25 years of the San Marino Grand Prix 14 Apr 2005
Classic race an incredible quarter of a century old
This year sees the 25th running of the San Marino Grand Prix, with all 25 of them hosted at the Imola circuit in neighbouring Italy.
The venue staged a non-championship Formula One race in 1979, after the death of Ronnie Peterson following the Italian Grand Prix at Monza the previous year, and then hosted the Italian round of the championship in 1980. The following year, when Monza returned to the calendar, Imola remained on the schedule to stage a Grand Prix on behalf of the nearby Principality of San Marino.
Although an Imola circuit built in park land was initially used in the late 1940s for motocross events, construction of a road circuit was not completed until 1952, when it was tested for the first time by the likes of Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi in a Ferrari 340 Sports. The first race meeting, for motorcycles, took place the following year.
The first motor race at Imola (for sports cars) was held in June 1954, and was won by Umberto Maglioli driving a Ferrari. But it was Jim Clark, at the wheel of a Lotus, who won the first (non-championship) Formula One race at the circuit in April 1963.
Initially named after the Santerno River which borders it on the paddock side, the circuit was renamed Autodromo Dino Ferrari in 1970 after Enzo Ferrari's son, who had died of leukaemia in 1956. Enzo Ferrari's own name was added following his death in 1988.
No matter that it is around 80 kilometres away from the principality of San Marino, Imola is close enough to Ferrari's home stamping ground, being barely 30 kilometres from Bologna and as such has close links with Maranello. Pressure from Ferrari and their adoring fans added weight to the cause for a second Grand Prix for Italy and with the reinstatement of Monza in 1981, Imola succeeded in adopting San Marino to gain official recognition and a place in the Formula One calendar.
The circuit has undergone numerous changes of profile in its long history. The insertion of three chicanes - the Bassa in 1973, the Alta in 1974 and the Acque Minerale in 1981 - extended the original lap length of 5.018km to 5.040 km. The modifications in the Tamburello and Villeneuve areas following the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna in 1994, reduced the circuit length to 4.895km before further refinements requested by the FIA extended it slightly to its current 4.933 km.
The largest entry for the San Marino Grand Prix was in 1989, when 39 drivers took part in practice, of whom 26 qualified to race, and the smallest field of 14 cars appeared in 1982, at the height of a political dispute concerning alleged rule changing. This race was won controversially by Didier Pironi after failing to honour a pre-race agreement with his Ferrari team mate Gilles Villeneuve to 'hold stations' when leading. It was Villeneuve's final race on the circuit, before being killed at Zolder less than a fortnight later.
Nigel Mansell's Imola victory in 1992 gave him a then record fifth consecutive Grand Prix win, beating the four-in-a-row achieved by Ayrton Senna in 1991. Senna started from pole position at Imola on eight occasions, including seven in succession from 1985 to 1991. His final pole, for the fateful 1994 race, brought his career total to 65.
Williams have been the most successful Formula One team at Imola so far with eight victories, one more than Ferrari and two more than McLaren. However, McLaren have finished one-two on three occasions (1988, 89 and 91), something only managed twice by Ferrari (in 1982 and 2002) and once by Williams (in 1992).
Renault engines have powered the winning car six times (including a one-two in 1992) and Honda four times (all of them one-two finishes). Only two engines have taken all three places on the same San Marino podium - the Ford Cosworth DFV in 1981 and the Honda V6 Turbo in 1988. Ayrton Senna's victory in 1989 with his McLaren-Honda was the first Grand Prix win to be recorded with a V10 engine.
The most bizarre finish to a San Marino Grand Prix was in 1985. Ayrton Senna was heading for victory when his Lotus-Renault ran out of fuel. This put Stefan Johansson's Ferrari into the lead until he too ground to a halt. Alain Prost's McLaren, therefore, took the chequered flag, followed by Elio de Angelis' Lotus-Renault, a lap ahead of Thierry Boutsen's Arrows, which free-wheeled across the line with empty tanks. Then Prost's car was found to be a fraction underweight, whereupon de Angelis was declared the winner.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen won his first and only Grand Prix for Williams in 1997 and in 2000 drove his 100th Formula One race. In 1999 Michael Schumacher recorded Ferrari's first race win at Imola for 16 years, the Italian teams previous triumph having been in 1983 with Patrick Tambay.
Since then Michael Schumacher has gone on to become the most successful driver at Imola, with a total of six race wins, including the last three years events. In fact a Schumacher has stood atop the San Marino podium every year since 1999. Michaels winning run was broken temporarily in 2001 by brother Ralf, with Imola providing the venue for his maiden Formula One win.