Formula One’s Emilia-Romagna returns After last year’s cancellation

Red Bull's Max Verstappen before practice Friday in Imola, Italy. (Ciro De Luca/Reuters)

Formula One is back at Imola, in Italy, for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, a year after the 2023 race was canceled because of the extensive flooding in the region.

Over half of the annual rainfall deluged the area in just 36 hours in mid-May 2023, falling on land that had been hit by drought. A total of 23 rivers overflowed, landslides destroyed roads and bridges, and the area was paralyzed.


“The weather forecast was bad, but we were not foreseeing anything like this with the magnitude it had at the end of the day,” said Otello Valenti, the human resources and legal director of Visa Cash App RB F1 Team.

Imola is a classic, old-school circuit, a world away from some of F1’s newer space-age venues. Imola’s narrow track sweeps through the Italian countryside, bisecting residential avenues dotted with red-brown houses from whose balconies fans have track views.

“Imola was recognized around the world because of the track and because of Formula One,” said Stefano Domenicali, the CEO of Formula One, who is from Imola. “This is the reason why this event for Imola is special.”

Imola sits in an affluent region known for its education, cuisine and agriculture. It is also in the heart of Italy’s “Motor Valley,” home to the F1 teams Ferrari and RB, the motorcycle company Ducati and the car manufacturers Lamborghini and Maserati.

“It’s not as probably as known as the high-tech area which it is,” said Peter Bayer, RB’s CEO. “It’s a bit [like] the Silicon Valley of motorsport.”

Imola had its F1 debut in 1980 when it hosted the Italian Grand Prix while the race’s regular host, Monza, was being renovated. Imola held the San Marino Grand Prix from 1981 to 2006.

Imola then dropped off the schedule, but it had a surprise return in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They were able to accept us and be ready to host a race when unfortunately not a lot of other places were ready,” Domenicali said.

Formula One has held the Emilia-Romagna there ever since.

“Imola is special because I was born there, I grew up there, I have great memories there of my youth, my studies, my passion for motorsport,” Domenicali said. “It’s a link to the past and important for me. My family still lives there. I see my sister, nephews, my parents. And it’s where I sleep, so it’s beautiful as I don’t have to go to a hotel.”

Imola was spared the worst of the flooding, though a paddock went underwater after the adjacent Santerno river overflowed. Many F1 personnel already at the track were sent home on Tuesday of race week, and the race was canceled on Wednesday, May 17.

“When I took the decision to cancel the race, it was not easy, but the right one,” Domenicali said. “The situation was too catastrophic to think all the services needed to host a Grand Prix were dedicated to us when the people really needed their support.”

Fifteen people were killed during the flooding and thousands were displaced. Formula One helped with financial assistance, while food and drink intended for the race was sent to the community.

RB’s factory, in the town of Faenza near Imola, invited some of its workers and their families to shelter there.

“We dedicated an area in the factory with temporary beds and we hosted up to 20 colleagues for a few nights,” Valenti said. Red Bullsent a truck of clothing to Faenza from its AlphaTauri fashion arm. Yuki Tsunoda, a resident of the city, helped with the cleanup while donations poured in to assist with the recovery.

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