There is no doubt that the facilities at the Bahrain and Malaysian Grands Prix are fantastic, nor would anyone question the organisational skills of the Australian event. But, to many, the Formula One World Championship does not really get underway until it returns to its spiritual home at the classic European circuits, starting with this Sunday’s San Marino Grand Prix.
The Imola circuit has obvious importance for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro and, in what was a difficult 2005, the partisan crowd witnessed one of Michael Schumacher’s finest drives of the year, when he harried the winner all the way to take a strong second place. Twelve months on, we have a more competitive Scuderia, but one still looking for a first win of the season. Sporting Director Stefano Domenicali, who himself hails from Imola takes us through the implications of the fourth round of the world championship.
“Imola represents a very important race for us; the first in Europe after the opening three races which brought us mixed fortunes in terms of results,” says Domenicali. “It will be very important for us to perform well in Imola and we are all aware of that. I think that over the last few weeks, including our last test in Barcelona, we have done all we can to be as well prepared as possible. At the Catalunya circuit, we tested a new aerodynamic package, which seems to have produced quite promising results.”
“We have taken a step forward with the engine which should solve the reliability problem experienced in Malaysia and therefore, having dealt with the reliability issue, we also expect to see a performance gain as we have been able to move forward on the development front. Apart from this, we also carried out some important tyre work with Bridgestone. This weekend it will be important not just to be competitive, but to be capable of winning in San Marino.”
As has become a tradition, Ferrari has its own grandstand at the circuit, but a novelty for this year, on the Friday, the seating will be available to members of the new Scuderia Ferrari Club. “We have even organised a competition amongst all the clubs who make up this organisation to see which one can produce the best banner in support of our team,” reveals Domenicali. “And our race drivers will then be making a visit to the grandstand.”
“The Scuderia Ferrari Club is a new initiative which took shape this year, to unite all the supporters’ clubs. We have given the organisation a proper structure, run by ourselves to help the individual clubs run all their own initiatives within a new framework that is in line with our company philosophy and image. I am very happy and proud to be the president of this new structure, especially as all our members seem to be as passionate as ever and fully understand what we are trying to achieve. We have around 150 new Scuderia Ferrari affiliated clubs.”
A strong turnout from the Ferrari club members this weekend would definitely be a good thing for the sport, as crowd figures at Imola in recent years have been somewhat disappointing. “Imola is my town and so I was very sad to see this,” confesses Domenicali. “One year, this was linked to the fact the date was not a good one, with the race taking place at Easter, but in general, we know ticket prices are high and this is a problem that affects all the races in Europe. So I really hope that this year all the elements combine, including good weather to get plenty of people to come and support us with plenty of red banners being waved around the track.
“For Ferrari, this is a home grand prix, on a par with Monza. This track is named after our founder Enzo and his son Dino, so we have a special connection to the circuit. We also have special links to the town of Imola and this weekend, the local authorities will rename a Square in the city after Gilles Villeneuve. This event shows how deep are the links between Imola, Ferrari and its drivers. Imola is a wealthy city but the Grand Prix is important for Imola, in terms of ensuring it is known around the world and it is also good from an economical point of view with all the people who come into the entire region for the race. Therefore, it is important for the future of the grand prix in Imola that this is a good weekend.”
The outline of the Imola circuit is instantly recognisable to race fans and, for this year, there is just one small change to the track layout: the new shape of Variante Alta. “It is less aggressive as you can no longer go too hard on the kerbs. It is tighter and slower,” explains Domenicali. But the big changes, assuming Imola assures its rightful place on the world championship calendar, are due to start in October this year.
“I have seen the plans for the new track and facilities, including the garages and the paddock and it looks very interesting and it is a massive reconstruction,” concludes Domenicali. “But of course, in the short term, we must have a good grand prix this weekend and we also have to face the current situation with a lot of new tracks outside Europe pushing to stage a grand prix. This race is not only important in terms of Ferrari’s performance in the world championship but also for the future of Imola in Formula 1.”