Formula One will not race this weekend after heavy rain wreaked havoc on Italy's Emilia Romagna region, where the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, often known as Imola, was due to host Europe's first 2023 Grand Prix.
It's the first in-week race cancellation for the sport since the Covid-19 pandemic halted the 2020 season when the Australian Grand Prix suffered a last-minute cancellation.
Rumours that Imola would not run emerged early in the week when long-term weather forecasts showed heavy storms across the region that turned to red weather warnings and then into terrifying scenes of floods and evacuations by Tuesday. F1 issued orders to teams and media not to head to the circuit on Wednesday, and social media showed multiple images from those already there encountering a flooded support paddock and underwater infrastructure.
With pressure from the Italian government mounting as local authorities attempted to make rescue attempts, the call finally came around midday on Wednesday that Formula One would not run. With tens of thousands of fans ready to attend on Friday and many making their way to the region on Wednesday and Thursday, that influx of people would impact emergency services on the already-struggling local transportation networks.
Biblical weather that saw a reported half-year of rainfall in just 36 hours had rivers bursting their banks as water levels rose, eventually breaching the inner Imola circuit itself. Although track time begins on Friday on a Grand Prix weekend, the teams arrive much earlier to setup the temporary structures in the paddock in what is commonly known as F1's travelling circus. The teams and F1 had begun that process before the cancellation announcement came. Organisers warned personnel to stay away on Wednesday, leaving those left on-site by Thursday to check for possible water damage.
There is no news on whether the race will slot into the calendar at a future point in the 2023 season at the time of writing, and any announcement is unlikely to come for many weeks. The planned record-breaking 23-race calendar leaves very few gaps for an alternative date to work with this weekend's planned date forming one of two triple-header events as F1's lengthy season squeezed to accommodate the grands prix it does have.
Unlike other events in the past that faced problems, such as the Covid-affected 2020 Australian GP, the rain-affected 2021 Belgian GP, and the terrorist attack nearby to the 2021 Saudi Arabian GP, the decision to halt the race came refreshingly early, before fans arrived to be disappointed. With no person or organisation at fault, the force majeure reasoning should mean the event won't have to pay for not running and instead have a contract extension to continue hosting until 2026. This is F1, however, so the unexpected is just as likely.
The race was set to host yet another rule tweak on Saturday following the Azerbaijan Grand Prix's revised Sprint format. Qualifying was to feature one tyre compound for each session: hard Pirellis in Q1, mediums in Q2, and Pirelli's red-walled soft tyre for Q3. Even if the race had gone ahead, the weather forecast suggested that the trial would not have had much success, and the drivers would've used the intermediate and full-wet rubber to find grip.
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A similar disruption interrupted proceedings in last year's Japanese Grand Prix when Pirelli hoped to test the 2023 compound tyres in Suzuka during the round's pre-race Free Practice 2 session. However, the rain didn't let that plan come to fruition, and Pirelli had to delay that test until Mexico City. A similar fate is likely for the hard-medium-soft qualifying trial, although where remains to be seen.
With Monaco as the next scheduled race on May 28th, the tight and twisty street circuit doesn't lend itself to any representative action. As such, when F1 returns in a week's time, expect to see the standard qualifying format — should the rain stay away from the Principality.
There's no rest for the Formula One teams and drivers — the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix is already upon them after a wet trip to Monte Carlo last week. The trip down the Mediterranean coast will see a rather different challenge for the cars at a classic race track following the recent run of street circuits.
Bridgestone, the global frontrunner in tyre manufacturing and sustainable mobility solutions, has launched the Turanza All Season 6, a new premium all-season tyre, promising superior control and safety for drivers across all weather conditions.