Atlas F1

San Marino Grand Prix Preview

Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, Imola
25th - 27th April 1997
by Max Galvin, England

The fourth race of the season is almost upon us and Jacques Villeneuve is, once again, the clear favourite to take another win at a circuit where Williams have dominated for the last two years. Olivier Panis in the Prost car has emerged as the dark horse of the season and will be looking forward to another shot at a race.

Although not the circuit it once was, with the fastest and most difficult corners emasculated by chicanes, but it is still a relief after the awful Buenos Aires circuit.

A lap of Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari

Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, Imola he circuit starts with the drivers hard on the power, passing the start-finish line flat out, heading towards the entrance of the Tamburello. After shedding around 100mph and dropping down to 2nd gear, the cars are back hard on the power again on the run up to Villeneuve, a 4th gear (130mph) corner completely destroyed by the "improvements". A short spurt back onto the power on the approach to the tight Tosa corner. The cars slide quite a lot on the exit as they try to get the power down hard on the run up the hill. At the crest of the hill there is a quick flick right at full speed before the drivers have to scrub off some speed for the entry of the 4th gear Piratella.

After Piratella there is a short downhill section before the Acque Mineral chicane. Acque Mineral is a tricky section to get right and many cars spin off on the double apex exit during practice. Once again, the drivers have to get on the power as soon as possible for the short, but relatively steep climb to the Variante Alfa, a tricky third gear chicane with very slippery curbs on the exit.

Yet again, it is hard on the power, for a very fast downhill right-hand bend, passing under the bridge. Hard on the for the deceptive 2nd gear (70mph) Rivazza section, and then back on the power as the drivers speed towards the end of the lap. The cars usually hit around 170mph before scrubbing of half of their speed for the entrance to Variante Bassa and the final corner, Traguardo. After the exit it is hard on the power and a quick glance at the pit board before the next lap starts.

Circuit length: 3.040 miles / 4.892 km Race length: 63 laps (191.504 miles / 308.196 km)

What happened last year?

Atlas F1 1996 San Marino Grand Prix Review

  1996 Race Results
1. Damon Hill Williams-Renault 1hr35m26.156s
2. Michael Schumacher Ferrari + 16.460s
3.Gerhard Berger Benetton-Renault + 46.891s
4. Eddie Irvine Ferrari+ 1m01.583s
5. Rubens Barrichello Jordan-Peugot+ 1m18.490s
6. Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault + 1 lap

Pole position:Michael SchumacherFerrari1:26.890
Fastest lap:Damon Hill (Lap 49)Williams-Renault1:23.981


The Field


As predicted, Damon et al fared quite well in Argentina, with both cars hitting the points at various stages in the proceedings. Damon is obviously the class of the pairing, but with the Yamaha so down on power it will be a tough weekend for him. Should reliability be found, the first points of the year could come his way. Pedro Diniz deserves more credit than he gets, but will need to put in a decent performance on Saturday to have any chance of doing well in the race. Over the past 3 races Pedro has struggled to get off the last 2 rows and has suffered in the race because of it.

Rothmans Williams-Renault

Jacques Villeneuve must be laughing at the moment. The preseason hype had it that his big problem would be beating his team mate, yet Heinz-Harald Frentzen has failed to impress whereas the Canadian has won two of the races and had three pole positions. Clearly the favourite team, Villeneuve is the driver who should win, but Frentzen should be a lot closer this time round.

Marlboro Scuderia Ferrari

Finally the Ferrari 46/02 v10 engine is ready and the team are confident of running it in qualifying and possibly the race. Both drivers are said to be happy with the new combination and with the support they enjoy here, it seems that a return to winning ways could be on the cards for the Scuderia. Michael Schumacher is still the favoured horse in the stables, but Eddie Irvine is starting to look like a winner and only a fool would count him out.

Mild Seven Benetton-Renault

No sooner do I open my mouth about Benetton being the second best team in F1 and they mess things up again. Imola is one circuit both drivers know intimately after their Ferrari days and both still have a massive following. Renault power will help them, but for some reason I don't expect them to mount a solid challenge to Williams. Gerhard Berger will be the man to watch in the race, although I believe Jean Alesi will out qualify him.

West McLaren-Mercedes

McLaren are another team with yo-yoing performance, and need to get a grip on it to start winning again. This season, as with the last one, the car is either very good or very bad, never in between. Both David Coulthard and McLaren run well here and I fully expect him to out qualify and out race his Finnish team mate Mika Hakkinen. Both "Silver Arrows" should be in the running for points.

Benson and Hedges Total Jordan-Peugeot

Umm… What can be said about Jordan? Once again, they are in a position to get to the top of pile, but who is to say it won't be thrown away? This said, I expect the Peugeot engine to get both cars onto the first 3 rows of the grid and be running in the top 6 in the race. Giancarlo Fisichella has finally reached a circuit he knows well and should beat his team mate Ralf Schumacher in both qualifying and the race.

Equipe Gauloises Blondes Prost-Mugen Honda

The outside tip for a win and the winner of the "Team With The Longest Name" competition. In Argentina Olivier Panis could have won if his car hadn't failed and having run well in preseason testing on the not dissimilar Paul Ricard I can see a repeat being on the cards. Olivier is proving to be the revelation of the season and must be on the shopping list for most of the top teams (although I wonder what Martin Brundle, who destroyed him in 1995, could have done with the Prost car). Shinji Nakano is pressing his claim to take the "Japanese Driver Who Spins A Lot" title in F1 away from Ukyo Katayama (who has it on loan from Taki Inoue) and gets my vote. When he stays on the track he manages to run a reasonable race and is a good 2nd driver.

Red Bull Sauber-Petronas

Imola should be better for the Saubers than the previous two races and Johnny Herbert faces his best chance of a podium so far. The Petronas engine is powerful and the chassis works well so given a good Saturday, he could be in with a shout of making the Sunday press conference. Nicola Larini scored his best F1 finish ever here in 1994 and his knowledge of the circuit should help him cement his place in the team.


Tyrrell had one car inside the top 10 on the grid last year, but things have never looked as hard for them. Unless there is a big hike in performance, the under powered Ford ED will only lead them to the back of the grid. Jos Verstappen is proving to be the class of the two drivers so far, but Mika Salo usually runs extremely well here (perhaps a reason for his possible 1998 Ferrari call up?), and may well beat the Dutchman.


My favourite little team are doing their usual solid job near the back and doing no better or worse than in any other year. Jarno Trulli will be racing in a car in Italy for the first time and will be looking to improve his already excellent performance. He should out qualify Ukyo Katayama, who, it must be said, is squandering his new chance at Minardi. Beating Trulli wouldn't be a feather in his cap, but losing to him is killing his reputation.


Once again, Jackie Stewart is showing that he has what it takes to become World Champion, but his team needs to improve its reliability to convert their qualifying form into points. I have been hard on Jan Magnussen, and his apparent lack of pace, but with the performance of Rubens Barrichello it is hard not to be. Jan does better in the races than in qualifying, but is eclipsed in both by his Brazilian team mate. While I don't expect the team to be as good as in Argentina, I fully expect at least one of the cars to be in the top 10.

Enjoy the race…

Max Galvin
Send comments to: