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Should Imola become a permanent feature on the F1 calendar?

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Imola is one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues, steeped in triumph and tragedy.

There’s a certain allure about the place, it embodies everything a classic circuit is all about; a narrow track, perilously quick corners and danger. Despite new configurations and features to improve the safety of the circuit, it remains as one of the most revered racetracks in the world.

The word Imola alone is enough to send shivers down the spine of any motorsport fan, with memories of F1’s darkest weekend, when both Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives in 1994.

The Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari is a throwback to the sport’s dark past. It stands as a pool of reflection for F1 to stare into, acknowledging the sadness, feeling the melancholy, but learning from those painful lessons.

Imola would feature on the F1 calendar every year from 1980-2006, under both the Italian and San Marino Grand Prix names. The track made a return last year, making up the numbers after the cancellation of many other events due to the Covid-19 pandemic, hosting the first ever Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

As the virus is still causing havoc around the world and for F1 – with China cancelling their usual early-season slot – Imola once again finds itself on the calendar, hosting the first of two races in Italy this season.

Surely this should be celebrated? At a time where classic circuits seem to be falling victim to the vicious procession of time, bringing back a historical racetrack to F1 should offer a sense of nostalgia, and a sign that history can sometimes be upheld in a sport which is so often fuelled by money.

But while it is a return to gravel traps ready to gobble up any driver that goes wide, barriers which are willing to punish any kind of mistake (just ask George Russell!), and a venue that is steeped in history, it’s hard to see how Imola has a part to play in F1’s future – and that’s not such a bad thing.

Ricciardo shocked to take 'surreal' Imola podium and share 'shoey' with Hamilton | Formula 1®
Last year’s race saw Renault take only their second ever podium since returning to the sport in 2016

The truth is, Imola is out of date – at least by modern F1 standards.

It was brilliant to see the circuit return last year, and to see the modern beasts of F1 cars tackle the renowned track. But last year’s race was also very processional. There were few overtakes and lack of wheel-to-wheel battles.

The track is just too narrow and lacks any real straights. There are no real overtaking opportunities, which means the excitement of a race is purely down to a battle of strategy – and with so many teams often employing similar tactics, it vastly decreases the chances of an exciting race.

The main criteria for overtakes – a long straight into a heavy braking zone – is at a premium around Imola. The pit-straight itself is far from linear, featuring several jinks before you reach the first and only real passing chance at Tamburello. The infamous corner – which has been slowed down from when it used to be a frightening sweeping left-hander – is barely a significant braking zone in the modern cars. Sadly, track position is king at Imola.

And while new regulation changes which are set to take effect next year should increase the ease of overtaking, the layout of the track is likely to remain the same; narrow, with a lack of straights and no proper braking zones.

Italy also already has a race.  With F1 looking to increase its global sphere of influence, is there really space for two events in one country? A calendar of more than a single race in a country, like Italy had between 1981 and 2005, is outdated. If the sport is serious about conquering new markets, it needs to limit each nation to one grand prix.

It’s unlikely Imola will dethrone Monza as the host of the Italian Grand Prix either. The Lombardy region has hosted every single Italian Grand Prix, except the 1980 running of the event, which was hosted by Imola. But Monza itself is as famous as it’s nearby cousin, known for being the ‘temple of speed’, and allowing for overtaking – just look at last year’s race.

Unlike many of the other classic F1 tracks, Imola has not been able to successfully renovate. While the facilities have been updated to cater for more personnel, the track’s updates have focused on safety.

While these transformations were very much necessary, it hasn’t made Imola a better racing venue. Nürburgring, Hockenheim, the Red Bull Ring and Silverstone have all improved over the years, to allow for more competitive and exciting racing. Sadly, it doesn’t look like Imola is able to do this, with the owners’ hands largely tied by the topography of the area – the Saterno river and parkland lining the track.

Imola will always be a significant part of F1’s history – not least for the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix – but change is not always a bad thing. It’s inclusion as the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was welcomed last year when F1 was struggling to compile a calendar, but as we look to a future of longer seasons and hopefully better racing, Imola should peacefully rest in the archives – and be a reminder of the sport’s legendary yet lugubrious past.


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