Imola - the legend and the legacy 16 Apr 2003
No circuit on earth has the same adoration for motorsport as Imola. The circuit lies in the heart of Ferrari country and is a stone's throw from both Modena and Maranello. It is the home of the tifosi and a place of pilgrimage for any fan of Italian motorsport. The track has seen some memorable races over the years and although it is in Italy, the circuit plays host to the San Marino Grand Prix.
Built in 1950 by a group of motor enthusiasts,the track was simply a collection of new roads joining up existing public highways. It was not until 1954 that the first car race took place on the track. In 1963 however the organisers collected a large purse and asked the Formula One teams if they would run in a non-championship event between the Pau and Pescara races. Most agreed, although Ferrari was notable by its absence.
The Imola Council decided to rename the circuit in honour of Enzo Ferrari's son Dino who had died in 1956. The renaming led to a loyalty from Enzo and the Circuit Dino Ferrari soon raised enough money to turn the track into a permanent closed circuit. When the great man died, the circuit was renamed, Circuit Enzo e Dino Ferrari.
1979 saw the track return to Formula One with the running of another non-championship event. In 1980, Imola hosted the Italian Grand Prix, the first and only time it would do so. 1981 saw the return of the Italian Grand Prix to Monza, but so popular was Imola that the San Marino Grand Prix was launched to make use of the circuit.
1982 saw one of the most legendary races in F1 history. Having crashed at the corner which would later bear his name in 1981, Gilles Villeneuve returned to Imola determined to win. However, after a titanic battle his team mate at Ferrari, Didier Pironi, took the lead and won the race. Villeneuve was incensed as he claimed Pironi had broken team orders. He swore never to speak to him again. He never would. At the next race in Zolder, Villeneuve was killed in a horrifying accident in qualifying.
In 1983 Villeneuve's friend Patrick Tambay raced at Imola for Ferrari. He took Villeneuve's number 27 to victory. It was a most unlikely win, and legend says that Tambay recalled the car doing things he was not asking it to do. He said it was as if Gilles had been in the car with him. The magic of Imola was born.
In 1987 and 1989 Nelson Piquet and Gerhard Berger had big accidents at the high speed Tamburello corner. They emerged relatively unscathed, but in 1994 the corner claimed the life of one of Formula One's greatest drivers, Ayrton Senna. In one of the sport's darkest weekends Rubens Barrichello was knocked unconscious on Friday morning. Roland Ratzenberger, the much loved Austrian rookie, was tragically killed on Saturday with minutes of qualifying left. The race itself saw collisions, stray tyres in the pit lane, and, most tragically, the death of Senna.
Despite the events of 1994, Imola has retained some of its magic. It is still a marvellous circuit with corners such as Acque Minerale providing real challenges for the modern F1 driver. The atmosphere created by the tifosi is unlike anything on earth. They live and breath Ferrari and give Imola a special type of magic you won't find anywhere else.