After three races outside Europe, for the fourth round of the world championship we return to the old continent and indeed to Ferrari's backyard as the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola is the nearest race to the team's Maranello base, while the ...
After three races outside Europe, for the fourth round of the world championship we return to the old continent and indeed to Ferrari's backyard as the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola is the nearest race to the team's Maranello base, while the circuit is named Enzo e Dino Ferrari,' in honour of the company founder and his son.
After the street track in Melbourne and the two most modern facilities in the world of racing, in Malaysia and Bahrain, Imola is a more traditional circuit, not just in terms of its track layout, but also in that the triangular shaped and rather cramped paddock marks the first appearance this year of the teams' transporters and motorhomes.
"It is certainly back to the old style of track," confirms Luca Baldisserri, in charge of engineering the race cars for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro at the grands prix. "However it was heavily modified after the tragedy in 1994. It has lost a lot of its spectacle and overtaking is very difficult. The corners are made in such a way that for modern F1 cars it is virtually impossible to pass. If we consider the tracks we have visited so far this season, while it has some similarities with Melbourne, Imola is completely different to Malaysia and Bahrain."
The changes made to the characteristics of the circuit in the name of safety may have made it flow less than before, with a driver's rhythm constantly interrupted by chicanes, but Imola still presents drivers and engineers with a real challenge. Its ten corners, combined with changes of gradient and a grippy track surface, make it very hard on brakes and tyres.
The other big difference between this weekend's event and the races held so far will be the temperature, because two of the first three races were run in very high temperatures, even if Malaysia was much cooler than expected on the afternoon of the race. "So we expect lower temperatures and that means less of a strain on the cars in terms of reliability and engine life," explains Baldisserri.
"This will allow us to run the car in a 'purer' aerodynamic form with less openings and vents in the bodywork required to keep it cool. We have tested at Imola prior to the start of the season, so even if it turns out to be a very cool race weekend, we have some reference points to guide us, unlike Bahrain for example which we tackled completely blind apart from our simulation programmes. That means we will have a good base line for running the F2004. The car is working well and we are looking forward to confirming that performance in the warmer temperatures (by about 15 degrees) than when we last tested here."
The top F1 teams are constantly evolving their cars and after a hectic schedule far from home for the first three races, the slightly longer break before this fourth round will be the first opportunity to see what the engineers have come up with in terms of modifications. In the case of Ferrari, the most obvious changes will be aerodynamic.
"We will have a new aerodynamic package, specifically in terms of the front wing and turning vane assembly and bodywork too," reveals Baldisserri. "All these pieces have been extensively tested in the short break since Bahrain, having first evaluated them in the wind tunnel."
The opening ceremony for the Imola circuit took place in 1952, when Giuseppe Farina, Formula 1's first official world champion, drove round the track in a Ferrari sports car. However, its early history had stronger links to motor cycle racing than car competition and it did not host a Formula 1 race -- a non-championship event -- until 1963. The circuit has hosted the Italian GP just once, in 1980 and every year since then it has been home to the San Marino Grand Prix, making this year's race the twenty fourth in a row.
Naturally, this grand prix is regarded with great affection by all Italians and Luca Baldisserri is no exception: "For the Italians working at Ferrari, this is a special event and we feel more at home than in Monza, which is considered the traditional Italian venue. I think it is a shame that there is talk of taking Imola off the F1 calendar."
"Personally I always feel good going back to Imola as much of my family comes from there and I remember as a little boy climbing over the circuit fence to get in without paying for a ticket to see the F1 cars! It is an emotional place for me. For sure, Ferrari always wants to do well in Imola, so there is a bit more pressure than normal, but we can handle that."