JONATHAN McEVOY: Lewis Hamilton was right to put humanitarianism ahead of motor racing after Emilia-Romagna GP was called off… while Aussie Daniel Ricciardo is a Netflix star but no longer a top F1 competitor
- The F1 Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna was cancelled due to flooding this week
- Hamilton showed class by sending regards to the people of Emilia-Romagna
- Ricciardo is mobbed at any racetrack he shows up at but doesn’t race anymore
It was a far more marginal decision the last time a race was called off on the eve of the event. With Imola just cancelled, the mind rewound to a long night in Melbourne in March 2020.
On that occasion there was a concern about Covid having penetrated the McLaren camp. It transpired that just one mechanic had contracted the virus, and to think that isolated incident, with his close contacts also quarantined, prompted the Formula One circus’s evacuation from a continent.
I was in a minority at the time believing the race should have gone on. Everyone had flown to the other side of the world, so why not press ahead, with or without a crowd?
But lockdown was beating its path to every door, and was already in place in Italy, further fraying Ferrari nerves. Masks were creeping on. A colleague recited mass grave figures from Iran. And, as pertinently as anything, Lewis Hamilton delivered a stirring intervention a few hours before cancellation, saying F1 was only in town because ‘cash is king’.
It was a febrile atmosphere across the world and the choice to scrub the intended first round of the season was easy to understand, even if I didn’t entirely agree with it.
The F1 Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna was cancelled due to flooding this week
Roads were closed after flooding in Imola, Italy as the event was cancelled
The mind rewound to a long night in Melbourne in March 2020, during the Covid pandemic
The situation this week over Imola’s abandonment was far more straight-forward, and handled in a timely manner.
After weeks of torrential rain and much devastation in the Emilia-Romagna region, a red weather alert was reintroduced on Monday evening.
But at that stage longer-range forecasts suggested an improvement as the race weekend drew nearer. On this basis, Formula One bosses reasonably delayed their verdict on how to handle the event.
On Tuesday, however, there was a major deterioration, as rainfall significantly exceeded even the gloomiest expectations. Badly affected areas were predicted to be hit by 100mm of rain on that day and a 150mm average by the close of Wednesday.
Forget that, by Wednesday lunchtime the figure had reached 250mm in the mountains south of Imola. That spelt obvious danger for the rivers they fed.
Imola’s abandonment was far more straight-forward, and handled in a timely manner
A red weather alert was reintroduced on Monday evening the Emilia-Romagna region
Leaving the figures aside, the evolving scene was one of destruction and tragedy. At least nine people have died, thousands forced out of their homes. What some of us stupidly thought of as being by Sunday little more than a bring-a-brolly job was clearly too grave for that.
Stefano Domenicali, F1’s chief executive, who called off the race on Wednesday morning was better placed to determine that than anyone else (unlike his predecessor Chase Carey: he was stuck in the air as the sport dithered all night about where to can the Melbourne race).
Domenicali grew up in the region and was there this week, conducting meetings and spending time with family.
He was in situ at the circuit in his raincoat as he made his ruling, inspecting the track and surrounding area. He then used the meeting room at Imola to consult with the local organisers, authorities and bigwigs.
There was not only the danger right on the doorstep of the Santerno river bursting its banks, or indeed of fans or F1 personnel being imperilled by a landslip, but of local and wider sensitivities to be borne in mind.
How would it have looked to the deluge’s victims or the outside world if Formula One had pressed ahead blithely? The sport would understandably have been denounced as the preserve of privileged plutocrats playing in a golden cage, while all around is chaos.
By Thursday morning, thankfully, conditions were deemed safe enough for key personnel to return to the paddock to de-rig. They, trucks and sundry kit will go not home but to Monaco, venue of next weekend’s race.
By repute, if not really, the sun always shines there.
Stefano Domenicali, F1’s chief executive, called off the race on Wednesday morning
Lewis Hamilton was right when he sent his regards to the soaked people of Emilia-Romagna, putting humanitarianism ahead of motor racing.
His reaction was all the more laudable given he had long looked forward to the race as a possible rebirth of his and Mercedes’ fortunes.
He and George Russell were meant to be enjoying the introduction of a new floor, front suspension and sidepod. Other teams had upgrades coming, including Alpha Tauri with a new floor.
All teams would have much preferred to trial their tweaks, major or minor, at Imola rather than on Monaco’s uniquely tight and twisty streets. The cramped principality is not only more likely to produce accidents and thus to damage new parts, but is less suited to the garnering of feedback from the changes.
Mercedes, I am told, will debut their upgrades in Monaco regardless of its limitations, but Barcelona, the following week, may well prove more instructive with regards to any Lewis/George revival.
Lewis Hamilton put humanitarianism ahead of motor racing as he sent his regards to locals
Daniel Ricciardo is mobbed at any racetrack he shows up at. He waves and he speaks and he smiles. He is a star of Netflix, and a genuinely friendly man.
But what he doesn’t do anymore is race. He is merely confined to talking of craving a return in that capacity during the interviews he gives as Red Bull’s reserve driver and ambassador.
And a renewal of his Formula One dream seems increasingly improbable, not least judging by how he has been ruled out of a seat at AlphaTauri, Red Bull’s sister team.
This is after he had briefly been talked of as a possible replacement for the struggling Nyck de Vries, who has been given the upcoming rounds in Monaco and Spain to prove himself, or face the axe.
Daniel Ricciardo is a star of Netflix and loved by fans but what he doesn’t do anymore is race
The fact is that when Ricciardo, 33, returned to Red Bull after being sacked by McLaren last season his form on the simulator was surprisingly awry. The Australian had lost confidence, and his below-par performance showed it.
That is surely part of the reason Red Bull motorsport adviser Helmet Marko stamped on talk of a comeback. Asked about the possible AlphaTuari opening, Marko said: ‘Ricciardo is not an issue.’ Which sounded conclusive.
One absurdity about the Imola race is its full name: Formula 1 Qatar Airways Gran Premio del Made in Italy e dell’Emilia-Romagna 2023.
Let’s hope they don’t get any ideas about a ‘Made in Wales’ grand prix at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
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