The Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, to give it its full name, has had an on-off relationship with Formula 1 through history but remains hugely popular with some of the most passionate fans on earth. Despite numerous upgrades over the years with safety in mind, the track has managed to retain an old-school feel.
Originally built in the early 1950s, it was not until 1980 that Imola managed to host the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix in place of Monza, an arrangement that lasted for one year only. But from the following season it hosted the San Marino Grand Prix all the way until 2006 – so named for the nearby microstate. When Imola made its way back to the calendar in 2020, its race was named the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix after the region in which it’s located – and the long-awaited return proved so popular that the event now has a contract until 2025.
And while Monza is famed for its tifosi, Imola is the true home circuit for Ferrari in Formula 1, located only around an hour from its Maranello factory. In fact, Emilia Romagna is home to several automotive icons and even another Formula 1 team: AlphaTauri.
With its fast and flowing layout and a lack of significant braking points, Imola has not always been known for producing races with lots of overtaking – but that didn’t prevent a memorable scrap between Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher in the 2005 race. And the redevelopment that took place after F1’s subsequent departure included removing a chicane at the end of the lap, creating a longer flat-out drag between the last and first corners to provide better overtaking opportunities.
A few other chicanes remain as part of the layout to help keep speeds under control, but the Imola circuit is still thrilling for the drivers. Together with the quick changes of direction, the undulation makes for a real rollercoaster of a track, especially in the middle sector where it climbs towards Piratella and drops down to Acque Minerali before rising once more.
There is also not as much margin for error as on some circuits, with mistakes punished by the presence of gravel or grass as well as the barriers beyond.
For Alonso, the 2021 event was his first time at Imola since 2006 (on which occasion he finished second to Schumacher). “This circuit is amazing in the modern Formula 1 cars,” he said. “Very narrow, very fast and when you have cars around it is quite tricky and quite narrow to let the people go, to overtake the guys on the out lap and the in lap, and that adrenaline is building up in the lap.”
Just occasionally, the action gets a bit too close for comfort: just ask George Russell and Valtteri Bottas – driving for Williams and Mercedes respectively at the time – who had a spectacular accident last year that red-flagged the race.
One good reason to visit the area is food. The whole Emilia-Romagna region is one of the best-known destinations for gastronomy throughout Italy: in fact, it's the cradle of classic Italian cuisine. To find out why, head to San Domenico in Imola to sample delicacies such as guinea fowl ravioli with black truffle. Bring your wallet though, as such gastronomic splendour doesn't come cheap. For something more everyday try Trattoria La Sterlina – with a wide variety of typically local dishes – as well as Bonelli Burgers: hamburgers, but not as you know them. Of course, you’ll need something to wash all this food down with, and luckily Emilia Romagna is also one of the best places for wine in the country. You can taste and buy wines in many places very close to the circuit: try Tre Monti, which overlooks the track. The most famous wine of the region is Trebbiano, which is also the name of the grape variety.
When you want to give your stomach a rest, the famous beaches of Rimini and Riccione are only around 50 kilometres away from the circuit, although don’t expect too many sunbathers in April. Alternatively, for a hit of culture, head to Dozza, just west of Imola. This is a beautifully historic village straight out of the Middle Ages, where time seemingly stood well. The painted houses and facades are visited by thousands of people all year – but as it’s not the peak tourist season yet, now is a good time to go.
If you want a big city vibe, Bologna is of course just 40 kilometres north-west of the track. And once there, the world is your oyster. Or at least your tortellini…
A race to remember
Sometimes, the raw...