“This morning it was obviously much worse”: Why F1 had to call off its Imola race

2023 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

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What happens next? That’s the question everybody is asking following Formula 1’s decision today to cancel this weekend’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.

It’s of particular importance to those who had already travelled to Imola before rainfall and a swollen river led to the local area flooding and prompting the cancellation decision on Wednesday. Many of the drivers, senior team figures and media members (including RaceFans’ Claire Cottingham) who were travelling to the track today were able to turn around mid-journey. Others who were scheduled to head out on Thursday, having spent much of this week in their team simulators doing laps of Imola, now don’t even have to worry about leaving their homes.

But it’s the opposite for those in Imola, particularly local residents who are continually worried they may have to leave their homes due to the flooding in the area. Many of them already have, while the hotels in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy have an increased stream of people going in and out.

Those wanting to check out four days earlier than they had originally planned are in a rush to get plane tickets back to their home countries before they sell out. Meanwhile some locals who have had to leave their homes will be heading to the hotels seeking somewhere warm and dry to stay for the night – and possibly longer. If those hotels flood and have to close, then everyone is in trouble.

F1’s paddock set-up had already begun so a number of personnel will have to remain to disassemble the various motorhome units and to pack all their gear back into their trucks. It’s not clear how long that will require given the track was closed today (prior to the grand prix being cancelled) and they have not been informed when it will be open again to those who need to get back in to pack up.

While some staff were able to gain access to the paddock yesterday before it was evacuated, teams in the support paddock were denied entry on Tuesday and Wednesday because of the rain. That has proved somewhat of a blessing as now all they have to do is move their trucks from their parking spots in nearby areas and drive them on to Monaco where they will race next weekend.

Some in the support series have been relying on journalists, social media and their friends in the F1 paddock for updates on the evolving situation over the last two days, while others were fully in the loop via private communications from F1 and the circuit itself. Despite evacuating the track on Tuesday, F1 hoped the conditions might improve quickly enough for the event to go ahead. But as Van Amersfoort Racing founder Frits van Amersfoort told RaceFans shortly after the cancellation was announced, “this morning, of course, it was obvious that it was much, much worse”.

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Van Amersfoort echoed the views of many who were due to be in the paddock that calling the race off was the correct decision. “The people there are in dreadful circumstances, many of them have to leave their houses,” he said. “So I think it’s only appropriate the race is cancelled. It would not be okay to run the race under these circumstances,” he said.

“Our trucks arrived on Tuesday evening. The support paddock build-up was scheduled for Tuesday, 5pm. That was delayed because of the circumstances. Everybody understood. We knew, they told us at 4pm before.”

F2 operations director Marco Codello advised the teams to “stay in a hotel until further notice”, he explained. “We were well-informed and we were just waiting for these things to be decided.

“We know that if it would get better we could still do the build-up tomorrow morning. That would be no problem. Basically in F2 and F3 you have two build-up days, and F1 normally does it all [before us]. But then it got cancelled altogether.”

While the teams now have the certainty provided by the decision to cancel the race, it raises questions over what their next steps will be. “All the personnel went yesterday evening, and now we have to see what we are going to do, whether they come home this weekend or they go straight to Monaco. I don’t think the latter is possible, but the trucks will directly go from Imola to Monaco because they have to be there Monday evening. But the personnel, we are now seeing how we can solve this.

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“I can also understand that probably the Bologna airport will not only be flooded with water but flooded with people who want to get out of Imola. But we don’t know how the situation is. For instance, the flights between Bologna and Amsterdam [VAR’s closest airport] are not that huge.

“So at the moment the people out there are seeing what they can do. But the only thing we can do is stay calm. In the meantime, I hope the whole situation for the local people will get better over the days, this is an emergency situation for everybody.”

The trend for F1 events is that the teams in the world championship will look at travel co-ordination as soon as their calendar for the next season is announced, then once the support series find out where they will be racing they start doing the same. Hotels closer to tracks tend to be more expensive but fill up quicker, while there are also ‘favourite’ hotels within the industry that can be further away but often get block-booked as soon as race dates are confirmed because they have other conveniences such as car parks that are able to accommodate teams’ race trucks.

Those in hotels nearest to the track this weekend face the risk of those buildings having to be vacated for safety reasons if the flooding gets worse.

“Most of the F2 teams are further away. That’s normal for a grand prix weekend. My team is in Ravenna, which is 47 kilometres north of Imola. They are safe, but they’ve already got the question if we were able to give over the rooms for local people who had to flee their houses.

“Rob [Niessink, VAR’s CEO] and I were planning to go to Imola tonight, now we don’t do that. So these two rooms can already be used by the local people. I think common sense should prevail and everybody has to find the right solution to make the safest way possible.

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“Let’s be honest, the racing people always think they’re the most important ones in the world. Well we aren’t. And in the end we will see everybody back in Monaco. We know that will happen.

“I’m thinking of the poor people who live in Imola, all the animals which had to survive by finding [a new dry place. It’s just horrible, the situation, and I hope everybody finds the safest solutions for themselves.”

It looks highly unlikely that Imola’s race will be rescheduled to a later date on the 2023 F1 calendar, but there’s more room for rescheduling for the support series whether that means returning to Imola later this year or replacing it with a different track. F2 has nine more rounds, with F3 sharing the paddock for seven of those, and there is a gap of 11 weekends without racing between F2’s penultimate round and its season finale.

“In the end, the racing will continue, at some point,” Van Amersfoort added. “I can only hope that Imola, and for the people, will find a replacement date. That’s basically much more difficult for F1 than for the other series. But it is what it is. I don’t want to be too dramatic about it.

“Like I said, we in the racing world think we’re the most important, but we aren’t. I don’t need to put more behind my words. And financially, of course it’s bad [to cancel so late]. But no use crying over spilt milk.”

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2023 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

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    Author information

    Ida Wood
    Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching Photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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    2 comments on ““This morning it was obviously much worse”: Why F1 had to call off its Imola race”

    1. For F2 & F3, or at least the former, Losail would/should be an obvious replacement option, given its relative closeness to Europe, which is why I’m surprised it didn’t get at least F2 in the support bill in the first place despite all other Middle East locations having F2.

    2. Mother nature doing with the FIA won’t. Reduce the excessive amount of races in a season.

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