Paddock Diary: Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

2020 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

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Despite the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix at Imola being a two-day event my weekend starts on Wednesday with pre-flight Covid-18 testing. It’s nip and tuck: Overnight Brussels Airport restricts tests to folk departing from this airport due to capacity issues. I’m flying from Charleroi with Ryanair after Brussels Airlines cancelled my trip – the seventh such occurrence this year, some multiple times – so am turned away.

I’d met the local Covid-19 co-ordinator during the Belgian Grand Prix so call him; problem solved. Six hours later I happily receive a negative result, so prepare for my first flight since March.

Friday 30 October

After flying to Bergamo, my route to Imola takes me past Mantova so I detour to the Museo Tazio Nuvolari, housed in the legendary driver’s hometown. The museum is closed by government decree but I call and explain my F1 connection, upon which they most kindly allow me in for a peek.

I spend an hour marvelling at the career of ‘The Flying Mantuan’, which took him from motorcycles through the Enzo Ferrari-run Alfa Romeo team to Auto Union, in the process claiming the European championship – then the unofficial world championship – plus Mille Miglia and Le Mans victories.

The museum is as I imagine the man whom Ferdinand Porsche considered “the greatest driver of the past, present and future” to be – compact, modest and utterly passionate.

Later I arrive at Imola circuit around noon and have another Covid test – the FIA tightened up on its procedures and now demands on-site tests within 24 hours of arrival. The good news is another negative result, which sees me through to Monday’s return flight.

The rest of the day is spent zooming FIA conference, which features team representatives in addition to drivers due to the two-event format. While the concept of drivers and team executives on the same platform is novel and made for fancy footwork at times, it meant there was no full-on Friday team boss session. Hopefully this does not become the regular format.

After the day’s proceedings I head for my hotel in Dozza – 10kms away – and reality hits: no restaurants open due to lockdown, but fortunately I’d lunched on panini, which sees me through.

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Saturday 31 October

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Imola, 2020It seems strange to go in early on Saturday, but the revised format means a single 90-minute practice session starting at 10am, with qualifying at 2pm.

I’d last been here in 2006, and much as I love this traditional circuit which oozes passion out of every tarmac pore, I recall lamenting that Roland Ratzenberger – who died here on April 30th 1994, the day before Ayrton Senna was also killed – is not remembered whereas Imola is a shrine to the Brazilian. Indeed, I wonder whether the circuit’s management is ashamed of Roland’s death yet cynically sees that of Senna as a profit opportunity.

I’m later sent photographs of this year’s race trophies, which have diamonds depicting Tamburello, scene of the Senna tragedy, yet nothing at Villeneuve Corner, scene of Ratzenberger’s accident and itself named after another departed driver. It is only fitting that a proper memorial be erected to the Austrian battler. A link to this diary has been sent to circuit management.

Between sessions I meet outside the media centre to swap gossip with team personnel. The chats underscore my gathering belief that the media is exiled not for social distancing or hygiene purposes, but for other reasons. We park in the same area, walk through the same underpass tunnels, fly on the same flights, shop in the same malls and stay in the same hotels. Yet, at the circuit we are regarded as unclean…

Clearly the entrance to hospitality and garages should be restricted, but paddock access – via dedicated media turnstiles – could be permitted provided distancing and hygiene formalities are respected. After all, what is the difference between TV crews and journalists? The former group pays and the latter reports news.

Another example: Imola’s media centre is perfect for the job, being a glass-fronted room overlooking the start area, yet we are banished to a marquee with no track view after F1 hijacked the media centre for use as its high-end Paddock Club. The irony is hospitality has since been forbidden, but the lean-to had already been erected.

A very pleasant surprise was a visitor from Ferrari bearing a beautiful 18th–scale model of the SF90, which fits my hand luggage as though tailored and will perfectly complement the collection I’ve been fortunate enough to amass. Much appreciated!

After lunch – wonderful pasta and tiramisu – the FIA revealed plans to merge Formula Renault Eurocup and Formula Regional Europe, to be known as Formula Regional European by Alpine. Thus, the single-seater ladder is gradually being rationalised.

