PRIXVIEW – (San Marino) Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Features Prixview

Round thirteen of the season sees Formula One return to Imola for the first time since 2006 for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. Imola is a circuit know by everyone because of the tragic events which took place here a quarter of a century ago when Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger were killed.

The events of a quarter of a century ago remain in the memory for many fans and drivers, but the Imola circuit remains one driver’s love and is one of the few circuits which is designed to run anti-clockwise. This places extra pressure on the drivers’ necks and bodies because most circuits are clockwise, it speed and downforce.

Officially called the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari to honour the memory of Enzo Ferrari, who had died in 1988. It remains known by its former name Imola the city the circuit is in, the circuit is a high speed and one where overtaking can be difficult as proved by Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso in 2005-06, who got stuck behind Alonso in 2005 allowing the Spaniard to win the race, the following season it was  Schumacher ahead of Alonso with the Ferrari winning for the penultimate time in Italy.

The region is Italy’s Motorsport Valley similar to that which has developed around Silverstone in England, with the first non-championship Grand Prix taking place in 1963 won by Scotsman Jim Clark.

Imola made its first appeared on the calendar in 1980 as a championship round, a replacement race for Monza which was undergoing refurbishment, that first race was won by Nelson Piquet.  It proved popular and organiser’s wanted the race to remain on the calendar and it would until 2006.

Elio de Angelis and Riccardo Patrese both won the San Marino Grand Prix in 1985 and 1990 respectively, so they won in the home soil but not in Monza the last Italians to win a Grand Prix in Italy. Gerhard Berger crashed heavily at Tambello in 1989. He survived and the race was defined by another battle between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.

1991 was a rain-soaked event, and Prost spun off on the grass at Rivazza on the parade lap, stalling the engine. Gerhard Berger did the same, but he kept his McLaren going; McLaren finished first and second, with Senna in front of Berger.

But Imola will be remembered for the darkest weekend since Spa in 1960, the weekend in 1994 began when Jordan’s Rubens Barichello crashed heavily during Friday Qualifying launching himself into the barrier and was knocked unconscious by an impact measured at 95g, but escaped a sprained wrist and broken nose.

Saturday saw the Austrian Roland Ratzenberger killed in qualifying after a front wing failure, the wing broke off going under the car and that forced the front wheel to penetrate the cockpit. As BBC commentator Mark Hughes remarked ‘Everything that could go wrong went wrong that weekend.’

In addition to the injuries suffered by the driver from this, the extreme deceleration caused a rupture in his aorta in addition to a basilar skull fracture, each of these injuries individually being fatal. Senna took pole, despite sitting out the remained of the session.

On the second start, Senna led away, then on lap seven the Brazilians car went off at Tamburello and he crashed at high speed and was killed instantly. Schumacher’s first win at Imola palled off as just a footnote in history as the death of Senna. Schumacher would go on to win the race six more times with Ferrari between 1999-2006.

The circuit was then modified for 1995, with Tamburello and Villeneuve corners – which had seen several heavy shunts over the years – were altered from flat-out sweeping bends into slower chicanes, and the Variante Bassa was straightened.

Tamburello remains one of the most challenging corners of the circuit, even before that dreadful weekend in 1994, In 1987, Nelson Piquet crashed heavily during practice after a tyre failure and missed the race due to injury. In 1989, Gerhard Berger crashed his Ferrari at Tamburello after a front wing failure.

The circuit is an old one and retains many tight and fast corners lined with gravel traps, which means drivers need to be wary of making mistakes. There will only one practice session like we saw at the Nürburgring, this is for logistical reasons with it being a double-header.

Damon Hill won 1997 followed by David Coulthard in 1998, Ferrari’s dominance started in 1999 and would see Michael win five of the next seven races. With him only being beaten by brother Ralf in 2001, the first time a pair of brothers had won races in F1.

The reason why it hasn’t been officially called ‘San Marino Grand Prix’ is because of the support the local region has given to bring F1 back to the circuit for the first time in 14 years.

Imola began bidding for this year’s race in early February before the scale of the pandemic became clear they indented to host the Grand Prix in April when the Chinese Grand Prix was postponed.

Facts and figures

Round 13
Race Formula 1 Emirates Gran Premio Dell’emillia Romagna 2020
Venue Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, Imola, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Circuit Length 4.909 km (3.050 mi)
Laps 62
Race Distance 307.221 km (191.022 mi)
Lap Record 01:20.411, (Michael Schumacher 2004, F1, Scuderia Ferrari)
Most wins drivers Michael Schumacher (7)
Most wins manufacture Ferrari (8)

