Imola's F1 race will not take place this weekend due to the extreme weather and flooding that hit the Emilia Romagna region in recent weeks.
Imola, one of two F1 races in Italy on this year's schedule, is located in the middle of a area of national emergency. Local officials have confirmed the flooding has killed at least nine people and forced the evacuation of some 5,000 others. The relief effort in the region is ongoing, and F1's desire not to hinder that was one of the central reasons it was decided, rightly, the race would not go ahead.
F1 confirmed the news with a carefully worded statement on Wednesday, which used neither the word "postponed" or "cancelled," leaving some wiggle room for the race to take place later in the year should the situation improve. Sources have told ESPN there is a desire to find a spot on the calendar to hold a race this year, but internally at F1 it is considered highly unlikely that is possible.
Could F1 have delayed the race a few days or weeks?
F1 does not have the flexibility other sports might have in a similar situation. While rescheduling a Premier League or NFL game might need a venue and at least one clear day either side of a new date, a grand prix operation begins long before the first car emerges from the garage at the start of Friday practice.
A delay into early next week, by which time the weather is forecast to have stabilised, was not feasible. From the beginning of any race week, hospitality areas are constructed, garages are set up and, most importantly, car build begins for the weekend which is upcoming. Late arrivals to a race can pose problems. For instance, Haas missed the first day of 2022's preseason test in Bahrain when its freight was delayed.
This preparation process was demonstrated earlier this week. Team personnel at the Imola circuit on Tuesday setting up the operations for their teams were told to leave as the Santerno river, which runs parallel to the circuit, looked like it was ready to breach its banks. The following morning, people were told to stay away from the circuit. At 1 p.m. local time the announcement came that the grand prix would not be going ahead.
There were suggestions that, had the race taken place, Thursday's media day and Friday's day of practice sessions could have been sacrificed in order for teams to make up for lost time behind the scenes.
Had Imola gone ahead as normal, then on Sunday evening the paddock would have looked like it does after every F1 race. The pack-down operation starts almost as soon as a grand prix finishes. Regular viewers of Ted Kravitz's post-race 'Ted's Notebook' show will have seen the Sky Sports F1 pundit navigating his way past boxes and around cranes as he runs down each team's fortunes from the grand prix that has just finished. Victory celebrations and the pack-down operation can sometimes overlap as equipment is loaded into lorries bound for home or the venue of the next race.
This process has continued at the circuit, despite the race being called off. On Thursday, essential de-rigging staff were allowed into the venue to begin packing down the paddock. F1 fully expects team equipment to arrive on time in Monaco ahead of next weekend's race in Monte Carlo. Preparations for that event will start at the beginning of the week. Monte Carlo presents its own unique challenge, as the circuit is tightly packed into small spaces around the city's streets and harbour. As was the case with Imola, the schedule for the week will also include Formula 3 and Formula 2 support races. Delays to team equipment arriving would have a huge knock-on effect across the whole weekend.
F1 has condensed the three-day schedule down before to ensure a race goes ahead. At the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix, qualifying and the race took place on Sunday after Typhoon Hagibis had passed by the previous day. That was a totally different scenario, with F1 arriving to Imola this week with the extreme weather already in full force.
Are there other gaps in the calendar?
With the lead-time required for teams ahead of an F1 in mind, there are two other roadblocks to simply sticking Imola at another point in the race calendar. One is the rules around the August summer break and the other is how the schedule is constructed.
Between Imola and the summer break, the calendar looks like this:
Sunday May 28: Monaco
Sunday June 4: Spain
Sunday June 11: Rest week
Sunday June 18: Canada
Sunday June 25: Rest week
Sunday July 2: Austria
Sunday July 9: Great Britain
Sunday July 16: Rest week
Sunday July 23: Hungary
Sunday July 29: Belgium
After the summer break, the calendar is similarly relentless:
Sunday, Sept. 3: Netherlands
Sunday, Sept. 10: Italy
Sunday, Sept. 17: Rest week
Sunday, Sept. 24: Singapore
Sunday, Oct. 1: Japan
Sunday, Oct. 8: Rest week
Sunday, Oct. 15: Qatar
Sunday, Oct. 22: Rest week
Sunday, Oct. 29: United States
Sunday, Nov. 5: Mexico
Sunday, Nov.12: Brazil
Sunday, Nov. 19: Rest week
Saturday, Nov. 25: Las Vegas
Sunday, Dec. 3: Abu Dhabi
F1's ever-growing schedule means the majority of races are now packed together as double -- or triple -- headers. That means, if F1 keeps the summer break intact, there are only seven possible dates a race could take place. The only way extra dates could be freed up is if F1 can move or shorten the break.
August's two-week factory shutdown is mandated in the rules and gives team personnel a chance to take vacation at a time when schools are also on holiday. For teams that spend most of the year on the road, it is seen as a sacrosanct part of the calendar. Changing it would require a rule change, which needs unanimous approval from the teams. The amount of time off in August is actually three calendar weeks, but this is because the shutdown does not begin the day after the Belgian Grand Prix due to the logistics involved.
Filling those other available gaps quickly becomes unlikely. Crucial days in the weeks off either side of Canada on June 18 are lost to travel. Filling the gap -- the rest week of July 16 -- between the two European double headers which take place before the summer break would create an unprecedented run of five straight races. Triple-headers are already very unpopular within F1 for the strain they place on those working within the sport.
This is also why the most logical option from a geographical standpoint cannot happen. The Zandvoort-Monza double header of Sept. 3 and Sept.10 straight after the break makes sense on paper but hits the same problem. Holding the race before Zandvoort is impossible as it stands, given the summer break. The week after Monza will see teams focusing their attention on the Asian leg -- some freight will leave for these races several weeks ahead of these events taking place.
F1 will likely keep the prospect of an Imola race this year open until it is absolutely certain it is not possible. There is a sentimental value here too, with F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali born and raised in the town of Imola, even working at the circuit as a teenager.
Given the situation in the region, the future of a grand prix has limited importance in the grand scheme of things. Imola's contract with F1 runs until 2025 at least, meaning Emilia Romanga will have the chance to welcome the sport back again.