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Sunday 1 November

Off to a grand prix held later in the year than any European round in the 70-year history of the world championship, albeit by a week. I’m early so wander through the (deserted) Tamburello public area to the Senna memorial to pay my respects. I wish I could do the same for Roland, but there is no way of accessing the corner without breaking Covid-19 protocols.

The morning is filled with various chats, then it’s lunch time – superb pasta, this time followed by crème brulèe – and then I head for grandstand area outside the ‘proper’ media centre, open to the media provided social distancing is maintained. It’s obviously not the same as a grid walk, but certainly a step in the right direction.

An amusing anecdote: Imola’s race was traditionally named the San Marino Grand Prix, and F1 was keen to maintain the convention. The principality jibbed at paying the asking price, so the local region picked up the tab, hence the wieldy title Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. But lanyards for single event passes bearing the blue and white flag had already been printed…

With a 1:10pm start the race is over by 3pm, with the last of the media sessions sorted by 5:30pm. A word of congratulations to Mercedes for its stupendous achievement in winning seven consecutive constructors titles to break Ferrari’s record of six.

I depart the media centre after a thoroughly enjoyable weekend at an old-school circuit, one steeped in history and tradition. I doubt we’ll be back unless Covid prevails for another year – and more is the pity for it is deserving of a place on the calendar. However, FWONK share prices prevail.

By 8pm I reach Modena, where I’ll visit the Ferrari Casa Museum early on Monday before flying back from Bergamo. The museum is sits on the property housing the family home and workshop at the time of Enzo’s birth in 1890 – and is not to be confused with the more sporting museum in Maranello. This is more road cars, although the Scuderia’s motorsport history remains very much in the forefront via an F1 engine display.

Which one to visit, Maranello or Modena? Easy: Both, particularly given the ticket is valid in both and they are just 20km apart. That’s it from Italy – I won’t be in Turkey due to flight uncertainties, but plan to attend the final three rounds in the Middle East. Take good care until then.

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2020 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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15 comments on “Paddock Diary: Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix”

  1. Good point on people monetising Senna’s death and almost no mention to Ratzenberger’s…
    He’s not forgotten but if it continues like this, many won’t be aware of him

  2. Roland is remembered (to a small extent) in the new mural by Kobra on one of the pit buildings in the form of an Austrian flag. Pics on Instagram.

    I wonder how many people remember/know of Jim Clark? I’ve read that his memorial (and that part of the circuit) has become overgrown.

    I always loved Imola as it was the start of the European season in the old days, perhaps preceded by a fly away in Brazil. It must have been odd to have been there at this time of year at an empty circuit.

    1. Jim died at Hockenheim – the memorial has been moved from the forest following that part of the track being abandoned, and is now at the end of the first straight. I saw it last Autumn – still in good condition in its new location.

    2. True that many drivers’ deaths whilst racing in the “old” days is forgotten now.
      Jim Clark was one the greats but he actually died in a F2 race (just curiosity not that it makes much difference).
      But it was kinda of “normal” or at least accepted that racing drivers would die every now and then.

      However, the memorial is still there at Hockenheim and apparently still well maintained in 2019 (date of a photo I found online).

  3. @dieterrencken Thank you and you take good care until then too.

  4. On the Marbles
    2nd November 2020, 16:29

    Deiter is right,
    I find something slightly disturbing about how almost any media mention of Imola, even prior to its insertion in this year’s calendar, is accompanied by slightly macabre refrences (in reverential tones, of course) that it’s the place where Senna met his end; as if we need constant reminding. Are there any other circuits forever recognised by constant reminder of the names of those who perished there?

    As ‘Not George’ asks, what about Clark, few seemingly feel the need to bring up his tragic loss everytime Hockenheim is mentioned, just an occasional reference. Clark had a racing record the equal of Senna at the time of his death so is a fair comparison, but what about the many many other drivers who lost their lives at circuits, how often does anyone feel the need to bring them up whenever a circuit is mentioned?
    How often for example does someone mention Ronnie Peterson, Jochen Rindt or Taffy von Trips in a Monza article or film (with the exception perhaps of specific anniversaries such as Rindt’s 50 year one this year), or indeed the multitude of drivers who were lost racing at the Nurburgring, nary a mention I’d venture to say. In fact I think it’s fair to say if you reeled off a list of departed F1 racers many fans of F1 would struggle to tell you where any of them died with the exception of Senna and, by association, Ratzenberger.

