14 years on from the last San Marino Grand Prix in 2006, won by Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari 248 F1, Formula 1 returns to the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari at Imola for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, round 13 of the 2020 season and the third race on Italian soil this year, after those in Monza and Mugello.
It is 40 years since the World Championship first raced at the Santerno circuit when it hosted the Italian GP instead of Monza, which was closed for modernisation. The following year, the national race returned to Monza on the outskirts of Milan, but for 26 years, Imola hosted the San Marino Grand Prix.
Scuderia Ferrari has won here eight times, the first in 1982 with Didier Pironi in a race where relations soured between the Frenchman and his Canadian team-mate Gilles Villeneuve. The following year, Patrick Tambay won and then came six wins for Michael Schumacher (1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006).
Less track time. A two day weekend format is being trialled for the first time, even if it happened through force majeure in the Eifel Grand Prix when bad weather at the Nürburgring washed out Friday practice. It could be the way forward to allow additional races to be added to the calendar without spending too many days travelling far from home. Pre-event media activity moves from Thursday to Friday and the cars take to the track for the first time at 10 CET on Saturday for 90 minutes of free practice. Qualifying follows at 14, with the race on Sunday 1 November getting underway at 13.10 to ensure there is sufficient daylight in the four-hour window within which the event must end.
New layout. There are no lap times to aim for, partly because Formula 1 has not been here for several years and mainly down to the fact the layout has been changed: the chicane leading onto the pit straight has gone so that now, from the exit to Rivazza to the Tamburello chicane, the cars are accelerating all the way. Lap time should be around the 1 minute 14-second mark, much faster than Schumacher’s time of 1’20”411 set in 2004. Otherwise, the track is unchanged with its legendary corners such as the high-speed Villeneuve, Tosa, the demanding Piratella and the downhill Acque Minerali.
Spectators. Until very recently, it had been hoped that spectators would be allowed to attend in limited numbers, but the worsening of the Covid-19 situation in Italy means that yesterday the decision was taken to hold the race behind closed doors. While fully agreeing with the decision, the Scuderia is sad it will not be able to salute its many fans at the track.
Fifth new name. The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix is the fifth new name of this Formula 1 season, the others being Styria, 70th Anniversary, Tuscan – Ferrari 1000 and Eifel. The only driver to have raced in Formula 1 at Imola is the veteran Kimi Räikkönen, with five appearances. In 1948, Enzo Ferrari was a consultant when work started on building the circuit. It was inaugurated in 1953 with a motorcycle race and cars raced here for the first time the following year in an event called the Conchiglia d’Oro Shell won by the works Ferrari Mondial driven by Umberto Maglioli.
What’s in a name. In 1970, at a City Council meeting the mayor of Imola, wishing to honour Ferrari and mark the importance of the links between the race track and the Maranello marque, named the circuit after Enzo Ferrari’s son Dino, who died at the age of 24 in 1956. When Enzo himself passed away in 1988, the decision was taken to add the father’s name to that of his son.
Sebastian Vettel #5
“I have never raced at Imola, but everybody knows the circuit as it used to be a permanent feature on the calendar for so many years. I was there in 2006, and that’s the only memory I have of Imola when I was a support driver for the BMW Sauber team. I haven’t even walked the track and so this will be my first ever race there.
I think it is a great track, which doesn’t allow for mistakes. I remember the last chicane before the start-finish line also looked interesting and challenging but it isn’t there anymore. I’m very much looking forward to finally driving here this weekend.”
Charles Leclerc #16
“I’ve already raced at Imola twice in Formula Renault. It’s a track that I love and really enjoy driving at. The circuit is very technical, with some very tricky corners and it’s also a track where there is very little room for mistakes. I think that most of the drivers who are yet to discover it will love it there.
This weekend we’ll also try the two-day track activity format for the first time, even if, to be honest, we’ve tried something similar because of the circumstances a few weeks ago at the Eifel GP, when bad weather kept us in the garages on Friday. It will be interesting to see how this compressed weekend will work.”
Matteo Togninalli Chief Race Engineer
Compressed weekend: User’s Manual
As mentioned above, for the first time in the history of Formula 1, a Grand Prix will be run over just two days. “The difficult circumstances this year have thrown up new challenges and everyone involved in the sport has shown flexibility and the ability to adapt and the Imola weekend format is an example of that,” reckons Matteo Togninalli, Scuderia Ferrari’s Chief Race Engineer. “With back-to-back races at European circuits over 2000 kilometres apart, the teams need the extra time to get the transporters from Algarve to Imola and have time to set everything up at the Italian venue, hence the lack of track activity on Friday. It is also true that another future goal of having 2-day race weekends is to reduce general costs, making this weekend an interesting experiment. It’s happened in the past that a day has been lost, as was the case at the Eifel Grand Prix three weeks ago, or in Japan last year, but that’s always been down to force majeure. In this case, however, everything has been planned and organised in advance.”
What has been done to prepare as well as possible for this?
“With very little time available to analyse the data from free practise, we have reorganised our priorities, allocating resources in a different way both at the track and back in Maranello. We will also manage components, engines and gearboxes for example or the incorporation of components that have already been tested, so as to cut down time spent and to try and reduce the risks as much as possible.”
All of this on a track where Formula 1 has not raced for 14 years.
“This is indeed an additional and significant variable. It means that preparation prior to the event is even more important to try and perform as well as possible: that goes for the car, the drivers, the team and the tyres, everything in fact that goes into the entire package. Without any data to work from, as is the case with Imola, the level of fine-tuning is reduced and one has to look at the bigger picture. Clearly, the simulator helps, especially to allow the driver to quickly familiarise himself with the track, not just its layout, but also other features that can impact performance, such as bumpy sections, where to ride the kerbs, the right lines and braking points. It’s true the drivers learn a new track incredibly quickly and are soon on the limit, but it’s also true that when you go to a new track, the lap times tumble much more quickly than usual. It’s important therefore to do as many laps as possible to get to the optimum level as soon as possible.”
Tell the truth, does this scenario favour or disadvantage Ferrari?
“I think we have shown during this very strange season that we are able to adapt quickly to unusual situations, to react to the unexpected and our level of preparation is very good. Overall, I’d tend to think it could be an advantage.”
Will the SF1000 continue to evolve at Imola and how do you think it will go on this track?
“Apart from the introduction of updates, seeking greater performance is an ongoing task: even if there are no visible elements, the car is always evolving. In the final part of this season, that work is also aimed at 2021, with new solutions to try. This track is very technical, with a reasonably high average speed. The weather should be pretty good, with temperatures in the 18°-20° C range. Based on what we have seen in recent races, I think our package could suit this track well and that we will be able to get the most out of the car. As usual, the drivers play a key role.”