Whose upgrades will carry the day at F1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix?

Thirty years ago, Formula 1 changed forever.

And two heroes will be at the front of everyone’s mind at this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

The setting was the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix held at legendary Imola, where the grid heads this week. The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix began with practice sessions on Friday during which Rubens Barrichello, driving for Jordan, suffered a scary crash that saw his car launched into the air and then roll several times before coming to a stop. Barrichello lost consciousness during the crash and the driver’s tongue blocked his airway, requiring emergency medical intervention.

Among the drivers who stopped to check on Barrichello was the legendary Ayrton Senna, before he continued down the track.

During Saturday’s qualifying session rookie driver Roland Ratzenberger was on a push lap when the front wing of his Simtek suffered a catastrophic failure, eventually getting pinned under the front tires and leaving Ratzenberger unable to steer the car. The Simtek, with Ratzenberger essentially a passenger at this point, went straight ahead in the Villeneuve corner at over 190 miles per hour, eventually striking a bare concrete barrier head on. It was estimated that the impact with the barrier generated a resulting 500 Gs of force.

The Austrian driver was critically injured in the accident.

The qualifying session was stopped for nearly an hour, and when the session eventually resumed, Senna qualified on pole position. But the legendary driver was shaken by the incident. Years later Professor Sid Watkins, then the head of F1’s on-track medical team, recalled in his memoirs the driver’s reaction to the news, stating that “ … Ayrton broke down and cried on my shoulder.”

Watkins tried to persuade Senna not to race the following day, asking the living legend: “What else do you need to do? You have been world champion three times, you are obviously the quickest driver. Give it up and let’s go fishing.”

The Brazilian legend replied, “Sid, there are certain things over which we have no control. I cannot quit, I have to go on.”

Sunday’s race saw an early-lap crash that involved JJ Lehto and Pedro Lamy, and the race did not restart until Lap 6 once the track was cleared of debris. After the restart Senna was leading Michael Schumacher, but as Senna reached the Tamburello left-handed corner he could not navigate the turn, and drove straight into the unprotected concrete barrier at a speed of over 130 miles per hour. Emergency personnel — including Watkins — responded to the crash, but it was already too late. The impact cost Senna his life.

Emergency personnel found an Austrian flag in the wreckage, as Senna had planned to honor Ratzenberger following the race.

The years that followed saw both legal action regarding Senna’s death, and numerous safety changes made in the sport. One of the first changes brought about in the wake of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix was F1 researching a driver restraint system for head-on impacts, and eventually that HANS (head and neck support) device was mandated by the FIA in 2003. The device reduces the likelihood of serious head injuries as a result of a collision, like the fatal injury Ratzenberger suffered in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

Years later Watkins recalled his final hours with Senna. “Everybody asked me what my emotion was,” said Watkins in 2001 of his final conversation with Senna. “My emotion was that I hadn’t bullied him enough. I so regretted that I hadn’t really bullied him.”

As the F1 world returns to Imola for the 30th time since the tragic weekend of 1994, Ratzenberger and Senna will be on everyone’s mind. Tributes for the drivers are already pouring in, such as Pierre Gasly’s Senna-inspired helmet that the Alpine driver will wear this weekend at Imola. Then there was this mural unveiled in Senna’s honor at the Miami Grand Prix:

F1 Grand Prix of Miami - Previews

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

It is sure to be an emotional weekend for the entire grid.

And a weekend filled with reminders regarding just how much these drivers put on the line every time they climb into the cockpit.

Which team’s upgrades reign supreme?

Tributes to Senna and Ratzenberger will certainly dominant the buildup to the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

But once the on-track action begins the biggest storyline can be summed up in one word.


McLaren kicked the in-season development wars into high gear in Miami, bringing a host of upgrades to the grid for Lando Norris. THe result? Norris’ first F1 victory, and now the team will have the full upgrade package for teammate Oscar Piastri ready for this weekend’s grand prix.