    It’s not that I don’t think Senna is worth of rememberance, but frankly so are those other drivers too, although I have to say that Ratzenberger is probably the second most frequently mentioned driver death simple by virtue of the fact that so many people feel the need to mention Senna with regard to Imola and a proportion of them suddenly feel guilty for goulishly wallowing in the events of Senna’s death under the guise of respectful rememberance that they realise they have to mention Ratzenberger too as if that makes it ok and perfectly normal, but then they forget to afford the same courtesy to all the other drivers who didn’t die at the same circuit and weekend as Senna.
    Sadly these days thanks to this creepy obsssion with his death Senna is becoming almost as well known for having had a terrible accident at Imola as he is for his racing acheivements, I wonder if all this reverential wallowing faux grief is what he would have wanted….

    1. I suspect that there are a couple of factors for why Senna is getting so much of the limelight compared to others.

      Firstly, the higher media presence and live TV broadcasts meant that his career, and ultimately his accident, were much more widely publicised than the deaths of other drivers. It was very public and very graphic and likely resulted in an outsized impression in the minds of a lot of young viewers that didn’t occur with individuals like Clark, where we’re not even sure what exactly caused him to crash.

      Secondly, the fan base does seem to have a large proportion of fans in it right now who grew up in the period where Senna was both achieving his maximum success and when his accident occurred, such that, for many, it is particularly prominent in their memories whereas earlier drivers would be a distant memory.

      That also seems to be driving a considerable market for Senna merchandise, which many are tapping into – in particular, the films about his life have rather pushed him forward in the public consciousness in a way that can’t be done with earlier drivers because so few people are left who had first hand knowledge of them and because there is so little, or no, media footage around. That abundance of media footage and private footage also means that Senna can be made into a much more vivid character – you didn’t have that with earlier drivers, and as such it’s hard to recreate a picture of who they were – and it taps into a world of nostalgia that seems to be fairly valuable.

      You also have the influence of his foundation, which actively works to publicise and promote his image in a way that is pretty much unique to Senna. They do it to maintain the profile of the foundation and to keep money coming in to sustain their projects, but it also means that there is an organisation promoting the image of him as a heroic driver that nobody else has.

      That narrative of the heroic driver also fits into a particular narrative that quite a few people want to see – the idea of Senna heroically battling to the death to try and defeat an evil cheat like Schumacher has become a narrative that has seeped into popular culture and turned Senna into a martyr, and as such his death is being made more prominent because it becomes integral to that myth.

  5. I regret that I do not find the Paddock Diary – Romagna Grand Prix very enlightening – its more about Dieter than its about the Grand Prix and environs – this is the second and last time I will read his articles

    1. Peter Farrington
      2nd November 2020, 17:41

      Happy Soul ! Well respected Journalist !

    2. A diary is supposed to be about one’s experience…

    3. That’s normally what a diary is. It’s a personal take on events. Every day’s a school day eh ?

    4. Maybe next race Dieter will write about what the person next to him was thinking during the weekend.

    5. Did you read the part where he talked about the shorter weekend format and Journalists not having access to the paddock this weekend?
      I don’t want to call you ignorant or inattentive but what’s left of a paddock diary if the journalist doesn’t have access to the paddock?
      Anyway hope this changes your perspective if it doesn’t then I’m guessing your comments won’t be seen again

      A diary is a record (originally in handwritten format) with discrete entries arranged by date reporting on what has happened over the course of a day or other period. A personal diary may include a person’s experiences, thoughts, and/or feelings, excluding comments on current events outside the writer’s direct experience.

      Pray tell which part of this definition does my diary not meet?

  6. Covid-18 testing? 2018 being the year China developed the virus?

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