Winners and Losers of Imola's Cancellation
Images from a previous Imola GP
Images from a previous Imola GP
The fallout of the cancellation of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, will reverberate down the F1 paddock all year. Devastating scenes of the catastrophic rainfall and subsequent flooding in the north Italian region starkly contrasted any importance of sport as the human toll became apparent. Destroyed homes, infrastructure, and death laid out how impactful the weather was, and our thoughts go out to all those affected.
Formula One was unusually decisive in deciding not to stage the Grand Prix. The rumors began as soon as on Tuesday evening that the weekend's events at the Imola circuit wouldn't go ahead, and by Wednesday morning, the announcement came. For once, the sport has come out of a situation where they had all the opportunity to look money-hungry and callous, and they did not.
The Covid-cancelled 2020 Australian GP had fans queuing up on Friday hoping to see their heroes racing on track when the reality was some drivers were already flying out of the country. Belgium's 2021 Grand Prix had the sport continually hoping for a break in the Sunday downpour before a two-lap safety car run determined the Grand Prix result. Unsurprisingly, the ridiculous scenes preceded a farcical week of finger-pointing at who was at fault. Seemingly learning from these lessons, F1 has emerged as a surprise good guy from the awful situation.
From a sporting sense, however, Red Bull are likely the primary winner of F1's non-event. The team that has dominated the five rounds thus far faced what was likely their toughest test of the season, so far at least, as their front-running rivals looked set to bring their developments to Imola. The current championship leaders might've found themselves battling Ferrari, Aston Martin, or Mercedes in a more evenly-matched battle than they've been used to if the car developments close the field up.
Had the round proceeded, it was set to be the first of the so-called European season — the middle portion of the F1 championship where Europe's summertime allows for consistent dry and mild racing. F1 teams often bring their first major upgrades at this point, where any issues found in Free Practice can find resolutions back at their factories and shipped overnight to the circuit. The mixture of low, medium, and high-speed corners make Imola an ideal track to test the effectiveness of parts, even if the racing at the Italian circuit is seldom spectacular.
Mercedes has spoken about their 'Imola package' for many races, particularly after Lewis Hamilton publicly criticized the German manufacturer for ignoring his comments on car development. The 'size zero' approach to their sidepods failed in 2022, although they eventually iterated the design to take a stylish win in Brazil. Still, they continued with it for their 2023 design. That double down hasn't worked, and the once-unstoppable Silver Arrows force now has engine customer Aston Martin ahead of them in the standings in another chastising season.
Mercedes will still bring that upgrade package to Monaco, now the first European race, but F1's most famous Grand Prix doesn't represent any other track on the calendar. Street circuits may populate a higher percentage of races in a year than ever, but Monaco's tight and twisty nature leads to slower-than-usual speeds, traffic, and crashes. As such, it is far from the ideal location for testing any upgrades. If Mercedes brings what many expect to be an almost B-spec chassis in 2023, they've lost a great race weekend to trial it. Instead, they have a compromised Monaco round and must rely on Spain one week later to be the first gauge of improvement.
By contrast, Aston Martin and Ferrari are in the middle. Like Mercedes, they lose out on any planned development findings from Imola. However, neither squad has excelled at the old-school circuit, so skipping the event isn't the worst thing for them. With Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin has the advantage over Mercedes, so the Silver Arrows not understanding their developments at a representative circuit like Imola is helpful to the green team.
Ferrari, who haven't taken silverware at Imola since its F1 reintroduction, perhaps are best-placed of those playing catch up. Despite not possessing the best car, they've taken pole position at Monaco for the last two years with Charles Leclerc. They will be optimistic about their chances in 2023, even without Imola to assist, especially after Leclerc's impressive P1 qualification in Azerbaijan in late April. Should Imola not find a home somewhere later in the season, ironically, the local team won't cry about it.
Perhaps the biggest winners of the situation are the team personnel who don't have to face the exhausting prospect of a triple-header. Having three races in a row may have become a more frequent element of the F1 calendar. And yet it's still a concept that isn't an overly popular element with the workforce due to its tedious nature.
And finally, for fans, in a season that isn't gripping audiences thanks to a single team's domination, having a trio of back-to-back races at tracks not known for being overly entertaining had the possibility of oversaturating viewers and turning them off. Many already are questioning whether F1 running its longest-ever calendar in a year where Red Bull and Verstappen are so far ahead is any fun. At least there is one fewer race to bore fans this year.