Excuse my referring to the cancelled event by a truncated title, but the full name - Formula 1 Qatar Airways Gran Premio Del Made in Italy E Dell'Emilia Romagna 2023 – convolutes the headline. From the title it is, though, abundantly clear the event enjoys enormous support from regional politicians, thus the promoters had no choice other to cancel the race once it became clear locals were hurting massively.
On Tuesday, the word was that the promoters would attempt everything to salvage the Grand Prix, including pumping out the paddock and shoring up the banks of the Fiume Santerno which flows alongside the circuit. The next day, realisation hit official suits that this 'carry on regardless' attitude suggests F1 cares not a damn about aiding locals whose houses and possessions were floating downstream, to say nothing of the fact that continuing with the Grand Prix would have diverted resources away from those most in need.
Indeed, there are reports of at least eight lives lost and very real fears the number will rise before flood waters subside. Imagine the furore had F1 continued racing alongside a killer river regardless of happenings in the real world, assuming it was even possible to start the race. The sooner F1 admitted defeat against nature and announced cancellation of the race, the better. Thus, the news - when it came - was no surprise.
The burning question is this, though: Why is the event even listed on the F1 calendar? At the risk of being accused of falling prey to conspiracy theories, look no further than its continued inclusion after Covid. Of all the 'stopgap' circuits that hosted rounds during the pandemic, Imola is the only stayer despite Italy already having a heritage race in Monza. Istanbul, Mugello, Nurburgring, Portimao – all gone, save Imola…
Imola's shortcomings laid bare
Dig deeper and you discover that F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali harks from the town, where his father was an influential banker on first-name terms with local politicians. In fact, as a teenager, Domenicali corralled cars in Imola parking lots, then took up trackside marshalling. The venue is named after his former employer and his son - Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari - and he understandably admits to having a soft spot for the place.
Could these reasons be why Imola gets away with sub-standard facilities? Only Domenicali knows, but consider: Last year, F1 folk needed to be towed out of sodden parking lots by tractors, while traffic measures are woefully inadequate. VIPs are expected to traipse through mud and fan areas, facilities are substandard and not becoming of an F1 World Championship event, yet calls for upgrades are given short shrift.
The media centre, situated above the pit lane and thus with easy access to the paddock, was this year hijacked by F1 to use as hospitality area for VIPs while the media was expected to work out of a comparatively small tent situated alongside the circuit, connected to the paddock by underpass. Indeed, local media complained about being denied accreditation due to space constraints – because F1 needed to its keep cronies sweet.
Fortunately - from this perspective - the race was cancelled so we won't know what noise regulations may have been breached (or smoothed over by politicos), but the bottom line is the Imola circuit is unable to host both VIPs and media. In fact, so inadequate are local hospitality offerings that many F1 folk and fans stay 90km away in Rimini. Yet F1 talks about reducing its carbon footprint by cutting tyre allocations…
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Kyalami waiting in the wings?
Imola gets defended by F1 on the basis that it is a classic circuit situated in a small town (pop. 70k) which cannot afford better, but now there is talk of not only rescheduling the race if a slot can be found on the most jammed calendar in F1 history, but of extending the contract after 2025. Yet Spa has a longer heritage, hosts the only Grand Prix in its country, is controlled by two tiny communes – and, above all, it doesn't have a daft name – but gets hung out to dry. Literally!
In fact, a case could be made that Spa's fate hinges not on negotiations with Kyalami but on the fact that Italy hosts two races. The logic is simple: Without Imola, there would be a vacant calendar slot in Europe to accommodate the classic Belgian circuit, plus Kyalami would have a date.
In the final analysis, cancelling this weekend's Imola Grand Prix was absolutely the right thing to do, but including it on the calendar was demonstrably wrong in the first place.
RacingNews365 expresses its condolences to all those who lost family members, friends and possessions due to the floods.
Balve Bains is joined by RacingNews365.com Editorial Director Dieter Rencken and Asia Correspondent Michael Butterworth to ask if Mattia Binotto could really join Alpine, what Pirelli's new tyres are about and the latest on the Red Bull-Ford partnership!