My boyfriend has very kindly written a short piece on his time at Italian racetrack Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari. His enthusiasm has sparked my own obsession, not only with Formula 1, but also for the history of motorsport and cars in general. What makes it even more interesting, though, is the travel aspect that encompasses the sport, as it gives people the opportunity to visit countries all over the world while enjoying the Grand Prix, and they get a taste of culture along the way.
This particular track takes precedence this weekend, however, because of the tragic events that occurred 22 years ago. The deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna shocked the world in 1994, and the legacy, especially that of Senna, live on in the drivers who race today. Since I was forced into watching Asif Kapadia’s biographical film about Senna, I have admired the man. It was his personality, passion and philosophy that captured my interest in Formula 1, and I really hope I can visit this racetrack one day, so I can pay my own respects to one of the greatest drivers in history.
In May 2015, I visited Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari as a guest of Peter May, who is a friend and talented Motorsport photographer, mostly on the Sportscar scene. This time around, the European Le Mans series was in Central Italy for the third annual 4-hour race.
The track is generally referred to as ‘Imola’, after the nearby town, and is widely remembered as the setting for the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, the black weekend which saw two drivers die, another injured, and two further incidents causing injuries to mechanics and spectators. I was ten years old, and had only started taking an interest in Formula One racing at the end of 1993 so this was one of my earliest Motorsport memories. Despite hosting the race without incident for a further 12 years, I never warmed to it, but saw the invite as a chance to put my negative feelings to bed.
Firstly, Imola is located around 25 miles from Bologna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy boasting some beautiful rolling countryside and vineyards. The local architecture is classically Italian, oh, and it’s not located in the Republic of San Marino; the relationship is a bit of artistic licence as Italy already had an established Grand Prix.
On a warm Friday evening, I took a walk with the teams and drivers around the 3-mile circuit. The elevation changes, the views, the wooded areas, the houses, hotels, and farms surrounding the track make this a “proper circuit” worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the likes of the much-loved Spa in Belgium.
Early on the Saturday morning I walked alone into the wooded area where the bronze statue of Ayrton Senna sits in reflective head-down pose on the inside of the Tamburello corner where he died at the age of 34. The sun crept through the trees while only the sound of birdsong broke the silence where I stood. There are masses of flags, tshirts, messages, and photographs pinned to the catch fencing for the 3-time World Champion. At the Tosa corner, the Austrian rookie Roland Ratzenberger, 33, lost his life less than 24 hours before Senna but in powerful contrast has a solitary fresh rose tied to the gate in front of his memorial.
Yesterday was the 22nd anniversary of that fateful weekend that turned Imola into a dirty word for a generation of fans, including myself. Formula One has now been absent for a decade, but I for one would now welcome its return.