Imola, 2014

Visiting the (in)famous Imola circuit

First published a few years ago on a previous blog.

It’s always been my huge dream to visit a race circuit in Imola. I remember times when Formula 1 used to race there and it never failed to produce an exciting Grand Prix. The circuit is named Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, after Enzo Ferrari and his late son Dino, so naturally, it is a home place for Tifosi. But this place is mostly known for its dark past and the weird aura surrounding it since the faithful weekend in 1994.

The deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger were just a sorrow end to one of the most tragic Formula 1 events in its history. That San Marino Grand Prix took away a hero, who was arguably one of the greatest F1 drivers ever, and a man praised for his determination and never giving up personality after chasing that F1 seat for so many years.

Many Motorsport fans dream of visiting this place at least once in their life. To quietly stand next to the Ayrton Senna Monumento and to pay tributes to a hero of so many people, and not just for his driving skills. When I heard about Ayrton Senna Tribute event organised by the Italian website Formula Passion, I knew I had to go. I couldn’t miss such an opportunity – to visit Imola on the 20th anniversary of the sad weekend.

By that time I was working on The F1 Magazine, a YouTube video magazine, for The F1 Times (now Motorsport Week), and obviously it was also a great opportunity from a professional point of view, to be able to film how this event unfolded and deliver our fans something special.

Imola, 2014
Imola, 2014

Imola Circuit

The circuit itself is quite well hidden. I still remember driving down the very narrow Via Rivazza road, looking for the hotel and not realising that high wall by our right was actually a wall separating circuit from the Imola city. As the name of the road suggests, the Rivazza section, with corners 14 and 15, was right behind that wall. Surprisingly, it’s all very modest there, it just feels like a part of the city.

No majestic welcomes, or ‘wow’ effects like in Abu Dhabi with their grand Yas Marina complex. Only a little sign telling you, that you have arrived at IMOLA – Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari. And yes, I didn’t notice that sign either. But that just adds even more magic to the place. For the ‘wow’ effect you have to wait until you get a glimpse on the track. And that won’t take long, as soon wall is replaced by a fence and you see the earlier mentioned Rivazza section. That steep hill above the corner, where F1 cars are braking down so hard, is simply breathtaking. With a race control tower standing in the background with Ferrari flags waving in the wind. And that is when you start to perceive circuit’s legacy.

Tamburello

On the following day, we went for an early morning walk to Tamburello. It was after a rainy night, no people around, just a couple of runners. The air was fresh, with a breeze, yet it felt quite heavy the closer you were to the infamous corner. It lies just next to a park which is located in the centre of the circuit.  I would swear I felt a petrol going through my veins and that I smelled the burning rubber in the air just near a place where F1 cars brake hard for the chicane.

In that moment you understand why people said that only big accidents happen in Tamburello. Yes, it is a chicane now, but the feeling around that place is still the same. You feel the history of this place on your shoulders. Imola went through a lot but never lost anything. Only gained. Experience. Memories. A soul.

Imola, 2014
Imola, 2014

Ayrton Senna Tribute

On 1st May, over 25,000 people arrived for the commemoration event held in Tamburello corner, alongside with some Formula 1 personalities like Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen, Jules Bianchi, Gerhard Berger and Emmanuele Pirro. We all were walking together towards Tamburello corner and then spent a couple of minutes remembering those we lost that weekend.

But apart of that, it was a special weekend full of exhibitions of personal memorabilia, helmets, photos and a display of the most legendary cars of Senna’s career. It was simply a stunning event for the fans. With a great opportunity to meet people who were around Senna and Ratzenberger and could share their stories. A huge thank you to Keith Sutton who shared his story with Roland.

Of course, other racing cars were present too and even a proper kart race. My most favourite moment was when they fired up Senna’s 1985 Lotus – for this first time in 20 years! And then its owner took it for a drive around Imola circuit. At that moment, nobody cared about a bad weather, because it was worth it. Just to hear the sound of that era.

Lotus 97T, Imola, 2014
Lotus 97T, Imola, 2014

Legacy

But as always, something bad leads to something good. A lot had changed after that weekend. Formula 1 had begun its long journey in improving safety, which inevitably led to a better safety on the roads. That is the legacy we should remember too and a reason why we must never forget. Just a couple of metres behind the Tamburello corner, in the park, there’s a small place with a monument dedicated to Ayrton Senna. A bronze statue of him, sitting on a pedestal, just like he used to sit on the pit walls, looking down with his typical deep and focused look. In that quiet and lonely place with just birds chirping around.

To come out from behind the trees and to see the statue for the very first time, it leaves you with another very strong emotion. One simple pose, one simple look, but a lot will be going through your mind. It’s beautiful, but depressing at the same time. It’s magical. It’s thoughtful. It’s brilliant. Always with a plenty of flowers, flags, ribbons, and other memorabilia around.

Imola, 2014
Imola, 2014

I can only recommend you to add Imola on your bucket list. The Parco della Acqua Minerali with Ayrton Senna Monumento should be a place to visit for every fan. I’m very grateful and proud that I could be there to film the whole event. And to meet Mark and Keith Suttons, two legendary Motorsport photographers. With their help and also a help from many others like Formula Passion website, Ernie Black, Aaron Cooper and Ryan Woods and my friend Jan Vodvárka, who accompanied me on the travel and helped with filming, I put together a very special episode of The F1 Magazine called Senna Special. Please feel free to watch it. It was a dream come true.