The secret of Imola’s lucky F1 paddock cat

Following an enthralling tussle in Bahrain three weeks ago, the close fight between Mercedes and Red Bull looks set to rage on as Formula 1 returns to Imola this weekend.

The secret of Imola’s lucky F1 paddock cat

After Lewis Hamilton's narrow victory over Max Verstappen, both teams have been left knowing that tiny margins are likely to separate them for much of the year - meaning a little added fortune would be most welcome.

It's not like you will find a lucky black cat crossing your path at Imola. But you will find a grey tabby cat.

His name is Formulino. And he is the secret cat king of the Imola F1 paddock.

Little was known about Formulino prior to last year's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, which marked Imola's first F1 race since 2006, but as various preparations were carried out on Thursday in the paddock, he became a regular visitor to the teams' garages, keeping a close eye on those who had entered his paddock.

Then-Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel was graced by Formulino as he spoke to Sky Sports F1 in the media pen. "It's good luck if he comes and sees you," presenter Ted Kravitz told Vettel.

But Vettel wasn't so enthused. "I don't like cats," he said. "I have nothing to offer it. He's a bit overweight though…"

 

Lewis Hamilton was far more welcoming to the cat, who had a good nose around one of Mercedes' team units. Formulino was quick to say hello to the reigning world champion, who took a moment to give him a stroke and pet his head.

Aware his subject's interest was waning, Hamilton duly went on his way - but as Mercedes' Twitter account pointed out, both he and the team had been "blessed by the Imola cat".

 

The good luck offered by Formulino to Hamilton clearly paid off. After running third in the opening stint of the race, Hamilton was able to pull off an overcut on rivals Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen to vault into the lead, going on to clinch his first Imola F1 victory in the process.

Vettel, on the other hand, was less fortunate. He finished the race in 12th place following a 13-second pitstop caused by a faulty wheel nut, marking a disappointing final Ferrari appearance on Italian soil for the German driver.

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The moral of the story? The Imola cat clearly holds the power to decide the fate of your F1 race weekend. Fans on Twitter have already been talking up the rivalry between Vettel and Formulino as one that needs to be settled this weekend.

 

Since his starring role at Imola last year, Formulino has joined the ranks of F1's many famous pets, including Hamilton's dog Roscoe and - this writer's personal favourite - Alexander Albon's various furry friends on the @AlbonPets Instagram account, led by the adorable Horsey Albon.

Formulino's Instagram account - in which he rightly claims to be "the owner of Imola" - features pictures of him sitting in on all of the circuit's important meetings, including scrutineering and planning for the return of this year's grand prix. If the boss is around, you need to be on best behaviour.

 

In the build-up to this weekend's race, F1 rightly credited Formulino by producing him a very special VIP paddock pass. As we all know, paddock access is currently extremely limited due to the COVID-19 restrictions, with exceptions made where deemed necessary, such as for one-eyed charity teddy bears (which strangely sparked one protest…). But Formulino does what he wants. After all, who is going to stop him?

Formulino's pass lists him as a member of Imola's personnel, his position being "cat", and grants him access for all days of the event. He even posed for a paddock pass photo like a true professional.

For all the talk of upgrades, Z-shaped floors and high versus low-rake car concepts heading to Imola, the reality is that Formulino is more powerful than any of those. Will he bless Hamilton once again? Or could Max Purr-stappen be in for some feline fortune?

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