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Formula 1 Emilia Romagna GP

Verstappen wishes F1 had '24 Imolas', but the series has other plans

Formula 1 drivers led by world champion Max Verstappen have signed a love letter to Imola's old-school challenges, amid an uncertain future for the classic Italian venue.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Imola, the site of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, has added additional gravel traps at Piratella, Acque Minerali and Variante Alta to help tackle the series' recurring issues with track limits.

It has also enhanced the circuit's old-school feel, with its narrow yet challenging layout along with its many undulations and sudden direction changes.

F1's drivers have almost universally given Imola's tweaks a thumbs-up, with Verstappen wishing the calendar had more circuits like it rather than the increasing number of street circuits.

"I think it's great. You get punished if you go wide," Red Bull's triple world champion said.

"Honestly, it's just a fantastic track. I wish we had 24 of those on the calendar. We go to a lot of tracks that don’t really excite me, but this is unbelievable.

"There are a few old-school tracks that we have remaining on the calendar and that's also what I fell in love with when I started racing and watching F1. We need more of those."

McLaren's Oscar Piastri added: "It's one of the toughest tracks of the year in terms of how old-school it is and having gravel everywhere.

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

"You don't have to worry about track limits. You know if you've gone over it because you're in the gravel or you're off."

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc even added Imola to the category of driver favourites that also includes Spa-Francorchamps, Suzuka, Monaco and Zandvoort, but he did point out some of F1's more traditional venues need to look at how to improve the spectacle for the fans as well.

"It's what we all miss a little from all the new venues, this old-school kind of feeling of the track and the history," the Monegasque said.

"I'm glad the calendar keeps this sort of venue because I think it reminds us all where we all come from and why we all became fans of this sport, so I'm a big fan of coming back to places like Imola, Monaco next week.

"I do think maybe there's potentially a bit of work to do in some of these tracks to maybe make them a bit better for the show when we look at the overtaking possibilities in Monaco or here.

"I think we need to see how long is the pit lane also, see how we can make the old-school tracks also maybe a bit more exciting with overtaking opportunities and making the race better.

"But I think this is a top-three circuit in the world, where you feel a Formula 1 car more than anything else. This together with Suzuka, I think Zandvoort also maybe is where you feel a Formula 1 car at its peak."

The drivers' love letter to Imola comes on the 30th anniversary of Ayrton Senna's fatal accident at the circuit, which, in tragic fashion, added to the lore and the notoriety of the venue that is still packed with passionate Italian fans.

But it also comes against a backdrop of Imola being thought to be the most likely of Europe's traditional venues to disappear off the calendar beyond 2025.

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali told Italian media this weekend that it would be challenging to keep both Imola and Monza in the long term unless there is much more investment in keeping both facilities up to the current standard.

Meanwhile, both Thailand and South Korea are eyeing a slot on the schedule with proposed street races, as F1's desired limit of 24 races keeps competition for a place on the calendar high.

There is also a clear split between what the drivers enjoy the most and what is best for the show. Monaco's parade is the best example of that, but Imola is too.

Sunday's race is expected to be a straightforward one-stop race with limited tyre wear and overtaking coming at a premium.

Imola boasts a very long main straight, but following through the preceding double left-hander of Rivazza is not so easy, with several drivers struggling for grip throughout practice and qualifying.

"I think it's the second most difficult circuit to overtake just behind Monaco," Fernando Alonso said.

"Singapore ranks easier than Imola to overtake, so that tells everything."

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