Imola, the forgotten symbol has returned to favor since the pandemic

Imola, the forgotten symbol has returned to favor since the pandemic
Imola, the forgotten symbol has returned to favor since the pandemic

It is a name that is inextricably linked to the history of Formula 1. This weekend, the drivers and the teams set up their bags in Imola, for the first race of the season on the European continent, Sunday 24 April, during the Grand Emilia Romagna Prize. The Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit has been living on the sound of engines for two years now. A new youth for an iconic motorsport circuit, which was gradually abandoned in the early 2000s.

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

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

Imola was also a meeting place for supporters, especially those of Ferrari. Enzo, the founder of the team, conceived 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, from the very first races Imola became the privileged meeting place for hundreds of thousands of Tifosi, dressed in red, for the greatest pilgrimages.

“Compared to Monza, for example, Imola is a really popular location. The track is designed in such a way that all fans can come, especially families and children. It is also located in the middle of a very small town, which creates a very special atmosphere during race weekends.”

John Alesic

at franceinfo: sports

Jean Alesi, who took part in four races with the Scuderia in Imola, recalls the atmosphere in the stadium in the stands around the circuit: “There is support like in a stadium, with applause, whistles. In my day we had reliability problems, so we could be whistled, booed. It’s part of the game, it’s the Ferrari mentality.”

Since 1981, supporters have been raving about outstanding sporting achievements. In 1982 the two Ferrari drivers, Didier Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve, signed a resounding double for the Scuderia there, after a brotherly duel on track, with the Frenchman overtaking his teammate in the closing laps and the team’s instructions to move positions freeze ignored. The following year, Patrick Tambay, Alain Prost and René Arnoux celebrated the third (and last to date) 100% tricolor podium 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 will die because it’s way too close to the track”, the Austrian pilot feared after his discharge from hospital. A prediction unfortunately confirmed. Five years later, Ayrton Senna suffered a fatal accident when he collided with the wall at full speed in exactly the same spot.

The day before, in qualifying, rookie Roland Ratzenberger had also suffered a fatal shock at the Villeneuve corner, ending the session ahead of Sunday’s dramatic race. The circuit then loses its splendor. “Of course, after the shock of Senna and Ratzenberger’s deaths, it wasn’t a place we really wanted to come back to”grins Jean Alesi.

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

After these accidents, the track started making adjustments 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 track was withdrawn from the championship after the 2006 season. Work continued, the pit lane and paddock were torn down and completely rebuilt.

In 2011, Imola finally regained its capacity to host a Formula 1 Grand Prix. The return to the calendar took shape in 2016, when rumors circulated that the contract with Monza, which hosts the Italian Grand Prix, would fail. be extended. Imola owners will sign an agreement in principle with FOM (Formula One Management) in July to host 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. In early 2020, Imola offered to replace the Chinese Grand Prix in uncertainty. In July, the route will be confirmed in the tight calendar established by the FIA, under the name Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, the region where it is located. “A motorsport and motorcycle region, Ducati, Lamborghini, Maserati are also there”remembers Jean Alesi. “The return of a fantastic track, very old school”welcomes his side Formula 1 make the news official.

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

This weekend, after two editions behind closed doors due to sanitary measures, the 2022 edition returns from the public and the Tifosis, which will fill the spans of the autodrome for the first time in 16 years. With Scuderia Ferrari back at 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 his legend.

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