Imola: The Ultimate Track Guide

In 2020, Imola returned to the Formula 1 calendar after a 14-year absence. The former host of the San Marino Grand Prix witnessed triumph and tragedy in its first 26-year stint on the calendar.


FIRST F1 RACE 1980
TRACK LENGTH 3.050 miles
NUMBER OF LAPS 63
NUMBER OF TURNS 17
MOST POLES Ayrton Senna (8)
MOST WINS Michael Schumacher (7)

Located in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, the Imola circuit is near to Ferrari’s Maranello factory. The track was re-named Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Enzo Ferrari’s honour following his death in 1988. It had previously been given the name Autodromo Dino Ferrari in 1970, in memory of Enzo’s son Dino, who died in 1956. Enzo Ferrari was present when construction of the circuit began in 1950. The track has an affinity with the Tifosi, who showed up in their thousands to support Ferrari each time a race was held here.

Imola was opened for testing purposes in 1952, before racing started at the track in 1953. Ten years later, in 1963, Imola hosted its first race for Formula 1 cars. The race was won by Jim Clark, who lapped all but one driver. Over the next decade, further improvements would be made to the track, with facilities for spectators and revisions to the track layout. Now a permanent facility, rather than connected public and private roads, Formula 1 hosted a non-championship event at the circuit in 1979, titled the Dino Ferrari Grand Prix, which was won by Niki Lauda.

The success of the non-championship event ensured that Imola qualified to host a World Championship race in the following year. With Monza undergoing renovations, the Italian Grand Prix moved to Imola in 1980, which is the only time that the Italian Grand Prix has not been held at Monza in Formula 1’s history. Imola was a hit with drivers and fans and returned to the schedule in the following season, this time under the title of the San Marino Grand Prix.

The dangers of the Imola circuit were highlighted in a fiery crash for Gerhard Berger in 1989, but no one could have predicted the events of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix weekend. After a heavy collision for Rubens Barrichello on Friday, Roland Ratzenberger was killed in qualifying on Saturday before Ayrton Senna lost his life in the Grand Prix. The events of the weekend brought about massive changes to Formula 1 in the name of safety. Read more: Imola 1994 – The Full Story.

Changes were made to the track layout following the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. The Tamburello corner was heavily modified and became a chicane rather than the fearsome flat out turn that it was previously, while another chicane – named Villeneuve – was added on the run to Tosa.

Formula 1 continued to race at Imola for the next twelve years, before the San Marino Grand Prix was removed from the calendar after the 2006 season. After a series of modernisations were made to the circuit in late 2006, the track operator filed for bankruptcy. Work was handed over to a new company named Formula Imola, but delays meant that no racing took place at the circuit in 2007. The circuit re-opened in 2008, though Formula Imola went into administration due to the amount of money spent on modernising the venue. Another new company, Con-Ami, was handed rights to run the circuit in 2012 and Imola has had a steadier history since. After resurfacing work in 2011, Imola was re-awarded FIA Grade 1 status, meaning that it could, in theory, return to the Formula 1 calendar.

As a result of calendar changes due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Imola’s return to the calendar was confirmed on the 24th July 2020, alongside the addition of races in Germany and Portugal. The 2020 event was titled the ‘Emilia Romagna Grand Prix’. It was the third different title to be used for a World Championship event at the circuit. The 2020 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was the third F1 race held in Italy in 2020. The United States is the only other country to have hosted three events in a single season, doing so in 1982.

The 2020 Imola race was a two-day event, with a single practice session before qualifying on Saturday. Tickets were sold for the race weekend, but three days before the event, it was confirmed that the race would be held behind closed doors due to increased government restrictions in the interest of public health. On 12th January 2021, it was confirmed that the Emilia Romagna would return once again, hosting the second round of the season.

Though Imola’s circuit layout is largely unchanged since the last San Marino Grand Prix in 2006, one notable difference is in the final sector of the track, where the Variante Basse has been removed. That means that the cars gain more speed on the main straight and approach Tamburello much faster than in the last San Marino race. Aside from revisions to the track layout, new paddock facilities and garages were built between F1’s visits in 2006 and 2020.


