It was the venue for the Formula One San Marino Grand Prix (for many years two Grands Prix were held in Italy every year, so the race held at Imola was named after the nearby state) and it also hosted the 1980 edition of the Italian Grand Prix, which usually takes place in Monza. When Formula One visits Imola, it is seen as the ‘home circuit’ of Ferrari and masses of tifosi (Ferrari supporters) come out to support the local team.
The track was inaugurated as a semi-permanent venue in 1953, and it had no chicanes, so the run from Rivazza all the way to Tosa, through the pits and the Tamburello was totally flat out, as was the run from Acque Minerali all the way to Rivazza was just a long straight with a few small bends; and the circuit remained in this configuration until 1972.
In April 1953, the first motorcycle races took place, while the first car race took place in June 1954. In April 1963, the circuit hosted its first Formula One race, as a non-championship event, won by Jim Clark for Lotus. A further non-championship event took place at Imola in 1979, which was won by Niki Lauda for Brabham-Alfa Romeo. In 1980 Imola officially debuted in the Formula One calendar by hosting the 50th Italian Grand Prix. It was the first time since the 1948 Edition held at Parco del Valentino that the Autodromo Nazionale Monza did not host the Italian Grand Prix. The race was won by Nelson Piquet and it was such a success that a new race, the San Marino Grand Prix, was established especially for Imola in 1981. The race was held over 60 laps of the 5 kilometre circuit for a total race distance of 300 kilometres.
Despite the addition of the chicanes, the circuit was subject to constant safety concerns, mostly regarding the flat-out Tamburello corner, which was very bumpy and had dangerously little room between the track and a concrete wall which protects the Santerno river that runs behind it. In 1987, Nelson Piquet had an accident there during practice and missed the race due to injury. In the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix, Gerhard Berger crashed his Ferrari at Tamburello after a front wing failure. The car caught fire after the heavy impact but thanks to the quick work of the firefighters and medical personnel Berger survived and missed only one race (the 1989 Monaco Grand Prix) due to burns to his hands. Michele Alboreto also had a fiery accident at the Tamburello corner testing his Footwork Arrows at the circuit in 1991 but escaped injury. Riccardo Patrese also had an accident at the Tamburello corner in 1992 while testing for the Williams team. And of course the death of Ayrton Senna on May 1, 1994 sealed the fate of the corner being run flat out ever again.
In the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, during Friday practice Rubens Barrichello was launched over a curb and into the top of a tyre barrier at the Variante Bassa, knocking the Brazilian unconscious though quick medical intervention saved his life. During Saturday qualifying Austrian Roland Ratzenberger crashed head-on into a wall at over 310 km/h at the Villeneuve corner after his Simtek lost the front wing, dying instantly from a basilar skull fracture. The tragedy continued the next day, when the three-time World Champion Ayrton Senna lost control of his car and crashed into the concrete wall at the Tamburello corner on Lap 7. He succumbed shortly after impact as a piece of the car had pierced his helmet and skull. In two unrelated incidents, several spectators and mechanics were also injured during the event.
Since 2007, the circuit has undergone major revisions. The Variante Bassa chicane has been removed, making the run from Rivazza 2 to the first Tamburello chicane totally flat-out, much like the circuit in its original fast-flowing days. However the chicane has been reinstalled for motorcycle races. The old pit garages and paddock have been demolished and completely rebuilt while the pitlane was extended and resurfaced. The reconstruction was overseen by German F1 track architect Hermann Tilke. In June 2008, with most of the reconstruction work completed, The FIA gave the track a “1T” rating, meaning that an official Formula One Test can be held at the circuit; circuits require the “1” homologation to host a Formula One Grand Prix. As of August 2011, the track received a ‘1’ FIA homologation rating after an inspection by Charlie Whiting. The circuit hosted the 2008 WTCC Race of Europe, on 21 September 2008. In 2011, the 6 Hours of Imola was revived and added to the Le Mans Series and Intercontinental Le Mans Cup as a season event. In June 2015, the owners of the circuit confirmed they were in talks to return to the Formula One calendar should Monza, whose contract was scheduled to run out after the 2016 season, if they were unable to make a new deal to keep hosting a round of the world championship. On 18 July 2016, Imola signed a deal to host the Italian Grand Prix from the 2017 season. However, on 2 September 2016, it was announced that Monza secured a new to deal to continue in hosting the race, and Imola’s officials took legal action against this decision citing that its contract has been breached, but on 8 November 2016, they withdrew their case.
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