Why F1’s return to Imola hasn’t been called the ‘San Marino Grand Prix’

2020 F1 season

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The Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit near the city of Imola in Italy has played host to the world championship on 27 occasions.

This was a fitting total, as it was the number Gilles Villeneuve famously bore on the nose of his scarlet Ferrari during that hotly disputed race at the track in 1982, when his team mate Didier Pironi was accused of defying team orders to win the race. Tragically, that proved Villeneuve’s final start.

He was killed less than two weeks later at Zolder in Belgium, trying to beat the pole position time set by his team ‘mate’ – now arch-rival. Villeneuve’s place at Ferrari and number was taken by Patrick Tambay, who sent the Tifosi into raptures with his victory at Imola the following year.

Both those races carried the title ‘San Marino Grand Prix’, as did every other visit by the world championship to the track after its inaugural race in 1980. On that occasion Imola hosted the Italian Grand Prix – the only time that race has been held outside Monza.

F1’s first race at Imola in 1980 was also the track’s only grand prix not held in the spring. That will change on November 1st, however, when it will hold the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.

Gilles Villeneuve, Ferrari, Imola, 1982
Villeneuve was livid over Pironi’s 1982 Imola win
Prompted by the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, this will be the third race of the season to take place in Italy. It is only the second time in the history of the world championship that one country has held three races in a single season. This previously happened in 1982 when F1 visited the USA race at Long Beach, Detroit and Las Vegas.

But why has the title San Marino Grand Prix, a fixture on the calendar between 1981 and 2006, not been revived?

Firstly, it bears pointing out that the title is a misnomer. The tiny republic of San Marino, whose population of around 33,000 is less than half that of Imola’s, lies around 100 kilometres south-west of the city where the race is being held.

It does not take a cynical mind to see that naming its former race the San Marino Grand Prix was a dodge which enabled F1 to hold two races in Italy, maximising its income from the Ferrari faithful, while maintaining the appearance of not holding more than one race in a single country.

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This is far from unprecedented in F1 history: At the height of Michael Schumacher’s popularity Germany also held a second round of the world championship, variously called the ‘European’ or even ‘Luxembourg’ grand prix as needed. It is no coincidence that 2006 saw the final year of that arrangement, the final San Marino Grand Prix – and Schumacher’s retirement from Ferrari.

Patrick Tambay, Ferrari, Imola, 1983
Tambay took number 27 to victory the following year
F1 is not making three visits to Italy this year for the same reasons. Faced with the task of reorganising its calendar in the wake of the pandemic, F1 has had to strike most of its races which were scheduled for September, October and Novemeber.

These included Singapore’s street race, the long-haul trip to distant Suzuka in Japan, and three rounds in the Americas (plus the postponed Canadian Grand Prix) where the virus is surging at the moment. F1 needed to lay its hands on FIA grade one circuits ready to hold races, in regions where it the weather should make racing a possibility.

Italy can already offer Monza, Mugello was added to the circuit earlier, and now Imola has too. Its November 1st date will be by far the latest F1 has ever raced in Europe.

The race’s official title, ‘Gran Premio dell’Emilia Romagna’, has come about because of the support the local region has given to bringing Formula 1 back to the circuit for the first time in 14 years.

“Seeing Ferrari and the other cars racing on the Imola circuit will be a profound emotion,” said Stefano Bonaccini, president of the Emilia-Romagna Region. “Imola has always been a natural venue for Formula One and we have chosen to name the Grand Prix at Emilia-Romagna, in homage to our region, the land of motors par excellence.”

An opportunity to revive a name from F1’s past may have been overlooked, meaning Imola’s 28th grand prix will also have its third different title. Surprisingly, this won’t be a record for a single circuit.

The addition of Imola to the 2020 F1 calendar yesterday was announced along with a return to the Nurburgring. The German track has already held the ‘German’, ‘European’ and ‘Luxembourg’ events, so this year’s ‘Eifel Grand Prix’ will be the fourth different race it has held.

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Keith Collantine
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  • 33 comments on “Why F1’s return to Imola hasn’t been called the ‘San Marino Grand Prix’”

    1. Is the two days meet at Imola caused by Liberty sneaking in an experimental two day weekend (their preferred option from Brawn) or the circuit not bothering offering the full three day service to the fans?

      1. Apparnetly the compressed format is to give an extra day for teams to get from Portugal GP to Imola as it’s considerable distance and teams will be moving by road.