FAST FACTS

  • Luca Badoer finished in the top eight only three times during his career, and he did so at Imola twice; at the 1993 and 1999 San Marino Grands Prix. His seventh place here in 1993 was the best result of his 50 race career.
  • In fifteen appearances at Imola, Michael Schumacher only ever finished first, second or retired. He won here seven times, finished as runner-up five times and retired three times. The 2020 race at Imola will be the first at the circuit to not feature the 7-time World Champion since 1991. Schumacher won four of the last five San Marino Grands Prix.
  • Nelson Piquet was forced to miss the 1987 San Marino Grand Prix weekend following a crash in Friday Practice. For the rest of the year, Piquet visited doctors in secret after suffering from headaches and double vision, not telling the team or the FIA in fear that he wouldn’t be allowed to race.
  • The 1982 San Marino Grand Prix, in which Didier Pironi, Gilles Villeneuve and Michele Alboreto finished in the top three, is the most recent podium result in which all of the top three drivers have since passed away.
  • Carlos Reutemann and Didier Pironi are the only drivers to have scored on every visit to Imola during in its first stint on the calendar. Reutemann finished third in both 1980 and 1981, while Pironi finished fifth and sixth in 1980 and 1981 respectively and won the San Marino Grand Prix in 1982. Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are the only drivers to score in both the 2020 and 2021 Emilia Romagna Grands Prix.
  • In all of the first nine seasons in which a Formula 1 race was held at Imola, the driver who led the Drivers’ Championship after the race failed to go on and win the title that year.
  • The 1989 San Marino Grand Prix holds the record for most cars entered into a Formula 1 race. 39 cars were entered into the event, but only 26 were permitted to start. One of the drivers who failed to qualify was Michele Alboreto, who recorded his first DNQ in eight years.
  • On the weekend of his death, Ayrton Senna took his 65th and final pole position. It remained the record for most poles in Formula 1 until Michael Schumacher equalled it at the same track twelve years later.
  • The first ever round of the GP2 series was held at Imola in 2005, as a support race on the Formula 1 San Marino Grand Prix weekend. The first race was won by future Formula 1 driver Heikki Kovalainen. The series was re-branded in 2017 as the FIA Formula 2 Championship.
  • The non-championship 1979 Dino Ferrari Grand Prix would mark Niki Lauda’s final appearance with the Brabham team. He quit the sport during practice for the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks later, before returning with McLaren in 1982.

2020 EMILIA ROMAGNA GP RECAP

After a 14 year absence Formula 1 returned to Imola for the 2020 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Mercedes secured a record-breaking seventh consecutive Constructors’ Championship with Lewis Hamilton leading home team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Formula 1 returned to Imola for the first time since the 2006 San Marino Grand Prix. The race weekend had a slightly different format and was a two-day event. Friday practice was scrapped, with a single 90 minute practice session on Saturday morning. Lewis Hamilton set the fastest lap time in practice, but it was Valtteri Bottas who took pole position. Bottas maintained the lead at the start, but team-mate Hamilton was swamped by a number of other cars, allowing Max Verstappen to rise into second place. Just nine laps into the race, Pierre Gasly – who had qualified in an impressive fourth – was forced into retirement due to engine issues. Bottas pitted from the lead on Lap 20, with the Finn later being told that he had sustained damage to his floor. Verstappen loomed large in Bottas’ mirrors, but was unable to find a way past. With Esteban Ocon coming to a stop at the side of the track, the Virtual Safety Car was called out. It was superb timing for Hamilton, who was able to pit without losing as much time to his team-mate. When racing resumed, Bottas ran wide at the final turn, allowing Verstappen to close in once again. Verstappen made the move into second place – but it wasn’t long until the Red Bull driver was facing his own problems. He retired after spinning off due to a puncture. The Safety Car was called out and there was further drama for George Russell who, on course for a strong result, crashed out behind the Safety Car. Yet more action followed as the Safety Car returned to the pits. With five laps remaining, Alex Albon spun while defending from Sergio Perez. He fell to the back of the field as a result and was lucky to not be collected as the rest of the drivers raced by. Daniil Kvyat salvaged AlphaTauri’s day by finishing in fourth place, after a fine overtake on Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. It was an easy ride home for Mercedes. Hamilton won the race, and with Bottas finishing in second place, the team secured a record-breaking seventh successive title. Daniel Ricciardo completed the podium, finishing in third place for Renault.


IMOLA WINNERS AND POLESITTERS

YearPolesitterTeam On PoleWinnerWinning Team
1980Rene ArnouxRenaultNelson PiquetBrabham
1981Gilles VilleneuveFerrariNelson PiquetBrabham
1982Rene ArnouxRenaultDidier PironiFerrari
1983Rene ArnouxFerrariPatrick TambayFerrari
1984Nelson PiquetBrabhamAlain ProstMcLaren
1985Ayrton SennaLotusElio de AngelisLotus
1986Ayrton SennaLotusAlain ProstMcLaren
1987Ayrton SennaLotusNigel MansellWilliams
1988Ayrton SennaMcLarenAyrton SennaMcLaren
1989Ayrton SennaMcLarenAyrton SennaMcLaren
1990Ayrton SennaMcLarenRiccardo PatreseWilliams
1991Ayrton SennaMcLarenAyrton SennaMcLaren
1992Nigel MansellWilliamsNigel MansellWilliams
1993Alain ProstWilliamsAlain ProstWilliams
1994Ayrton SennaWilliamsMichael SchumacherBenetton
1995Michael SchumacherBenettonDamon HillWilliams
1996Michael SchumacherFerrariDamon HillWilliams
1997Jacques VilleneuveWilliamsHeinz-Harald FrentzenWilliams
1998David CoulthardMcLarenDavid CoulthardMcLaren
1999Mika HakkinenMcLarenMichael SchumacherFerrari
2000Mika HakkinenMcLarenMichael SchumacherFerrari
2001David CoulthardMcLarenRalf SchumacherWilliams
2002Michael SchumacherFerrariMichael SchumacherFerrari
2003Michael SchumacherFerrariMichael SchumacherFerrari
2004Jenson ButtonBAR HondaMichael SchumacherFerrari
2005Kimi RaikkonenMcLarenFernando AlonsoRenault
2006Michael SchumacherFerrariMichael SchumacherFerrari
2020Valtteri BottasMercedesLewis HamiltonMercedes
2021Lewis HamiltonMercedesMax VerstappenRed Bull