Williams

*data based on the San Marino Grand Prix and pre-2008 circuit

Fast facts

  • Arrows scored 25% of their podiums at Imola, for F1’s long-term underachiever, with two of its eight podiums happening here. The first was in an era where it was a regular threat for victory. Arrows made an excellent start to the 1981 season, leading from pole
  • The largest margin of victory was a full lap in 1985, but then that was an odd race anyway: Ayrton Senna was heading for victory when his Lotus ran out of fuel. That put Stefan Johansson into the lead but he, too, ground to a halt for the same reason. Alain Prost took the chequered flag followed by Elio de Angelis’s Lotus.
  • During F1’s pre-qualifying era, in 1991 Alain Prost spinning his Ferrari and retiring on the formation lap – Scuderia Italia had a tough time on Friday with Emanuele Pirro failing to escape pre-qualifying. But team-mate JJ Lehto did make it through and put the team’s remaining Dallara-Judd a solid 16th on the grid.
  • Imola’s motorsport history dates back to the 1940s when the town’s races were held on public roads. It wasn’t until 1950, however, that work began to construct a permanent race track. Work was finally completed in 1952.

Event timetable

Session

Local

GMT

Saturday

P1 10:00-11:30 09:00-10:30
Qualifying 14:00-15:00 13:00-14:00

Sunday

Race 13:10 12:10

What happened in 2006?

Michael Schumacher took pole following an upturn in performance for Ferrari, after struggling for pace in Melbourne and Sepang. Schumacher then converted pole into the lead while Fernando Alonso, got himself boxed in by Felipe Massa and Rubens Barrichello so could not make much use of his Renault starting system.

That meant that Fernando’s hopes of making up places at the start were dashed and he was fourth at the end of the first lap. Rubens Barrichello had lost two places in the hurly-burly but otherwise, there was not much to report beyond the fact that Kimi Raikkonen did not get a good start and dropped from eighth to tenth.

Alonso had to go about chasing down Schumacher, with the gap around four-tenths around lap thirty-four. The Ferrari developed a tyre problem causing the German to slow, which proved to be the best thing as Renault made a pit stop. Schumacher responded by upping his pace, causing Alonso to slow.

In the final laps Alonso piled on the pressure but in the end, he made a mistake and immediately understood that it was time to turn down the revs and settle for second place. Schumacher went home with ten points, Alonso took eight.

Race Result – 1) M. Schumacher, Ferrari, 01:31:06.486, 2) F. Alonso, Renault, +2.096, 3) J. P. Montoya, McLaren – Mercedes, +15.868

What to watch for?

We return to Imola after a fifteen-year hiatus, this effectively is a new circuit for all the drivers expect Kimi Raikkonen. Many of them will, however, would have driven at Imola before in junior categories so it won’t be an entirely unknown circuit for drivers.

At the last two races, it proved quite difficult to overtake, as Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher battled for the win, with these current cars we have seen they don’t tend to like dirty air. This will make following and overtaking difficult, as we know these cars aren’t great under these conditions and the circuit is tight.

Mercedes are likely to be the team to beat, they have never raced at Imola neither have Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas in F1. With only one practice session, there isn’t a lot of time to learn the circuit it’s going to be a similar situation to what we had at the Nürburgring, where Saturday morning was very busy.

Ferrari faces another difficult weekend in Italy, I believe will be stronger than they were at Monza and still face the challenging high-speed circuit. But it’s not as high downforce as Monza, overtaking will be more difficult. But I think Leclerc’s strong race in Portimão could make this a strongest Italian race this season, but they are unlikely to be challenging for a podium.

The midfield battle will be interesting as a tight battle continues between McLaren, Renault and Racing Point for third in the constructor’s championship. I think the battle could be tight, like at the Nürburgring the lack of practice could mean a busy FP1 session, with a lot of work needing to be done in that ninety-minute session.

McLaren, I believe are making good steps towards in the midfield battle, but can they start challenging Racing Point for third. They need a good qualifying and it will be interesting to see track evolution throughout Saturday.

2005 vs 2006 Race Data

P1 Fastest

P2 Fastest

P3 Fastest

Q1 Fastest

Q2 Fastest

Q3 Fastest

Overall
Qualifying

Race Time

Fastest Lap

2006

01:24.751 01:25.043 01:23.787 01:24.434 01:22.579 01:22.795 02:47.177 01:31:06.486 01:24.098

Diff

+3.691 +4.559 +2.431 +4.376 -0.957 +0.216 +4.297 +04:35.435 +2.240

2005

01:21.060 01:20.484 01:21.356 01:20.058 01:23.536 01:22.579 02:42.880 01:27:41.921 01:21.858

P1 Fastest

P2 Fastest

P3 Fastest

P4 Fastest

Q2 Fastest

Q3 Fastest

Overall
Qualifying

Race Time

Fastest Lap

*note different formats were used in 2005 and 2006, so taken fastest time from Q2 in 2006-05. To create the overall time, I used the aggregate times from two single-lap flying runs in Q1 & Q2 to give the overall qualifying time. There was no Q3, this appeared to be the simplest way to create the comparison

Tyres

White Hard (C2)

Yellow Medium (C3)

Red Soft (C4)

2

2

6

Jack

Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.