        1. By road? Are you sure about that? That is about 2400 kms.

          1. Sounds legit for a lorry driver with one sleep. Much easier than airports in the times we live in.

        2. Mmm, that’s interesting actually, this moving by road thing, makes it more of a challenge to reach destinations, instead of boring airplanes that get there with margin.

        3. I remember years ago, when the calendar was dominated by European circuits with only 4/5 races in South America, Australia and Japan bookending the season, ITV did a feature on the Benetton (?) team travelling by road between GPs, so definitely not a new concept. I hope a broadcaster revives this feature for this particular event

      2. Experiment, surely. And a good one. Which other series have 2.5 times the average race time’s free practice time? (~90 vs 240 minutes) And what is the point having sooo much free practice? Money?

        1. @f1mre F1 probably has less practice than most other sports. Both the drivers and teams need the practice because apart from a couple of tests they don’t get any chance of real world experience.

          The tracks also benefit from extra spectators who also have the chance of cheap tickets (in a normal year).

    2. I’m afraid Großer Preis der Eifel won’t count as an Eifelrennen, which would be so cool to have it recorded as the return of Grand Prix cars after 81 years. More so, having a so traditional race accounted for the World Championship would be truly magnifying.

    3. Looking forward to it. Even if the racing may not be that exciting as some people are predicting, it will still be cool to see F1 cars on this circuit again after so long, and we should enjoy it while we can since who knows when or if F1 will come back to Imola again after this year.

    4. Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman will be rubbing their hands with glee.

    5. To shorten the name, we can call it “Imola Grand Prix”.

    6. Gavin Campbell
      25th July 2020, 20:29

      And why the Eifel Grand Prix and not the German GP?

      1. There are two separate automobile clubs in Germany, the AvD and the ADAC. The AvD has exclusive rights for the name German GP, but the ADAC acts as the promoter of this race. Hence they had to choose a different name.

    7. Bonaccini is only a poor typical Italian politicians… To call imola in every another name doesn’t change what Imola track was and is…. A myths of track!
      F1 must be proud to rece here again and would to hope to rece at imola also in future as once

      1. What? It wasn’t ever the Imola GP. It was San Marino which was ONLY chosen for the stupid reason of not using the same name for 2 GP in the same country and getting Ferrari fans to 2 races. Same thing was done in Germany for Schumi and the US for the money.

        The name is fine and nothing to do with changing Imola at all.

    8. I always believed that the Death of Ayrton Senna in a Formula One car at Imola 26 years ago has tainted this interesting race track as a bad moment and it’s name will forever be tied to the place where Formula One saw it’s biggest name perish.
      Isn’t that why Formula One has NEVER gone back??

      1. It did keep going back until the start of the 2007 season though, I think it only stopped because of financial reasons, not safety reasons. They also made changes to the sections where Senna and Ratzenberger died so it’s probably no more dangerous than any other F1 circuit now.

      2. stefano (alfa145)
        26th July 2020, 2:37

        That happened in 1994 and F1 kept going until 2006…

    9. Chris Horton
      26th July 2020, 1:34

      So excited for this race in Imola. Always one of my favourites as a kid, I’d lost hope it’d ever be back.

      Beautiful circuit.

    10. Sorry many race tracks were made safer by adding chicanes where man testing corners were once common. It’s too bad the reaction ruined many historic corners.
      Imola being one. Without Covid you’d never see a Formula One race at Imola again.

      1. H67, firstly, your earlier assertion that “F1 never went back” is rather weird considering that races were held from 1995 through to 2006, so it is quite obvious that F1 did go back.

        Secondly, the deaths of Senna and Ratzenberger – as well as Barrichello being lucky not to have been killed in his crash – came on the back of a series of major accidents for drivers at that circuit, and particularly at Tamburello.

        Piquet had suffered permanent brain damage after being heavily concussed, which he later blamed for psychological issues and permanent vision problems, following his crash in 1987 in Tamburello, whilst Berger was lucky to get away with just broken ribs and limited second degree burns after his crash in 1989 at the same corner. Outside of race weekends, Alboreto had been lucky to escape without serious injury after he crashed during a test in 1991, whilst Patrese also had a major accident there during a private test in 1992 – again, both of those drivers also crashed at that same corner.

