October 28th, 2020

Robert's guide to Imola

This weekend sees the return of a Formula One Grand Prix in Imola for the first time since 2006. Of the current crop of drivers, only Kimi Räikkönen has experience racing in motorsport’s top series on the Romagna-based track – but many have raced there in their formative years. One of them is Robert Kubica, who did indeed take part in Friday practice in the 2006 San Marino GP.

I raced at Imola in the Italian Formula Renault championship in 2002, and later I did some testing there in F1. In fact, I had almost forgotten I also did Friday practice with Sauber at the San Marino GP in 2006. The next year I was racing, but F1 never went back to Imola.

I was there for the last time for a short test about seven years ago. I was helping a friend of mine with some coaching, so I did a few laps with a touring car. I’ve done nothing else there recently – although this track never changes!

It’s a historical place, unfortunately remembered for Ayrton Senna’s accident. For someone who has grown up as a driver in Italy, and I started coming to Italy to race in ’98, when I was 13, it is a special place, like Monza. It’s one of those places where you really feel the history and energy of motorsport. I’m looking forward to it.

The format of the race weekend itself will be something new for F1, so I think it will be quite challenging, as you have no really time to react – it will be a big challenge for the teams and engineers alike.

At this stage of the year, the teams know exactly how their car is behaving and what they need, so I’m not expecting any big shake-up. For sure, though, it’s something new, and as always new things are quite exciting. A new track, a new format of weekend, it will be interesting.

Imola is one of those tracks where, with these modern cars, some sections will be incredible. It’s an old school track, without great opportunities for overtaking, actually no opportunities for overtaking at all! I think the DRS zones will be crucial, and they might open up a few opportunities. Without huge mistakes, or big speed deltas, it is a very difficult track for racing.

On the other hand, it’s a great track to drive around, and especially in a current F1 car it will be a lot of fun for those in the car. The current situation, with F1 opening up to new or old tracks, gives a big opportunity to really compare how it feels driving an F1 car on old school tracks and modern ones. Imola is a good example, where definitely you have some challenges, like riding over the kerbs. Variante Alta, which is at the top end of the track, will probably be quite a painful section for those big cars. Other sections, like Acque Minerali, where you go uphill and turn to the left fast, and the huge downhill section, where the first right will be probably flat out and then you have a big braking zone and a short corner going uphill, should be really nice and will feel very fast.

The final chicane was still there for the last Grand Prix in 2006, but that’s gone now. The straight is much longer now than it was when we were there the last time in F1 – at 1.3kms, one of the longest we have all year. However, the braking into the first corner will not be huge, as it’s a short corner, so you don’t really need  to massively slow the car. For sure the speed difference due to DRS will be significant.

A lot will depend on the speed delta. It will be the only opportunity for overtaking, so this is something to keep in mind. When you are racing you don’t want to be slow on the straights in Imola, because if you are and people behind have DRS and there’s a big speed delta you could be easy to overtake. And you’ll have no chance to overtake even if you are faster in the corners.

The question is – if someone covers the inside through the left hander before the first braking zone, will the guy with DRS have enough time to make a move on the outside, and be in front before braking area?

Top speed is therefore something to keep in mind, and definitely the cars which will have a reasonable top speed will have an easier life for overtaking. Otherwise, it will be nearly impossible.