Expectations are rising for the 2022 Gran Premio del Made in Italy e dell’Emilia Romagna.
Located in a scenic part of the world, with rolling hills to the west and the sun-kissed Adriatic coast to the east, the circuit finds itself nestled in the center of an automotive landscape and culinary heaven. The venue, more commonly called Imola in deference to the surrounding town, joined Formula 1’s calendar in 1980 as the Italian round, and a year later was handed the San Marino moniker.
Opened in 1953, the racetrack on the outskirts of Imola is one of the most traditional circuits in Formula One, which returned here in 2020 after a 13-year break. The 4.909-kilometre rollercoaster course follows the natural contours of the Emilia-Romagna hills.
Imola was removed from the schedule after 2006, as Formula 1 went in pursuit of new territories, but it returned as a late stand-in round in 2020 when the world was grappling with the early stages of the pandemic. Under the new title of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix – the region in which Imola is located – it was again run in 2021, and for 2022 features as the fourth round of the season.
Imola’s circuit boasts a variety of challenges, with a greater than usual emphasis placed on qualifying, owing to the narrow nature of the old-school track and the paucity of overtaking opportunities. The best chance is frequently into the Tamburello chicane, at the end of the lengthy full throttle section past the pit lane. Drivers dart between the verdant parklands and terracotta-colored houses that add to the throwback nature of Imola and give it an unmistakable character.
The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix will also see the return of F1 Sprint, following its introduction at select rounds in 2021.
After confirming the race until 2025, as a result of the agreement between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Mobility, ICE, the Emilia-Romagna Region, the Municipality of Imola and Con.Ami, the Automobile Club of Italy and Liberty Media, this year’s event has already sold over 120,000 tickets. Tickets are still available on Tiketone, but a sellout is anticipated
Imola is the first race back in Europe this year and the first one with the “sprint race” format with qualifying on Friday and the Sprint on Saturday. The Imola Sprint is a 21-lap race that will decide the starting grid of Sunday’s Grand Prix. This will be the third Formula 1 Grand Prix that the Enzo and Dino Ferrari International Circuit has hosted in just 18 months, but it is the first one that admits spectators again.
Ferrari heads to Imola as the leader in the Constructor and Driver standings. Charles Leclerc already won two GPs out of three in this season, and he leads the Championship with 71 points, almost double compared to George Russell, who, in his first year in Mercedes, has collected 37 points so far, clinching his first podium (3rd) in Melbourne. Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz follows with 33 points, and he aims to fight back after he retired in Australia.
After the first three races this season, Oracle Red Bull Racing and Ferrari are the only teams to get both cars into Q3 at every round so far. Max now has the longest continuous run of Q3 appearances, a run of ten in a row.
In addition to Mercedes and 7-time world champion Lewis Hamilton (fifth in the standings with 28 points), also Red Bull is challenging Ferrari: reigning world champion and last year’s winner at Imola Max Verstappen (25 points) is sixth after his only victory in Saudi Arabia.
The Dutch driver was forced to retire both in Bahrain and Australia, while teammate Sergio Perez managed to reach fourth position (30 points) thanks to his second place in Melbourne behind Leclerc.
The Made in Italy and Emilia Romagna GP will be the home race for the AlphaTauri team, which is based in the near Faenza and will bring some updates to the cars driven by Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda.
Another Italian brand, in addition to Pirelli (which is the tire supplier), is Alfa Romeo, taking part in Formula 1 with the Sauber team and Ferrari engines. With Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou the team is currently sixth in the Constructors’ Championship, preceded in fourth place by the McLaren-Mercedes with Lando Norris (3rd last year at Imola) and Daniel Ricciardo and by Alpine-Renault, fifth with Esteban Ocon and two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.
The Spanish driver returns in front of Italian fans as a former Ferrari driver and as a protagonist of the epic duels with Michael Schumacher back in 2005 and 2006 editions of Imola, where also the son of the seven-time world champion, Mick Schumacher, is returning with Haas alongside Kevin Magnussen. Another former Ferrari driver in the race is Sebastian Vettel, who, together with teammate Lance Stroll, will try to get the first points of the season for Aston Martin, which is in the last position of the standings behind the Williams of Alexander Albon and Nicholas Latifi.
The Sprint Races are different in 2022
Say goodbye to ‘Sprint Qualifying’. It’s now simply called the ‘Sprint’.
Once again there will be three Sprint races this season, with Imola and the Red Bull Ring replacing Silverstone and Monza. After Lewis Hamilton’s Brazilian GP thriller last year, the final Sprint race will again feature at Interlagos.
After all the fuss last time, pole position in the record books will now be awarded to the fastest driver in Friday’s qualifying session rather than the Sprint race winner. Teams will get just one free practice session on Friday before qualifying, although the fastest driver in Friday’s qualifying session will now be deemed to have secured pole position for the race weekend by being fastest over one lap…….rather than Q1, Q2 and Q3 knockout qualifying.
