Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari

It’s a pub argument for sure, but those who say classic F1 ended at 2:17pm on a warm Sunday in May of 1994 may have a point because nothing was ever the same again after that tragic weekend—not for racing, and certainly not for the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari that would become the catalyst for widespread changes to safety protocols at all levels of motorsport.

Project CARS 3 Lotus 98T at Imola

Imola, though, even before 1994, was always a bit of a scary place, a pure driver’s circuit whose run-offs were tight and whose bumpy, narrow, adrenaline-charged layout could always be relied upon for drama and unforgettable motorsport memories. Which is odd because that’s precisely the opposite of how it appears when the motors aren’t running, built as it is within a serene and shady park with clear water streams and not a few whispering ghosts from the past.

Given it sits in the heart of Italy’s motorsport triangle—a stone’s throw away from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Dallara, and many world-famous coachbuilders—operatic overtures to motoring dreams is probably to be expected, though. Add to that the 2000-year-old Roman chariot race amphitheatre nearby, and you start to get why racing is so deeply rooted in this idyllic backwater of Emilia Romagna, kind of like panzerotti and Parmigiano, Prosciutto di Parma and Tortellini en Brodo …

Project CARS 3 Lotus 98T at Imola

… But going back to the racing!

The initial track was built after the war and naturally the first ever laps had to have been played out to the tune of a Ferrari when Enzo sent Alberto Ascari to do the first demo laps in 1952. The track is named after Enzo and his son Dino, who died too soon, and it’s the real spiritual home of Ferrari’s tifosi, no matter what other—bigger and mightier tracks nearby—might say. This is where Ferrari legend Gilles Villeneuve became a hero—first in 1980 when he had a massive shunt through the section that now carries his name, and then in 1982, when he stood on his very final podium and unknowingly said goodbye to the tifosi who, to this day, still turn up carrying their number 27 Gilles banners and scarves.

To understand why Imola is such a fabled placed, you need understand the nature of this track. It’s a layout that is as far removed from the billiard-table-smooth technical tracks that are now the standard of modern motorsport as you’re likely to find in any FIA Grade 1 listed circuit. It’s anti-clockwise, really narrow and features some fearsome descents.

Project CARS 3 Lotus 98T at Imola

The track was reconstructed for the 1995 season with safety very much in mind, and that ended the flat run through Tamburello (now a chicane) and the Villeneuve section (now also a chicane). That rebuild made the track safer, and maybe it took a bit of its soul away too, but what remains is still a magnificent place that kept fans entertained until 2006 when the F1 boys finally abandoned it, leaving Imola with an empty heart and even emptier bank account from where it stumbled into a sad decline to finally enter administration in 2010.

In 2011, it was resurfaced and granted an FIA Grade 1 license and went back to hosting its world famous 6-hour race and plenty of European GT and domestic touring car and action. Still, it seemed as if the big boys would never return to this classic circuit again … until Covid-19. Now it’s about to host its first F1 race in almost 15 years. Get ready for more unforgettable drama!

Acque Minerali

Another pub argument—which is the most difficult, technical, and exciting complex in motorsport to drive—either features the Acque Minerali turns at Imola, or it’s not a valid argument.

Named after the natural water springs, this complex is really complicated to get right. Two turns that come after a nosebleed plunge down from the classic Piratella will test every single aspect of a car and driver—balance, brakes, courage, and technique. Get this complex exactly right and you’ll feel like a hero. Get it wrong—and everyone gets it wrong sooner or later—and you’ll join some very esteemed company that got caught out braking too late into the first right hander or were too keen to jump on the throttle out of the second part.

Take the Lotus Type 98T Renault Turbo for a spin here to understand why Imola is such a classic circuit.