Treachery and betrayal at Imola: the most controversial San Marino GPs

At times bordering on the Macchiavellian, Imola has played host to some of Formula 1’s most controversial moments – and didn’t we love them

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Didier Pironi and GIlles Villeneuve at Imola during the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix

1982: Pironi betrays Villeneuve

Most of the FOCA teams boycotted the 1982 San Marino GP, leaving just 14 cars on the grid, although that was of little concern to the tifosi. In the closing laps Ferrari’s Villeneuve and Pironi ran around at the front in what the former thought was a demonstration for the fans, until Pironi grabbed the lead and stormed to the flag. Villeneuve was still fuming when he lost his life at Zolder a fortnight later.

 


Patrick Tambay on the podium at Imola in 1983

1983: Tambay, racing no27, gets revenge for Villeneuve

A year on from Villeneuve’s controversial dispute with Pironi, his replacement at Ferrari, Patrick Tambay, returned to Imola carrying the no27. In the closing laps, fans cheered when leader Riccardo Patrese crashed his Brabham, and Tambay moved into the lead to claim the victory that Gilles had lost 12 months earlier. As the emotional winner noted, it was “revenge”.

 


1985: De Angelis lucks in

Fuel economy often played a role at Imola, not least in 1985 when the race descended into farce as cars stopped all around the circuit. The Lotus of leader Senna ran dry with three laps to go, handing the lead to Ferrari’s Johansson. Then the Swede also ran out, and Prost crossed the line in front. But his McLaren was disqualified, giving the win to Elio de Angelis, who had not led a lap.

 


Starting grid at the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola

1989: Senna leaves Prost seething

This GP is perhaps best remembered for Gerhard Berger’s miraculous escape from a fiery accident, the result of a front wing failure on his Ferrari. It was also a chapter in the turbulent Prost/Senna relationship. The McLaren team-mates had agreed that whoever got to the first corner in front would not be challenged. Senna thought a red flag and restart nullified the deal and duly passed a gobsmacked Prost.

 


FErnando Alonso celebrates winning the 2005 San MArino Grand Prix with champagne on the podium at Imola

2005: Alonso stakes his claim

Fernando Alonso’s first title campaign with Renault was gathering momentum in early 2005, and the fourth race in Imola was to prove an important marker. After the McLaren of Kimi Räikkönen retired, Alonso outran Schumacher in superb style in what amounted to a battle of the generations.

A year later, the German would turn the tables and head Alonso to the flag in the last San Marino GP held to date.