70 years of racing at Imola: the circuit's greatest F1 races


In celebration of 70 years of racing at Imola, we look back at some of the circuit's greatest moments - from its first F1 grand prix to Ferrari's most recent heartbreak


The main straight has led to one of the only overtaking spots on the calendar

Grand Prix Photo

In the late 1940s, four Italians with a passion for racing motorcycles saw an opportunity to make a race track of their very own – linking winding roads between Imola and Codrigano. Winning the support of local authorities and the favour of Enzo Ferrari, work began on an autodrome under the guise of relieving unemployment, and in 1953 Imola held its first motor race.

Seventy years and 30 F1 grands prix later, the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari has played host to some truly great racing and has remained one of the most exciting grand prix venues since joining the F1 calendar in 1980.

The circuit’s original shape remains largely unchanged – the double left-hander at Rivazza still acting as Imola’s final corner. But the tragedy of 1994, which saw Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lose their lives on the same F1 race weekend, forced major changes in car and circuit design, resulting in the loss of the high-speed Tamburello corner and increased run-off areas.

F1 was set to return to Imola this weekend, but heavy rain and tragic flooding has caused much of the area to be evacuated and the race to be cancelled. So instead, here are some of the greatest racing moments


1980 Italian Grand Prix

F1’s debut at Imola

1980 Italian grand prix

Imola makes F1 calendar debut, replacing Monza as Italian GP


In the aftermath of Ronnie Peterson‘s death, following a crash and botched response at Monza in 1978, A deal was struck to move the Italian Grand Prix to Imola and, by 1980, the circuit was ready.

Its first official F1 qualifying session produced almost immediate drama, with Jody Scheckter‘s Ferrari involved in a monumental crash on his first push lap. Rene Arnoux and Renault were the quickest to adapt to the new circuit, taking pole position by almost four-tenths, closely followed by team-mate Jean-Pierre Jabouille.

Home favourite Ferrari, which had struggled to match the pace of its European rivals, spent much of qualifying testing a new turbo, which at the hands of Gilles Villeneuve, was good enough to qualify eighth.

From the archive

But during the race, it was the Brabham of Nelson Piquet that stole the show. Starting fifth, the Brazilian jumped Bruno Giacomelli and Carlos Reutemann to third, slotting in behind the Renaults on the opening lap. By lap three, Piquet had forced himself in front of Arnoux for second and by lap four he had taken the lead – Villeneuve close behind in fourth, much to the delight of the screaming Tifosi.

Unfortunately, Italy’s joy was destroyed just two laps later, when Villeneuve’s leading Ferrari suffered a high-speed puncture, careering the Canadian into a concrete barrier. He walked away unharmed.

Out front, Piquet’s lead continued to grow whilst the Renaults were slowly eaten up by the trailing Williams pair of Alan Jones and Reutemann, who had for a moment been running last at the start of the race after overheating his clutch.

It was a race filled with drama from green light to chequered flag, and Imola retained a grand prix for 1981: the first San Marino Grand Prix.


1982 San Marino Grand Prix

Villeneuve vs Pironi

Villeneuve and Pironi battle for victory at Imola

Villeneuve and Pironi battle for Ferrari at Imola


The bitter rivalry between Villeneuve and Didier Pironi, and its tragic fallout, naturally overshadow the 1982 race which was one of the best that Imola has ever seen.

Starting third and fourth respectively, the Ferraris were part of a reduced field after a political battle within F1 which saw the likes of McLaren, Brabham, Williams and Lotus withdraw from the event. Villeneuve was able to pass Renault’s Alain Prost for second on the opening lap, followed quickly by Pironi as René Arnoux opened up a substantial lead.

Struggling with an underperforming engine, Prost slipped further and further back and was passed by Milan local Michele Alboreto before retiring on lap 15. A clear track ahead of the Ferraris had allowed Villeneuve and Pironi to close the gap to Arnoux as the race reached the halfway stage. With the ballistic Tifosi urging him on, Villeneuve took the lead with a brave dive into Piratella.

From the archive

The pass looked to have flustered Arnoux as the trio entered Acque Minerale, and he almost fell further behind but was back on the attack as they flew around Tamburello, almost three wide as the leading order suddenly shifted once again: Arnoux first, Pironi second and Villeneuve now third.

The Ferrari pair swapped places three more times before disaster struck for the race leader, Arnoux’s Renault forced to retire due to an engine failure, leaving Villeneuve and Pironi to coast to the chequered flag – or so many thought.

