Why today? Because it was on 21 April 1963 that the first Formula 1 race, a non-championship event, was held at Imola. In fact, the Imola circuit can trace its roots much further back than F1, when motorcycle fumes hung in the air and legendary cars went through their paces. Let’s travel through time in our AT03 and to quote Doc Brown from “Back to the Future” “if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”
The visionary idea
The idea was to create a track in the area of Monte Castelluccio on roads open to the public, but far from centres of habitation. Good ideas travel fast and in 1948 this hilly area had all the right requirements to make a mini Nurburgring, with an equally technical layout, albeit somewhat shorter in length. It didn’t take long for the idea to become reality.
The engines fire up
Our “time machine” now takes us to April 1953, when a motorcycle race gave Imola its baptism with the first “Gran Premio Coni.” Two wheeled racers are an integral part of the story of this track: who could forget the “Coppa D’Oro Shell” and then in the 60s and 70s, the World Championship and its Grand Prix of Nations. Let’s not forget the 200 Miglia, thought up by Checco Costa, in whose honour the Autodromo Museum is named, now known as the Daytona of Europe.
Roaring along in F1
Let’s go to the 60s and punch in a precise date on the steering wheel: 21 April 1963. A 59 year step back in time to see Formula 1 cars ran on track at Imola for the very first time. Wouldn’t it be great to see Jim Clark at the wheel of his Lotus Climax BRM as the Scotsman crossed the line first? It was a non-championship race, but it gave the crowd a taste of what was to come. Now we can charge into 1979, the year the F1 cars were once more whizzing around Imola, now a permanent racing facility. Another non-championship race, this time known as the Dino Ferrari Grand Prix, in memory of Enzo’s son, who died at an early age. This time Niki Lauda got his hands on the winner’s trophy after stepping from his Alfa Romeo-powered Brabham.
The golden years
Just one year later, the Formula 1 cars were back in Imola for the 51st Italian Grand Prix. It would be the one and only Italian Formula 1 GP not to be held at Monza! However, from 1981 to 2006, Imola staged a round of the world championship in its own right, known as the San Marino Grand Prix. For a quarter of a century, Italy could boast two races, with Imola hosting one in the Spring and Monza the other in early September.
Now our AT03 is alongside the hill at Rivazza. The steering wheel indicates the date is 19 November 2006, 4.15 pm. At that moment, a deafening silence at the track was broken as work began on demolishing the old pits. It marked the end of one chapter and the start of another waiting to be written. Just a few months later and one could already admire the new pit building, a bigger paddock and a new race control, home to offices, timing room and a VIP lounge. No Formula 1 racing was on the schedule, but spectators could enjoy the World Superbikes and the 200 Miglia Revival, while on four wheels, the World Touring Car Championship took to the track, as did the Italian ACI-CSAI championships, the International Superstars Series and several other categories. The fans were back in the grandstands because passion is the most powerful engine of all!
The return of F1
And here we are nearly back in the present day: it is 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic has upset everyone’s plans, so that Formula 1 has to reorganise its calendar to move forward. Imola is ready for the challenge and seizes the opportunity, returning to the calendar, hosting two rounds of the championship in the space of six months. The Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix is a hit with the fans and with the F1 folk, the impetus for Imola to secure its place on the calendar up to 2025. It’s the icing on the cake for Italy’s Motor Valley, which now boasts an F1 GP, plus MotoGP and World Superbike rounds, ensuring Emilia-Romagna’s place as the beating heart of motor sport.