        That makes for one fatal accident and one accident that left a driver with permanent health problems, along with two other significant accidents, within a 7 year period. When you have multiple accidents occurring within a fairly short period at such a high speed corner, the fact that there was eventually a fatal accident looks more like a case of when, rather than if, it was going to happen.

        1. Then you disagree that Siennas death resulted in many tracks across the entire planet were ruined in that challenging corners will were made into wimpy race tracks by replacing them with chicanes so no more Sennas will ever happen.
          By the way which Piquet suffered permanent brain damage?? Followed seniors entire career and this is news forty years later.
          And yes my comment about the return to Imola is off by a lot of years. Guess the bad racing there all morphed together after so many years. Sorry to all you historians.

          Send my AbuDahbi tickets soon as I miss a good race.

          1. H67, yes, I disagree with the notion that only Senna’s death resulted in this dramatic change because it is an overly simplistic attitude that ignores what was happening within the sport at the time and the number of warning signs that there had been.

            There were already significant concerns in late 1993 after Zanardi’s crash in the Belgian GP, where his concussion injuries meant he missed the tail end of that season.

            Even before the 1994 season began, Lehto was lucky not to be killed in a testing accident when he had his neck vertebrae crushed when his car flipped upside down. During the 1994 season, first Alesi crashed at Mugello and had to miss a race due to injuries for his neck and back, then Pedro Lamy had his legs broken in a testing crash at Silverstone which, if it had happened during a race, would have caused spectator fatalities on the scale of the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans, if not worse – his car tore through one of the major grandstands – that prevented him from returning to racing until the latter half of the 1995 season.

            In the Monaco GP – the race immediately following Imola – you then had Karl Wendlinger being knocked unconscious after he struck his head against a barrier and having to spend several weeks in a medically induced coma: although he returned to the sport, he was permanently affected by those injuries and retired from the sport later that year. When you see multiple drivers being severely injured or killed in quick succession, as well as seeing accidents that could have killed tens of spectators, it’s pretty obvious that something has to change – unless you want somebody to impose those changes for you.

            Since you ask, yes, it was Piquet Sr who confirmed that – he gave an interview a few years ago on Brazilian TV where he discussed the injuries he picked up in 1987 and stated that he’d attributed his loss in vision to the neurological damage he’d suffered during that accident.

            1. Appreciate your feedback Anon.
              Never knew the situation about Nelson. Always thought it was his Indy crash that destroyed his feet as the End of his racing career.
              Your list of those injured at Imola now makes believe that changes HAD TO HAPPEN there. Cool track too with such elevation changes at a smallish track.
              Thanks Anon.

    11. stefano (alfa145)
      26th July 2020, 2:38

      It will be cold as hell, if that makes sense. Do not count out the possibility of snow

    12. The biggest question is: why the Nürburging race couldn’t be called “German Grand Prix” if it is the only track that F1 will visit in the country?

      1. Read the comments above and multiple articles. Ownership of the German GP name, different sanctioning body, different name.

    13. Why isn’t the race at Nurburgring being called the German GP then? It is the only GP in that country.

      Don’t really understand the logic, I hope it’s not something ridiculous to do with licensing.

    14. Honestly, all these names are doing my head in. Politics around naming rights is ridiculous. It simply needs to be…

      1 Austrian Grand Prix Red Bull Ring
      2 European Grand Prix Red Bull Ring
      3 Hungarian Grand Prix Hungaroring
      4 British Grand Prix Silverstone
      5 English Grand Prix Silverstone
      6 Spanish Grand Prix Circuit de Catalunya
      7 Belgian Grand Prix Spa-Francorchamps
      8 Italian Grand Prix Monza
      9 Tuscan Grand Prix Mugello
      10 Russian Grand Prix Sochi Autodrom
      11 German Grand Prix Nurburgring
      12 Portuguese Grand Prix Autodromo do Algarve
      13 San Marino Grand Prix Imola

    15. I’m glad that they didn’t call this last race at Imola the San Marino Grand Prix- because Imola isn’t in San Marino. It’s in Italy. San Marino doesn’t have its own track- but the spectacular roads there would make for awesome racing!

    16. Wasn’t it called the San Marino GP because it was initially organised by the Automobile Club of San Marino?

    17. Not ‘by far’ the latest as the 1997 European GP in Jerez took place on October 26, so only a difference of six days between that and November 1, and as six-day gap isn’t massive, LOL.

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