The Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix takes this weekend! As the excitement of the season so far continues, here we take a look at the Imola Circuit and race history.
The Italian Imola Circuit has been the site of tragedy, triumph and controversy. Officially named Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, the circuit boasts a 4.909 km (3 mile) track length. As well as being known as the home circuit of Scuderia Ferrari.
Named after the Italian town, Imola, the circuit is one of the few in the F1 season to run anti-clockwise. Before later alterations, the original track, built in 1953, consisted of straights connected by tight hairpin turns. This design remained until 1972. But to host its first Formula One Grand Prix in September 1980, modifications had been made. To improve the safety of the track methods to slow down the cars were introduced, such as the tight double-chicane before the start/finish line.
The Imola circuit has been at the centre of controversy due to the notoriously difficult Tamburello corner. From tyre failure by Nelson Piquet in 1987 to a front wing failure by Gerhard Berger in 1989. The corner has been the cause of many incidents. Some of the many safety concerns of this corner included the lack of tyre barrier, bumpy surface and lack of space between the track and concrete barrier. For the drivers, this meant there was very little room for mistake. As a result of the Tamborello, there has been many crashes and tragedies.
Some of the most infamous tragedies of this circuit is the death of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger. Both remarkable drivers died during the race weekend but it is often thought that Senna’s death overshadowed Ratzenberger’s.
Early in the second qualifying session of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, Ratzenberger went off the track at the Acqua Minerale chicane. Unbeknownst to him, this minor incident caused damage to his front wing. This damage was the cause of Ratzenberger crashing into the outside wall of Villeneuve corner at 314.9 km/h (195.7 mph). After being rushed to hospital, Ratzenberger was tragically pronounced dead upon arrival. Senna, rapidly made his way to the medical centre to check on Ratzenberger however was informed of his death by friend and neurosurgeon Sid Watkins. Senna was inconsolable but opted to continue with the grand prix after responding famously with “I cannot quit, I have to go on”.
The tamburello showed its deadly nature the following day during the grand prix. Senna ran wide at the corner ultimately leading him to crash into the unprotected barrier at 233 km/h (140 mph). Senna’s crash resulted in multiple fatal injuries. Senna was rushed to the Maggiore Hospital, the same as Ratzenberger, where it was clear Senna had suffered extensive brain injury. Senna was pronounced dead at 6:40 pm. During the examination of the wreckage, a furled up Austrian flag was found inside the car - in honour of Ratzenberger, Senna had intended to raise the flag after crossing the finish line. Out of respect, no champagne was sprayed at the podium ceremony.
As a result of these tragic deaths, necessary changes were made to the circuit. The tamburello corner was changed to a left-right-left instead of a flat out left with the intention to slow down the cars. However, many argued that these changes negatively altered the track, making it less thrilling compared to how it used to be. But perhaps, it is a necessary change in order to ensure the safety of the drivers.
In recent years, the infamous circuit has seen many new drivers speed round the corners and straights. Currently Lewis Hamilton holds the current title for fastest lap record with a remarkable 1.15.484. However this weekend we wish the drivers a safe race round the Imola Circuit in the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.