Top 5 Imola Grands Prix
Formula 1 is back for another weekend as we head to historic Imola circuit for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
After seemingly falling off the calendar in 2006, it made a popular return to the world of F1 during the pandemic in 2020.
Steeped in history, it will forever be a circuit sadly remembered for the tragic deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna in 1994.
However there have been some amazing races at the circuit since it first hosted a race in 1980. Over that time the race has been known as the Italian Grand Prix (1980), the San Marino Grand Prix (1981-2006) and the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (2020-2023).
With all that said, let’s take a trip down memory lane and revisit the best races we have ever seen at the Imola circuit.
5. 2001 – Winner: Ralf Schumacher (Williams)
A historic race on many levels, this race saw Ralf Schumacher win his first ever grand prix and in doing so became the first ever brother of a driver to win a race and joined his legendary brother Michael as an F1 winner. It was also the first race Williams had won since 1997, and the first win for BMW since 1986.
Starting third on the grid behind the two McLarens of David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen, Ralf got off to an amazing start and leapfrogged both of them to take the lead on the opening lap. It was a position he wouldn’t lose, even with the late charge from Coulthard in the final eight laps after Ralf suffered an oil pump issue in the closing stages.
His brother Michael, who at that point had won two of the opening three races of the season, had a pretty poor race and retired on lap 24 with suspension damage.
Other notable moments included a certain Fernando Alonso (in only his fourth F1 race) crashing out after a brake failure and Jos Verstappen (a certain father of a current F1 driver) also retiring from the race after suffering a broken exhaust.
Oh and fun fact. This was the last time we had ever seen an Argentinian driver in F1, with Gaston Mazzacane being sacked after this race by his Prost team.
4. 1996 – Winner: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
The race which the Tifosi fell in love with Michael Schumacher. In only his fifth race for the Scuderia, Schumacher took a famous pole position ahead of the dominant Williams pair of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve.
In what was a complete dog of a car, Schumacher pushed for the pole so hard on the Saturday that immediately after setting his pole lap, the suspension broke on his F310.
On race day he also suffered more mechanical dramas, with a brake disc explosion on the last lap seeing him limping home in second to narrowly beat the Benetton of Gerhard Berger and finish the race on three wheels.
However despite not getting his first win for Ferrari (that would come two races later in Spain), it was a performance that solidified his brilliance and also his popularity in Italy and for the Tifosi.
3. 1989 – Winner: Ayrton Senna (McLaren)
History will always tell stories around the rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost but the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix was the race where it began.
The pair were teammates at McLaren at that point and having had a near perfect season beforehand (the team only lost one race all season) came into round 2 of the Championship at Imola having lost out to the Ferrari of Nigel Mansell.
Senna started on pole and took the lead into turn 1, but a massive crash from Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari on lap 4 saw a red flag and a delay of more than half an hour till the race resumed.
During that break a “gentleman’s agreement” was made between Senna and Prost that whoever took the lead into turn 1 would go on to win the race. The driver who took the lead in to turn 1? Prost. The driver who won the race? Senna.
And with that the most famous rivalry in the history of Formula 1 was born.
2. 2006 – Winner: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
The real golden period for Imola were the two races that seemingly ended its tenure on the F1 grid. The second of those races (you’ll read about the other one in a moment) in 2006 was almost a carbon copy of the race in 2005, except this time around it was Michael Schumacher who got the win over Fernando Alonso in a tense wheel-to-wheel battle right to the line.
Schumacher led from pole and looked likely for an easy win, before graining in his tires slowed him down and allowed Alonso to catch up, gaining 10 seconds on the Ferrari in just eight laps. Alonso then seemed to have had enough pace to leapfrog Schumacher in the second round of pit stops, but Schumacher retained his lead and held off Alonso to get revenge for the season before.
This race also saw the memorable barrel role of Christijan Albers in his Midland after being sent into the gravel spectacularly by the spectacularly bad Yuji Ide. So severe was the incident that it would be used as evidence later in the year when the FIA revoked Ide’s superlicence. And you thought Nikita Mazepin was bad…
1. 2005 – Winner: Fernando Alonso (Renault)
An epic battle between two legends of the sport, this was the race that many see as the “changing of the guard” moment between Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso.
At this point in F1 history, Schumacher had won five consecutive Championships for Ferrari to bring his total to seven overall and was far and away the most dominant driver the sport had ever seen. Alonso meanwhile was in only his fourth F1 season and was finally in a car good enough to regularly challenge for wins and the Championship, something he would ultimately win for the first time that year.
Schumacher and Ferrari had a difficult start to 2005 and Imola was the first race in which they found pace. Having started 13th on the grid, Schumacher fought his way through the field to find himself behind Alonso’s Renault and for the final 12 laps attempted to pass the Spaniard in some of the best wheel-to-wheel racing we have seen this Millennium.
No matter how hard Schumacher tried, he couldn’t get past Alonso who put on an incredible defensive driving display, sending the Renault team into raptures and even having Schumacher praise Alonso for his driving efforts.
A new legend of the sport was born on that day in Imola, and it served as the best race ever seen at the famous circuit.
Do you agree with this list? Which Grand Prix at Imola is your favourite? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here