But other teams are following suit. After bringing part of a planned upgrade package to Miami, Mercedes is bringing the other half of the package to Imola for George Russell and Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari put some upgrades to the SF-24 through their paces at a filming day at their Fiorano test track on Friday, and among the new components the Scuderia have shifted to an “overbite” intake system.

Then there is Red Bull. Writing in his weekly column for Speedweek Red Bull senior advisor Dr. Helmut Marko noted that they too are bringing some upgrades to Imola. As Marko notes, these were planned earlier in the season, and are not a direct response to what McLaren delivered in Miami.

“An upgrade is planned at Imola, but not because McLaren was so good now. Of course it would be nice if you could make new parts within a week. But that’s not the case, the update has been planned for a long time,” wrote Marko last week. “The fact that we didn’t have a race there last year doesn’t make a big difference, because it’s the same for everyone and the route hasn’t changed since then.”

Will the upgrades pull the field closer together, and perhaps deliver another shock winner?

Or will Red Bull re-establish themselves at the front of the field?

F1 Grand Prix of Miami

Photo by Kym Illman/Getty Images

The driver transfer market spins on and on

The Miami Grand Prix brought both the latest hard news in the driver transfer market for 2025, as well as a host of rumors about a young driver eying a spot on the grid.

Will this week bring even more news on this front?

We can start with the actual news, the announcement that Nico Hülkenberg would be moving to Sauber for the 2025 season, ahead of that team becoming the Audi works team starting in 2026. That move gives the German manufacturer a German driver for their 2026 debut.

Speaking with the media, including SB Nation, ahead of the Miami Grand Prix Hülkenberg opened up about the move.

“I think happiness,” said Hülkenberg in Miami when asked about the move. “Happy, and, you know, I think it’s a reward to the good work that I and my team put in, and I think it’s credit to the good work of the last year and a half since the comeback.

“Of course, I’ve done the odd mistake. But on balance, you know, the performance I think was pretty good. So, I’m just happy that it is the way it is.”

Then of course there were the rumors that dominated the paddock in Miami, centered on young Andrea Kimi Antonelli. According to multiple reports an unnamed team requested a dispensation from the FIA, seeking to allow Antonelli — who will not turn 18 until August — to join the grid prior to that milestone birthday.

That reporting kicked into high gear stories making the case that Williams would seek to slide Antonelli into the seat currently occupied by Logan Sargeant.

Those stories have been brushed aside, and there is no indication that Antonelli is going to be on the grid this week. Now the reporting holds that the 17-year-old phenom is set for another testing session with Mercedes, one that will see current Silver Arrows reserve Mick Schumacher used as a benchmark for Antonelli’s performance. But as George Russell noted in Miami to the media, including SB Nation, it is just a matter of time before Antonelli is in a Mercedes.

“There’s no doubt that he’s gonna be in a Mercedes at some point in the future,” stated Russell. “Time will tell, but yeah, he’s a great driver and won everything in his junior career. So there’s no reason not to see him in Formula One.”

While Antonelli might represent the distant future, there are more immediate matters facing the grid for 2025. Perhaps the most pressing is where Carlos Sainz Jr. will land, now that Lewis Hamilton will be taking his seat at Ferrari next year. Will Sainz land at Audi as many expect, including Marko? Or will he land elsewhere, perhaps even Mercedes?

Until the grid for 2025 is set, it will remain a storyline every single week.

F1 returns to Imola after a one-year absence

There is added significance to this year’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, beyond marking 30 years since the tragic deaths of Senna and Ratzenberger.

This will be the grid’s first return to Imola since 2022.

When the 2023 F1 schedule was announced, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was among the 24 races initially on the calendar. But ahead of last year’s race, heavy rains hit the region, bringing about flooding both at the start of May, and a few weeks later in the days ahead of the scheduled 2023 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

The flooding forced F1 to cancel the race.

Now the grid is back, and the return to Imola after last year’s flooding — which saw at least 17 people lose their lives — will add to the emotion of the weekend.

Related Articles

Back to top button