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Top 5 moments from Imola’s Formula One races

Written by Owen Bradley, Meghana Sree, Jasmin Low, Ria Ann Sam

Formula One returns to the iconic Italian circuit of Imola this weekend, with a rich history and many memorable moments, we've handpicked five moments that truly stand out....

1 - The Schumachers race on for their mother (2003) - Owen Bradley

Credit: Alexander Hassenstein

Michael Schumacher would score his first victory of the 2003 season at the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, with brother Ralf Schumacher alongside him on the grid in his BMW-powered Williams. Ralf Schumacher had qualified just 0.014s away from his brother, who was the pole sitter.

It would be a bittersweet weekend for the Schumacher family, as their mother would pass away overnight on Saturday, meaning the pair of brothers would be starting a Grand Prix together on the front row whilst not being able to take time to mourn their mother. 

Ralf Schumacher would make the jump on Michael at the start, taking the lead into Turn 1 and holding his lead for a number of laps. However, after needing to pit for fuel a lot earlier than the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher, Ralf’s Williams would lose the lead of the race. A slow stop after the Williams was unable to be put into first gear would drop Ralf further behind in the race, and lose a number of positions. 

Well into the race, after the pit stop strategies had worked themselves out, Ralf was holding a third place finish from Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard, whilst Michael led the race from Kimi Raikkonen. An unfortunate mistake from Ralf, who outbroke himself at Rivazza, would lead to Barrichello taking the final podium position, with the German coming home for a fourth place finish.

Michael Schumacher would come home to take victory at Imola, his first win of the 2003 season. Subdued celebrations, not for the first time at Imola, as the Schumacher family got their job done and were finally able to take some much needed time to themselves. Michael Schumacher would even be exempted by the FIA’s podium celebrations, however the reigning champion would still appear on the podium.

A true testament to both brothers and to the entire Schumacher family, who have endured extremely difficult times.

2. A fiery crash triggers a fiery rivalry (1989) - Meghana Sree

Credit: Paul-Henri Cahier

Though there are numerous flashpoints in Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost’s infamous rivalry during the late 1980s, the incident at the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix in Imola is widely considered as the outset to their intense friction. 

The McLaren teammates had qualified on the front row, with Senna on pole. Prior to the race, Senna and Prost had agreed that whoever had the best getaway off the line leading up to Tosa, then the first braking zone, would not be challenged in the race.

The lights went out, and Senna got the better start of the two. Prost followed closely behind, leaving the other competition in the dust. However, on lap four, the Austrian Ferrari driver Gerhard Berger violently crashed off Tamburello after a mechanical failure, bringing an early red flag.

After shattering against the wall, Berger’s car spun around to a stop, and promptly erupted in flames due to the fuel leak. Mercifully, Berger suffered non-critical injuries and was able to be back in the cockpit after missing just one race.

This event irrevocably changed the course of Senna and Prost’s relationship, as after the race was restarted following the red flag, it was Prost who got the better start this time. Prost, assuming the original agreement was still standing, did not expect Senna to outbrake him into Tosa.

Senna swiftly inherited the lead, while Prost furiously tried to reclaim his lost position, eventually suffering a spin in his pursuit of Senna. The Brazilian saw the flag first, with a fuming Prost finishing 40 seconds behind his teammate. 

Things further heated up when Prost skipped the post-race press conference, after which it was clear to the world that a full-scale civil war had ensued at McLaren. It had only been a matter of time before the simmering tension between Senna and Prost had boiled over, and the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix that had been overshadowed by Berger’s accident became the last straw.

3. The beginnings of a fierce rivalry (2021)- Jasmin Low

Credit: Bryn Lennon

2021 was a monumental year in Formula 1, rivals Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton undertaking a year-long battle for the coveted World Driver’s Championship, with Hamilton chasing his eighth and Verstappen his first championship, one which the latter would take after a now infamous Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 

The 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was filled with drama, as the rain made the race even more unpredictable.

As the second race of the season, it set the tone for what would be a blockbuster year at the pinnacle of motorsport, where Verstappen launched himself from third to first off the line, whilst pole sitter Hamilton dropped behind. A spin for the Briton saw him have to claw his way back from P8 to finish second to the flying Dutchman. 

In a tense and controversial moment between Bottas and George Russell, the man who would replace him at Mercedes for the next season, A hair-raising high speed accident ensued, sending debris spraying out into the air and onto the track.

Both drivers walked away unharmed, placing the blame on each other for the collision, although the stewards deemed it a racing incident. The red flag brought out by the crash allowed the McLaren of Lando Norris to make his way up to third place after the restart, pushing the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc off of the podium into fourth place. 

In the end, Verstappen took a convincing victory over Hamilton and Norris, whilst Norris took the driver of the day accolade, setting the scene for the rest of the season. 

4. Fernando Alonso vs. Michael Schumacher (2005 and 2006) - Ria Ann Sam

Credit: Mark Thompson

The 2005 Imola Grand Prix saw youngster Fernando Alonso and veteran Michael Schumacher battle beautifully on track. After a pitstop, Schumacher found himself behind Alonso’s Renault and tried to overtake but unfortunately for him, Alonso’s incredible defending meant that the Spaniard won the race. Alonso later went on to usurp Schumacher that year and write his name in the history books as an F1 World Champion.

The pair met again in 2006. However, this time it was Schumacher leading the race with Alonso behind. Despite tyre degradation for the Ferrari and the Spaniard closing up on him, Schumacher beat the reigning champion and won the race.

5. Villeneuve and Pironi’s first flashpoint (1982) - Owen Bradley

Credit: Hoch Zwei

Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi had their first major flashpoint at Imola in 1982, the Villeneuve felt betrayed by Pironi, who would overtake the Canadian on the final lap of the race to take the victory.

After qualifying behind the Renault’s of Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux, Villeneuve and Pironi would eventually find themselves leading the race, after the Renault engines gave out and forced Prost and Arnoux into retiring from the race.

With Villeneuve feeling like he had earned the leadership number one driver role within the team, and the pair comfortably leading the race at one of Ferrari’s home races, Villeneuve wasn’t fully expecting Pironi to mount a late race charge for glory.

Ferrari also appeared comfortable with allowing the pair to finish in that order, as the team held out “Slow Down” signs on the pit straight. With no threats from any cars behind, the race seemed like it would finish with Villeneuve on top, the Canadian beginning to ease off and not take as many risks in some corners.

Pironi would overtake Villeneuve with just over 10 laps remaining, with Villeneuve suspecting that Pironi wanted to simply put on a show for the Tifosi. The pair were very good friends, and with Ferrari wanting them to slow down, it seemed like an opportunity to earn some cheers from the crowd.

However, after Villeneuve managed to overtake Pironi on the penultimate lap and believed that the race had effectively been run - Pironi would make a last gasp pass on Villeneuve to take the victory, leaving Villeneuve feeling betrayed and sparking their often forgotten rivalry in Formula One.

Will 2024 provide another memorable moment to put on the list? With Lando Norris taking the victory last time out in Miami, and upgrades coming for a few teams, we could be tee’d up for another incredible Grand Prix at Imola.


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