Last year, only the top three scored points but this season there’ll be more to play for on the Saturday as the top eight will awarded points. Finishing P1 will earn a driver eight points, seven for second, all the way down to one point for eighth.
As result, the maximum a driver can score across a Sprint race weekend is 34 points (winning both races and the fastest lap of Sunday’s race).
Ferrari Favorites on Home Turf
This year’s visit to the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari comes with Leclerc now the clear title favorite, and Ferrari having marked themselves out as the team to beat with a dominant victory in Melbourne. In front of a capacity crowd at Imola, it’s going to be some atmosphere as Leclerc goes for a third win from four.
Can Red Bull overcome their reliability issues?
With both Red Bulls retiring from the season opener when in the podium positions, and Verstappen retiring from a sure 2nd in Australia, that means their two cars have combined for just three finishes from six starts, and all three retirements have been related to the fuel system. Team Principal Christian Horner says it was a different issue that stopped Verstappen in Australia compared to the Bahrain failures, but either way they are proving costly.
Verstappen is already 46 points – nearly two race victories – behind Leclerc in the standings, and that’s going to be a big gap to close without some misfortune befalling the championship leader. And Red Bull are also only third in the constructors’ following their early woes.
Dr. Helmut Marko says the fuel system issues should be resolved in time for Imola. We shall see.
We could have wet and cool conditions for Friday, as things currently stand, with an 86% chance of rain currently forecast.
On Saturday, things will warm up a bit from 16C to the low 20s, but there remains a chance of showers, though not as high as on Friday.
Currently, there’s a 36% chance of rain on Saturday.
Sunday is likely to be the warmest day of the race weekend, according to current forecasts.
There’s a 24% chance of rain, too, so it is also the most likely to be dry.
Tires for the Weekend
Formula 1 returns to Imola, one of Pirelli’s two home races (alongside Monza), with the C2, C3 and C4 tires nominated for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix as P Zero White hard, P Zero Yellow medium and P Zero Red soft respectively. This is the same nomination as was made for Imola last year, although the compounds are of course different with the latest generation of 18-inch tires.
The tires are all-new but the Imola track is just as it was at this time last year, with a narrow, old-school feel. The asphalt dates from 2011, which makes the 11-year old surface reasonably abrasive. That’s why we don’t see the same double step between medium and soft as we had in Australia a couple of weeks ago: the more mature surface at Imola generates more grip and therefore more heat in the tires, requiring a more robust softest compound.
The forces at work on the tires are generally equal between lateral and longitudinal, making it a flowing track where drivers need to find a good rhythm. It’s particularly important to get good traction out of the final Rivazza corner in order to have a strong run down the start-finish straight before a heavy braking area into the first corner: a key overtaking opportunity.
Imola marks the first sprint session of the year, with rules that are slightly revised compared to last year, including more points on offer. From 2022, pole position will be recorded as the driver who goes fastest in Friday’s qualifying session – and this driver will be the recipient of the Pirelli Pole Position Award. The tire rules are the same as last year’s sprint events though. Rather than having 13 sets of tires for a conventional weekend, there will be just 12 sets. These consist of two sets of P Zero White hard, four sets of P Zero Yellow medium, and six sets of P Zero Red soft. In addition, the teams will have up to six sets of Cinturato Green intermediates and three sets of Cinturato Blue full wets available in case of wet weather.
“Imola is an old-school, challenging track, where overtaking can be tricky, also because the circuit is quite narrow in places,” says Pirelli Motorsports boss Mario Isola.
“So the strategy is likely to center around avoiding traffic, and effectively the teams start from scratch here in terms of tire knowledge – as the compounds are completely different this year, and last year’s race also began on the wet-weather tires, before being interrupted by a lengthy red flag period. Generally speaking, Imola is a medium severity track for the tires, and it’s a venue that is used quite frequently. This means that we might see a little less track evolution than we’ve been accustomed to at other circuits as the track is well rubbered-in already: the first round of the Pirelli-equipped GT World Challenge took place at Imola last month, which gave us some useful data. These are just some of the factors that the teams will have to take into account when establishing the tire strategy for the opening sprint session of the year: another first for the 2022 season.”
Formula 2 will support a Formula 1 grand prix at Imola for the first time since 2006, when the championship was known as GP2. The P Zero Yellow medium and P Zero Purple supersoft tires have been nominated. This will be the debut for the revised supersoft for 2022, featuring optimizations to improve resistance. Each driver has five sets of slick tires (three medium and two soft) to use across the weekend, with a 25-lap sprint race to take place immediately after Formula 1’s sprint on Saturday and a 35-lap feature race on Sunday morning.
This will be the first time that the modern Formula 3 championship has raced at Imola. The P Zero Yellow medium compound is the sole nominated tire for the first time this season, with drivers having four sets to use over the weekend. The sprint race takes place on Saturday morning and the feature race on Sunday morning.
