There is no getting away from it, COVID-19 has completely changed the landscape of Formula 1, and in most cases things have changed for the worse.
Obviously, the main issue is the fact that fans can’t attend races, calendars are being changed at a moments notice and last year, we went long periods of time without any racing. Of course, all of these measures are necessary and understandable, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
But, despite all of the negatives, there are a few small silver linings, such as the fact that different circuits such as Imola have been able to return to the calendar and host grands prix for the first time in decades.
Imola was first called upon by F1 bosses last year to help bulk out the calendar and the race didn’t disappoint.
There was plenty of action, Verstappen retired from the lead and although Lewis Hamilton won the race, it was nonetheless still exciting to watch.
Being such a historic race circuit, nostalgia obviously played apart, but there was more to it than that. There was action, drama, incidents and although there wasn’t an abundance of overtaking, there was still a lot of close racing.
It was assumed that last year’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix would be a one off, but with COVID-19 still hampering the F1 calendar into 2021, bosses brought it back for another year.
This year’s race was held at a completely different time of year, returning to its traditional April slot, meaning the weather is slightly less predictable and with lower air temperatures.
Before a single wheel had turned, there was a lot of anticipation that another great grand prix could be just ahead of us, but pundits were immediately suggesting that modern F1 cars are too big for the old school Italian track.
On the one hand, yes, Imola isn’t as wide as today’s modern circuits, but there is still plenty of room for cars to go side by side and Sunday’s race proved that.
There were plenty of occasions when cars were flying down the start/finish straight two abreast and while there may not be many overtaking opportunities, it didn’t prevent cars from making passes.
But more to the point, it is an unforgiving, testing circuit that separates the great drivers from the good drivers. One small mistake can send you off the circuit, usually into a retirement situation, and on other occasions the driver can just about escape, such as Lewis Hamilton’s excursion into the gravel.
The weather conditions obviously played a big part in last weekend’s race, but even putting that to one side, the circuit was clearly a big challenge to all of the drivers over the entire weekend and I didn’t see a single person who escaped without making a mistake on at least one of the three days.
Imola is a great example of how a difficult, intense and challenging track can quickly change up the order of a race. In recent years, we have become so used to the best driver in the fastest car winning every race, with his teammate and the second fastest car a few tenths further back, while the majority of the field manage to complete the race distance.
People now look back through the history books and wonder how a Minardi, a Prost or a Stewart could get points or a midfield team could grab the odd podium. Predominantly it was to do with the testing nature of the circuit.
There’s long been talk that cars are the issue for the lack of randomness in a grand prix and while that is correct for reliability issues, its not necessarily the case for racing incidents.
So many circuits now have big run-off areas where you can escape without punishment, losing a mere few seconds. But at a circuit like Imola, a small mistake usually means a retirement, just like we saw with Nicholas Latifi, not to mention the collision between Valtteri Bottas and George Russell.
Imola takes no prisoners. It tests you to the maximum and if you mess up, well be prepared to pay the price. Let’s be honest, had it not been for the red flag, which meant Hamilton could un-lap himself) it is highly unlikely he would have finished second.
But it isn’t just about incidents and retirements. It shows off a great driver’s skill. Just look at Lando Norris. He had so much confidence after going third fastest in qualifying, before having his time deleted, and in the race he was simply superb, running in second in the closing stages before being passed by Hamilton’s Mercedes.
One of the obvious pitfalls of Imola is the fact that there aren’t many places to overtake, but as the last two races at the track has proved, you don’t need lots of overtaking for a great race.
Close racing and tight battles are what generates excitement and interest and Imola has always provided bags of that. Even ignoring the last two races at the circuit, there’s plenty of memorable battles, such as the Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso battle in 2005.
Had it not been for COVID-19, Imola wouldn’t have even stood a chance of returning to the F1 championship and once the calendar gets back to normal, its unlikely we will see it return.
The circuit owners don’t have the funds to regularly host a race at the track, and as such it will continue to miss out.
And that is a crying shame. It can test drivers like very few other circuits, it generates plenty of action and drama and that’s exactly what drivers, teams and fans want from a grand prix weekend.
Despite its age and lack of inspiring facilities, it still very much deserves a regular slot on the F1 calendar and will be sorely missed if it does not make a return very soon.