Home Featured How the FIA, rather than gravel, ended up punishing errors at Imola

How the FIA, rather than gravel, ended up punishing errors at Imola

by Ida Wood

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Between F2 and F3’s previous races at Imola in 2022 and last weekend, the circuit traded asphalt run-off for gravel in some areas. Drivers were split on the likely impact, then faced a very different issue with going off

In addition to shortening its sole DRS zone, Imola became a more challenging venue for Formula 1 and its support series this year by replacing its asphalt run-off with deep gravel at Piratella [turn nine], Acque Minerali and Variante Alta, and revising kerbing elsewhere to also discourage drivers from running wide.

It created much discussion in F1, and Formula Scout asked Formula 2 and Formula 3 drivers before their first track action of the weekend if they thought they would need to be more careful at the corners now lacking asphalt run-off.

“For sure. Especially in practice,” said Campos Racing’s F3 driver Mari Boya. “There are a few places that it’s really easy to go out and to make a mistake that could perfectly compromise the whole weekend. Starting point will be a bit more careful, especially on T9. I expect it to be quite easy to go out [there]. But in qualifying we have to push fully.”

Van Amersfoort Racing’s Sophia Floersch noted Imola “didn’t really change” the kerbs at the corners where gravel has been added, but said “it will be interesting” that making “mistakes is not that forgiving anymore”.

“T9 especially is a high-speed corner where you can use that extra track sometimes a little bit. Which now you won’t be able to,” she added. “The exit of Acque Minerali will be interesting in the races, because back in old times you could kind of go wide there and not really lose positions. Now there’s gravel, so that won’t be possible.”

Jenzer Motorsport’s Charlie Wurz thought the changes “makes it more exciting”, both in the cockpit and for how it could lead to more safety car periods.

It’s a bit more on the edge, and that’s part of racing, it’s part of the fun, finding a limit,” he said. “I’m excited because dancing on the edge of the gravel traps is always fun.”

Photo: Dutch Photo Agency

MP Motorsport’s F2 driver Franco Colapinto was in agreement on both points, remarking “if it was a old-style track before, now it’s even more” and that more safety car interruptions “can have a pretty big impact” in F2 races due to different strategies. His team-mate Dennis Hauger however expected minimal impact from the changes.

Their rival Ollie Bearman said the updated kerbs were more important, “and could change slightly the approach”.

“The other potential thing is that if there is gravel being brought onto the track in those corners, it could be a bit frustrating. But I like the fact that you get punished for taking too much risk or for making mistakes,” said the Prema driver, who would be punished when he ran wide in practice as he crashed out.

Campos’s Sebastian Montoya and Rodin Motorsport’s Piotr Wisnicki did the same at Variante Alta and Piratella respectively in F3 practice. All three incidents brought out red flags.

VAR’s Enzo Fittipaldi was another F2 driver who pre-practice was non-fussed about the circuit revisions, and pointed out that the Dallara F2 2024 car’s low rideheight made it unlikely drivers would be using the kerbs.

However in the pursuit of laptime they did, and after qualifying there was a very different discussion taking place about using all of the track width and how mistakes were actually being punished.

Although Colapinto went off at Acque Minerali, stopped in the gravel then got going again, and ART Grand Prix’s Victor Martins had issues approaching Variante Alta which meant he cut the chicane, the big talking point were the 16 drivers who combined had 26 laptimes deleted for track limits abuse.

But then later the FIA reviewed its decisions, and the final qualifying results featured 14 deleted laps by nine drivers, with not only many laptimes being reinstated but some other laps then being deleted.

Photo: Prema

Bearman, who jumped from 16th to second place when he had his fastest lap reinstated, called it “a bit of a shock” to see laptimes being deleted given “we have gravel stopping us” from gaining an advantage when running wide.

It was a similar story in F3 qualifying, which featured early red flags after Rodin Motorsport’s Callum Voisin beached his car in the gravel at the Tamburello chicane. There were initially 51 deleted laptimes, with Voisin the only driver in the 30-car field not to fall foul of the rules. Although he did of course exceed track limits when he crashed out.

Once the FIA reviewed the session, 26 laps were reinstated and there were only 16 guilty drivers, then upon further review that became 15 as Campos’s Oliver Goethe had his fastest lap reinstated, lifting him from 13th to seventh place.

Of the laps that remained deleted, only two were for violations at Piratella and 15 were for running wide exiting the first part of Rivazza, the penultimate corner which has a shallow gravel trap bordering its kerbs. Drivers commented afterwards that “the mental approach” had changed for qualifying with more gravel to look out for and avoid.

There were even fewer violations in the races. F2 had seven deleted laps from five offenders, who all ran wide at either the first or second part of Rivazza. In F3 there were six deletions in the 10 sprint race laps that featured green flag action, while VAR’s Tommy Smith and Jenzer’s Matias Zagazeta each committed a violation while behind the safety car. Rivazza was the location of half of the race’s track limits violations, with three exiting the Villeneuve chicane and one at Variante Alta.

There were nine recorded violations in F3’s 22-lap feature race, which ran safety car-free, but afterwards that rose to 12 as the FIA deleted a second of ART GP driver Laurens van Hoepen’s laps and two of Voisin’s. Seven of the offences took place at Rivazza, two at Piratella, two at the corner after and one at Variante Alta.

The corners where gravel had been added provided little drama, while F3 had plenty of collisions at the Tosa hairpin. As for the kerbs, the consensus in the F2 paddock by the end of the weekend was that with the right set-up the cars could ride over them without bottoming out being an issue, but such a set-up was harder to find for some than others.