Fact File: Emilia Romagna Grand Prix
- Emilia-Romagna not only has its own Grand Prix, but it is even has its own language, Emilian-Romagnol, considered a relative to Lombard, Piedmontese and Ligurian among the Gallo-Italic languages. It can be found in UNESCO’s Atlas Of The World’s Languages In Danger.
- Construction of the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari first started in 1950 and the circuit hosted its debut race in 1953.
- The track has hosted F1 races under three different names: the San Marino Grand Prix, Italian Grand Prix and Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
- This is the first of three planned Sprint events during the 2022 F1 season, the others being Austria and Brazil. This means Qualifying moves to Friday afternoon, after FP1, to determine the grid for a 100km Sprint race on Saturday afternoon, which takes place after FP2. The result of the Sprint race decides the grid for Sunday’s main race.
- There has been a change to the Sprint event format for 2022, with pole position now officially being awarded in the history books to the fastest driver in Friday’s qualifying session – compared to the previous format, which awarded pole to the winner of the Sprint.
- Because Imola is an older track, it has quite a narrow circuit width compared to modern circuits. This makes overtaking more challenging and puts more emphasis on strategy to make up places.
- Imola has one of the longest pit lanes of any F1 track on the 2022 calendar, measuring 549 meters. This translates to one of the longest pit lane times, too, with 24.7 seconds. This is an interesting strategic factor as you lose more time making a pit stop compared to other races.
- There’s a 575-meter stretch from pole to the first braking zone, which is one of the longest on the calendar and means we often see changes of position at the start.
- 71% of the lap time is taken at full throttle, which is quite high compared to most other 2022 F1 tracks. This includes 15 seconds of foot-to-the-floor lap time from the exit of the final corner to the braking zone for Turn 2.
- Imola has an average apex speed of 205 km/h, the third highest on the 2022 F1 calendar, behind Silverstone and Suzuka.
- There’s a wide variety of corner types and speeds at Imola, requiring a car with a wider operating window – the complete opposite to a circuit like Monaco, for example, which has a much narrower corner speed window focused on low-speed turns.
- Because of the wider corner speed window at Imola, more compromise is needed on the set-up details of the car, to enable it to perform better in that varied mix of corner types. A balance also needs to be found between the ride on the bumpy track and the aero configuration for maximum aero performance.
- Imola has the highest accelerations seen all year on corner exit (what we call, gLong forces), due to the very high grip measured on the track’s tarmac and the very straight corner exit lines – unlike the long, sweeping exits you see at other F1 venues such as Silverstone. The average longitudinal acceleration on corner exit at Imola is 1.5g.
- George’s Race Engineer, Riccardo Musconi, is from Imola and his primary school looked out onto the Imola circuit – so it’s hardly surprising he ended up working in motorsport!
Unlocking the Lap
Running through a beautiful parkland setting, the circuit offers twelve left-hand and nine right-hand corners, situated deep within the Emilia Romagna region. The bumpy Imola circuit is narrow in places, making overtaking both challenging and risky, so strategy is key.
The circuit retains many of the elements that previously made it such a daunting and thrilling race circuit, including the overall fast-flowing nature and unusual anti-clockwise direction. The famous corners at Piratella, Acque Minerali and Rivazza are all as demanding as they ever were and the run from the second part of Rivazza to the chicane at Tamburello is now flat-out as it passes the new pit complex. There have been some minor changes to the DRS zone for 2022, which may affect the racing.
Picking out the key elements of a lap around Imola is no easy feat considering its series of iconic corners, but few impact lap time as much as Piratella and Acque Minerali.
The Tosa hairpin sets up a run to Piratella, and a good exit is key for taking the corner flat out. Drivers tend to pull right on approach, braking lightly, and then accelerating through a 5G corner with little run-off.
There’s no rest, though. Drivers fly out of the exit of Piratella and descend to the flat-out Turn 11 entry, immediately setting the car up for the following corner. Here, there’s the immediate challenge of following straight-line braking with a change of direction across multiple gradient changes at Turn 12.
It’s then followed by a small kink that tightens on the exit at Turn 13 before drivers use all the traction they can to power up towards Turn 14 and continue their lap.
- Pit-stops: Teams and drivers want to make as few as possible because Imola has the longest pit-lane time loss of the season at 28s. Combined with historically low tire degradation, you’re unlikely to see teams make more than one stop in the race.
- Overtaking: While the 2022 cars seem to make overtaking easier, it’s still tricky at Imola. Short straights, high-speed corners and one DRS zone contributed to just 12 passes after the first lap in 2021 – all but one requiring DRS. The long run from the grid to Turn Two at the start is the best chance to make up ground.
- Practice time: The return of the Sprint format means practice is at a premium as teams seek to refine set-up and balance and understand tire behavior. Combined with the new-for-2022 cars, every minute counts in FP1 and FP2, and any setbacks or curveballs could mix up the order come Sunday.