans is known.

Monza is also home to one of Formula 1's most notorious accidents: an incident in which one driver and 14 spectators were killed. During the Italian Grand Prix of 1961 the Ferrari of Wolfgang von Trips clipped the Lotus of Jim Clark and his car was sent airborne. It smashed into a barrier, hurling von Trips from the cockpit, and flipped into the crowd. Had the crash not happened he was likely to have won the world championship that year, which was eventually won by the American Phil Hill.

Though this tragic event wasn't the worst in the circuit's history. That took place during the 1928 Italian Grand Prix when the Talbot of Emilio Materassi lost control and careered into a grandstand, killing the driver and 27 spectators, and injuring dozens more. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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