With 10 laps to go, both cars were given the order to slow down, with Villeneuve leading and Pironi in second — the nearest threat 60 seconds down the road. But after the Canadian made a small mistake, Pironi passed for the lead and refused to give it back. A furious battle followed, and on the final lap, Pironi passed for the lead once more, securing victory.

A fantastic race for both drivers was overshadowed by feelings of betrayal and fury, but the war between the pair was tragically short – Villeneuve killed in a crash at Zolder just weeks later.


1985 San Marino Grand Prix

Senna vs Prost

Ayrton Senna in his Lotus 97T.

After leading almost the entire race, Ayrton Senna ran out of fuel with 3 laps to go

Motorsport Images

Remembered as one of F1’s more bizarre races, the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix went wrong for almost everyone.

After qualifying on pole, Ayrton Senna and Lotus led the field for almost the entire race and with three laps to go were on the brink of leading the drivers’ and constructors’ world championships. But after lapping ninth place Nigel Mansell, Senna suddenly slowed after running out of fuel, allowing second-placed Stefan Johansson to take the lead for Ferrari. As the Tifosi cheers rang our, Johansson suffered the same fate as Senna just one lap later, slowing down as his tank ran dry and allowing Alain Prost to take the lead.

From the archive

That was just the start, as Nelson Piquet and Thierry Boutsen also ran out of fuel due to the race’s fast pace. And there was more to come.

Prost crossed the line first and was on his way back to the pits when his McLaren also ran out of fuel. When the car was weighed, it was classed as underweight and the Frenchman was immediately disqualified from the race results. This promoted Lotus’ Elio de Angelis to the top of the podium, Boutsen (who had pushed his car across the line) to second and Renault’s Patrick Tambay to third.

It remains one of the most dramatic grand prix finishes.


2005 San Marino Grand Prix

Schumacher vs Alonso

Fernando Alonso wins 2005 San Marino GP

Fernando Alonso captures victory after race-long battle with Michael Schumacher


At the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso announced himself as the new prince of Formula 1 after going toe-to-toe with one of the the series’ most successful drivers – Michael Schumacher.

Although the German had failed to capture a podium during the first three races of the season, he entered Imola as a favourite having won at the historic venue six times before. On the other hand, Alonso was aiming to seize three consecutive race victories, after wins in Malaysia and Bahrain.

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Problems during qualifying meant Schumacher began the race in 14th, whilst Alonso settled for second behind McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen. But after the first round of pitstops, Schumacher found himself in third, with only Jenson Button and Alonso ahead of him — Raikkonen retiring due to a broken driveshaft.

Schumacher made short work of Button and as the race entered its closing stages, Alonso emerged from his final stop just metres in front of him. In a brilliant display of defensive driving, Alonso thwarted any attempt made by Schumacher to get past, planting his Renault on the racing line as the pair weaved their way through back markers.

Separated by just two-tenths as they crossed the finish line, Alonso clung onto the lead, but Schumacher’s brilliant recovery drive to finish second was no less impressive.


2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Start of the 2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola

Turn 1 at Imola and the Red Bull pair were into a quick lead, helped by grid positions one and three starting from the dry side of the track

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After a 14-year hiatus, F1 returned to Imola in 2020 as part of a revised calendar during the Covid pandemic, but it wasn’t until 2022 that we got a taste of the drama it can produce. A sprint race weekend meant double the racing action and a rampant Ferrari meant an equally frenzied crowd.

During the sprint, Charles Leclerc jumped polesitter Max Verstappen at the start, followed closely by McLaren’s Lando Norris and the Haas of Kevin Magnussen. A safety car restart just five laps later bunched the field back up, producing even more action as the race got back under way – Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz going wheel-to-wheel through the Villeneuve chicane. Perhaps the best move of the race came in the closing stages, with Verstappen sweeping around the outside of Leclerc entering Tamburello to take the lead and ultimately win the race.

Bitter disappointment followed for Ferrari the following day, as Leclerc fell behind Sergio Perez‘s Red Bull at the start, forcing him down to third. Carlos Sainz clashed with Daniel Ricciardo and sent his Ferrari out of the race entirely. Changing weather conditions kept producing more on-track action, with George Russell involved in a furious tussle with Magnussen for fifth

A podium place looked almost guaranteed for Leclerc but he spun his Ferrari on the Variante Alta chicane and crashed into the barrier whilst in pursuit of second placed Perez. He was able to limp back to the pits but ultimately had to settle for sixth – passed by Valtteri Bottas and Norris, who secured McLaren’s only podium of the season.