#SennaSempre by Sergio Álvarez and Diego Merino

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First time in Imola by Sergio Álvarez

Are you seasoned enough to remember the days when Formula 1 raced at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari? If your answer is affirmative, you may recall a bumpy track where overtaking was particularly difficult and whose pit building looked about to collapse before the drivers had time to reach the podium.

Now you should pay a visit to Imola and enjoy an eye-opening experience about the revamp of such a folklore-filled place. I’ll tell you something: we had a walk around the track the day after the 2016 Italian Grand Prix, and I store more livid memories from this Monday than from the supossedly eventful previous day. It’s little wonder why Imola even had a contract in place for 2017, just in case an agreement was not reached with Monza.

Once you arrive to Imola’s train station, just go straight ahead and, approximately 15-20 minutes later, you will find a pleasant community of individual houses, among which nobody would expect to find a former F1 circuit. The walk will provide you with yet another opportunity to contemplate the classic Italian architecture.

First surprise: the entrance looks carefully polished, proof of the successful reform undertook by the place very few years after losing Formula 1. The pit building is completely new and ‘rossocorsa’ details are everywhere, from the facade to the entry sign. Interest in Imola has not faded as much as you may think, for two young girls seem to have come here with the same intentions than us: we all read the timetable at the gate of the paddock, only to rest momentarily let down for not been allowed to walk over the asphalt that day.

It’s a quiet place when there is no on-track action; it comes natural to the Acque Minerali park. We follow the steps of many other fans to Senna’s sanctuary, but the amount of people who show no apparent interest on our beloved motorsport world is astonishing: they come around performing all types of exercise (they walk, they cycle, they run), seemingly ignoring the tributes that the generally assumed greatest driver of them all keeps receiving at the corner where he lost his life. There are words for him in the most inusitated languages: a flag from the Spanish region of Galicia (Gerard López, are you reading?) catches our attention, with a deeply felt message in their local language. The exterior of Tamburello is no less full of compliments and farewells. There is a steep gradient between the track and the river, leaving just a thin border where you can stand up and write stuff on flags, but some feelings can overcome the most annoying obstacles.

It looked like an arid environment on TV; but when you come here, you discover a fresh, quiet park where you can relax and have dinner while contemplating the last shines of light over Rivazza.

Memories of Imola by Diego Merino

Late April, early May, this time of year always takes me back to the days when we used to have a F1 Grand Prix at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari. Although the first F1 race held in Imola, was non-championship scoring event in 1979, only a week after the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, post-1980 we became used to seeing a beautiful spring time in Imola, home of the San Marino Grand Prix, opening of the European F1 season.

Until 2006, scene of many legendary F1 Grands Prix, sadly at the turn of century the Autodromo had become obsolete and event was provisionally dropped from the calendar. Promise was to be back here once the required facility updates were made; planned new facilities included a new garage building and media center, an enlarged Paddock, at a wider section of land behind the Variante Bassa, to accommodate the ever-larger team hospitality requirements. However, economic terms were never reached between local authorities and Bernie Ecclestone, and Formula One would never race again in Imola.

Speaking of these outdated facilities, once post-1994 changes were made to improve the safety needs of the track, it was these old buildings, full of history that organizers sadly decided to demolish. There was never need to knocking down these inimitable team garages and press room on top full of light, or its narrow tree-covered Paddock, adjacent to the Fiume Santerno, which shaped the soul of the place. Great shame.

The new facilities were going to stand 500 meters before the finish line. There was never need to bring down the iconic pit building. However, still standing in place, seeming alone these days, overseeing the starting line, the legendary Torre Marlboro built in time for the 1985. If only concrete could talk!

This visit was my third time at Imola without a race happening on track. No need to have cars on track, one would never get tired of coming back and reliving it all once again. Few circuits in the world have a soul like this. The immense peace the flowing river creates with the sound created by the wind in the trees. There are some things all the money in the world cannot buy or recreate.

Standing trackside, you still get goosebumps remembering how drivers like Jean Alesi or Nigel Mansell, driving mean-sounding V12 machinery, would tackle mighty bends like Tamburello or Piratella. Or Gilles Villeneuve in 1980, dramatically crashing into the concrete barriers and to the amazement of everybody stepping out unharmed from the wreck of his F312T5. This precise turn is now named after the late Canadian.

Today the green hills of Tosa and Rivazza, with their wooden steps still in place, seem very quiet; however one can still hear the echoes of the passionate tifosi, who used to camp there for a full week F1 was in town.

Tragically, it was here too that during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix weekend we lost both Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger. Indescribable feeling one has walking to Tamburello, encountering the Senna memorial overlooking the legendary turn which claimed his life. The corner has changed a bit after my first visit 20 years plus ago, trees have grown so much and now one can barely see the track from the memorial. However, one can only feel respect for seeing the amount of tributes people from all over the world bring here every day, honouring the late Brazilian champion.

Walking on the inner side of the track, from Tamburello to Villeneuve, you can find an old tunnel under Villenueve, just before reaching Tosa. Crossing this path, you reach the Santerno River, which shapes the Autodromo from Rivazza all the way to Tosa. Between the river and track fence, you can find a pedestrian path aligned by trees.

Watching the sun setting down behind the houses and vineyards on the other side of the river, I cannot think of a better place to close our visit. Forget going to a Grand Prix, stop fooling yourself, some places take you closer to the true soul of Formula One.

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Pen 2 the Paper & Camera 2 the Eye