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The Return of Imola

The journey back to Formula One

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This week, Formula One returns with the Made in Italy Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Let’s just call it Imola shall we? The iconic circuit made a surprise return to the F1 calendar last season amid the coronavirus pandemic after 14 years. 

It proved to be a popular circuit, from both fans and drivers, with eventual winner Lewis Hamilton describing the circuit as “incredible”. So why was it given the boot back in 2007?

The last race to be held at the circuit was the San Marino Grand Prix in 2006. It was won by Michael Schumacher who started from pole position in his first win of the season. After the 2006 season, it was announced that Imola would no longer host a grand prix and was booted from the calendar, despite protests to the FIA World Council.

MOTORLAT | F1 | Imola busca un hueco habitual en el calendario

Image Credit: Formula One/Motorlat

Why was it removed?

Nobody knows the real reason why, except maybe Bernie Ecclestone. At the time, it was removed from the calendar to be replaced by the Belgian Grand Prix. The track was also outdated and needed upgrades especially to the pitlane and paddock area. The circuit itself needed to be made safer, as it faced constant criticism in regards to safety after Ayron Senna’s fateful accident in 1994. Despite making changes to the Tamburello corner, and several other chicanes added to the track to essentially slow it down, it was clear that money needed to be spent and it was dropped.

How has the track changed?

Since 2007, the circuit has been substantially upgraded. A bypass to the Variante Bassa chicane was added for cars, making the run from Rivazza 2 to the first Tamburello chicane flat out. In 2008, the pitlane was completely demolished and re-built along with the start/finish straight. The pitlane was also extended and resurfaced.

With most of the work completed, the FIA gave Imola a “1T” rating, meaning that an official F1 test could be held at the circuit. In 2011, the track received a “1” homologation rating, meaning that the track could now host a grand prix.

1995 San Marino Grand Prix - Motor Sport Magazine

Image Credit: Motorsport Images

The journey back to Formula One

In June 2015, it was confirmed that the owners of the circuit were in talks with Formula One to potentially return to the calendar. At the time, it was unclear whether the Italian Grand Prix, held at Monza, would continue due to lack of funding to host a race. Imola signed a deal to host the grand prix from the 2017 season, but in September of 2016, Monza had somehow secured government funding to remain on the calendar. The circuit owners at Imola took legal action, questioning the legality of the funding awarded to Monza, but withdrew their case in late 2016.

However, in February last year, another opportunity arose. As the global pandemic was taking the world hostage, it was announced that the Chinese Grand Prix would be cancelled and the whole season was thrown into doubt. The circuit owners applied to host a grand prix once again, to replace the Chinese race. As the season was put on hold, and the first race now scheduled for July 2020, it was confirmed that Imola would host the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on the weekend of the 1st November. It was named as such to honour the region this legendary track is situated in.

The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

The 2020 race weekend was held over just two days, with just one practice session held before qualifying on the Saturday. It was Lewis Hamilton who took the victory, ahead of team mate Valtteri Bottas, who qualified on pole but finished second due to damage. Daniel Ricciardo claimed the final podium place for Renault, his second of the season. It looked to be a one race wonder in this era of Formula One, but the global pandemic still had it’s hold on the world and despite 23 races on the calendar planned for this year, changes have had to be made already.

The Australian Grand Prix, which is normally the season opener in March, was moved to the back end of the year due to travel restrictions. The Chinese Grand Prix has had to be scrapped this year again due to similar reasons. The new Vietnamese Grand Prix was removed, with Portimao in Portugal taking it’s place. This meant that Imola secured a second grand prix in place of China.

Despite a lack of overtaking opportunities, this track is fast and old school. Despite it holding memories of the tragic passing of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, the track has certainly had plenty of feel good moments and will remain a firm favourite, even if the return is short lived.





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