Imola, the forgotten symbol returned to grace since the pandemic

It is a name inseparable from the history of Formula 1. This weekend, the drivers and the teams put down their suitcases in Imola, for the first race of the season on the European continent, Sunday April 24, during the Grand Emilia-Romagna Prize. The Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit has been alive for two years to the sound of engines. A new youth for an iconic motorsport track, which had been gradually abandoned at the turn of the 2000s.

Before disappearing from the F1 calendar, the Imola circuit, originally known as the San Marino Grand Prix, had been on the calendar on a regular basis since 1981. It had quickly become a driver favorite for its speed , its long curves, its hilly and aggressive side.

“The drivers appreciate this kind of circuit because it’s an old-fashioned, old-generation track, very bumpy, with a great impression of speed”decrypts for france info: sports Jean Alesi, a former driver who notably worked for Ferrari. “You really feel the limit and the potential of the cars, it’s a circuit that corresponds very well to Formula 1”approved Pierre Gasly on the Red Bull site in 2021.

Imola was also a meeting place for supporters, especially those of Ferrari. Enzo, the team’s founder, imagined and supervised the creation of the cricuit after the war. Since his death in 1988, it bears his name, and that of his son: autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari. Located 90 kilometers east of Maranello, where the Scuderia factory is located, Imola became, from the very first races, the privileged gathering place for hundreds of thousands of Tifosi, dressed in red, for the greatest pilgrimages.

“Compared to Monza, for example, Imola is really a popular venue. The circuit is designed so that all fans can come, especially families and children. It is also located in the middle of a very small city, which creates a really special atmosphere on race weekends.”

John Alesi

at franceinfo: sport

Jean Alesi, who competed in four races with the Scuderia at Imola, remembers the stadium atmosphere in the stands around the track: “There is support like in a stadium, with applause, whistles. In my time, we had reliability issues, so we could be whistled, jeered at. It’s part of the game, it’s the Ferrari mentality .”

Since 1981, supporters have been thrilled by outstanding sporting exploits. In 1982, the two Ferrari drivers, Didier Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve, signed a resounding double there for the Scuderia, after a fratricidal duel on the track, the Frenchman overtaking his teammate in the last laps, ignoring team instructions to freeze positions . The following year, Patrick Tambay, Alain Prost and René Arnoux celebrated the third (and last to date) 100% tricolor podium there in the queen category.

But Imola has also witnessed a more tragic story. Gerhard Berger suffered a serious accident there in 1989, when his single-seater caught fire after a violent exit from the track in the Tamburello corner. “That damn wall… Someday someone is going to die, because it’s way too close to the track”, feared the Austrian pilot after his release from the hospital. A prediction unfortunately verified. Five years later, Ayrton Senna was the victim of a fatal accident when he hit the wall at full speed, in exactly the same place.

The day before, during qualifying, rookie Roland Ratzenberger had also suffered a fatal shock in the Villeneuve curve, ending the session, before the dramatic race on Sunday. The circuit then loses its splendour. “Obviously, after the shock of the deaths of Senna and Ratzenberger, it was not a place where we really liked to return”grimaces Jean Alesi.

The statue in tribute to Ayrton Senna in Imola, in 2021. (FLORENT GOODEN / DPPI MEDIA / AFP)

Following these accidents, the circuit began modifications to improve safety. The fastest corners are cut in chicanes, gravel traps are added. But Imola lost favor with the International Federation (FIA), and the circuit was withdrawn from the championship after the 2006 season. Work continued, the pit lane and the paddock were demolished and completely rebuilt.

In 2011, Imola finally regained its capacity to host a Formula 1 Grand Prix. Its return to the calendar took shape in 2016, when rumors spread that the contract with Monza, which hosts the Italian Grand Prix, would not be renewed. . Imola owners sign an agreement in principle with FOM (Formula One Management) in July to stage the race from 2017. But Monza, backed by the Automobile Club of Italy (ACI), announces two months later that a new contract has been initialed to ensure its presence on the calendar.

Finally, it was the Covid-19 pandemic that gave the circuit its big comeback. At the start of 2020, Imola offered to replace the Chinese Grand Prix, in uncertainty. In July, the route is confirmed in the tight calendar concocted by the FIA, under the name of Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna, the region where it is located. “A motorsport and engine region, Ducati, Lamborghini, Maserati are also based there”recalls Jean Alesi. “The return of a fantastic circuit, very old school”welcomes Formula 1 for its part by formalizing the news.

The race, which took place at the end of October that year, was full of twists and turns, and notably saw Daniel Ricciardo’s second podium with Renault. Renewed in 2021, still in place of China, the Grand Prix once again offers a great show, with a start on a wet track, which dries as it goes. Max Verstappen signs the first of his ten victories of the season there. On the strength of these two successes, the FOM and the ACI have agreed to extend the presence of Imola on the calendar until 2025.

This weekend, after two editions behind closed doors due to sanitary measures, the 2022 edition will see the return of the public and the Tifosis, who will fill the spans of the autodrome for the first time in 16 years. With Scuderia Ferrari back in the forefront, driven by the fastest and most powerful single-seater on the grid, and Charles Leclerc leading the world championship, everything is in place for Imola to write a new page in its legend.

Leave a Comment