F1 Emilia Romagna Notebook: Vettel Pays Tribute to Senna

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F1 Emilia Romagna Notes: Vettel Qian Jun/MB Media - Getty Images

There was a poignant atmosphere through much of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend as the Formula 1 paddock paid several tributes to Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, 30 years after their respective fatal accidents at the circuit.

Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, who retired from Formula 1 at the end of 2022, was at the forefront of the events. He organizing a group track run for the paddock on Thursday evening, before demonstrating the McLaren MP4/8 from the 1993 season—now owned by Vettel—in which Senna claimed his final victory.

The Formula 1 paddock gathered on Thursday evening on the pit straight, the majority wearing special Senna shirts, before running, cycling or walking down to the Tamburello curve at which Senna suffered his accident.


On the inside of the corner there is a leafy park, in which there is a somber statue of the Brazilian, with flags, dedications and artifacts attached to the fencing by fans who treat the area as a shrine and place of pilgrimage. As the paddock reached the memorial the heavens opened and deluged the circuit, with water cascading across the tarmac, and some interpreted that as a sign of Senna’s presence.

Vettel also provided each of the 20 Formula 1 drivers, with a padlock, in Senna’s colors, to affix to the fence.

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Sebastian Vettel waves an Austrian flag during a tribute lap at Imola.GABRIEL BOUYS - Getty Images

Some drivers also wore balaclavas in Senna’s helmet livery, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly sported a tribute helmet, while teams ran memorial stickers on their cars.

Prior to the race on Sunday Vettel—wearing a special half-and-half helmet—got behind the wheel of the McLaren MP4/8 for a few demonstration laps, holding out firstly the Brazilian and then the Austrian flag as he lapped the circuit.

“It’s difficult to put in words—it was one of the strongest emotions I’ve felt behind the wheel despite being alone on track and not even racing,” Vettel said. “Incredible. When I got the flags out it was so powerful. We had a very strong and emotional moment on Thursday when we ran the track and another one [in the car].

“It’s overwhelming and I’m happy that I had the courage to address my idea and come forward and invite the Senna family on the idea. We only got positive feedback and it seemed like the right thing to do. Ayrton is a driver that will be remembered, but we need to make sure we actively do so. That weekend as well, Roland lost his life – two drivers who are sort of colleagues of mine but I never had the chance to meet them. It means so much more than just racing.”

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Formula 1 hopeful Oliver Bearman continues to find the going rough in F2.Joe Portlock - Formula 1 - Getty Images

Formula 2 Woes Continues for Bearman

Ferrari-backed Oliver Bearman continued his Formula 1 audition for a possible ride with the Haas F1 team in 2025 by participating in Friday’s first practice session. He acquitted himself well once more, staying out of trouble, getting through the run plan on different fuel levels and tire compounds, and he posted competitive lap times.

But his Formula 2 season continued to sputter. Bearman started from the front row of the grid for the main Feature Race and surged into the lead, but stalled exiting his pit box and tumbled down the order.

Bearman finished 19th, failing to take a point, and is now only 20th in in the F2 championship, having scored just six points across the opening four events.

“Really sad result to what could have been a great race,” Bearman said. “Great start, great first stint, and then I lost the engine in the pit stop, which put me back to last, and after that, nothing really to do. The car felt fast but you cannot really overtake on this track.”

The one bright spot for Bearman is that title leader Zane Maloney had a low-key weekend, and a 62-point deficit is eminently surmountable with 10 events still to go in 2024. The main race was won by Red Bull protégé Isack Hadjar, who made it successive Feature Race victories after also triumphing last time out in Melbourne.

Thai PM Visits Imola

Thailand’s Prime Minister was a prominent guest at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix as the country emerges as a possible location for a grand prix. Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali visited Bangkok after the Japanese Grand Prix last month, and on Sunday Thai PM Srettha Thavisin repaid the favor by visiting Domenicali on the Italian’s home turf.

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Thai PM Srettha Thavisin walks the pits with Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali on Sunday.Kym Illman - Getty Images

Thavisin was given a tour of the Red Bull garage and posed for photos on the grid with team boss Christian Horner, with Red Bull GmbH 51 per cent owned by the Thai Yoovidhya family.

Thavisin also met Alex Albon—the London-born racer who competes under a Thai license owing to his family background—who last week committed to Williams through 2026 and beyond.

“I believe Thailand has an opportunity to host the F1 race in 2027 or 2028 in Bangkok to attract both investors and tourists,” Thavisin posted on Twitter. “Now I'm studying the possibility.”

Thailand has never hosted a Formula 1 grand prix though its permanent Buriram facility holds a round of the MotoGP World Championship, and Bangkok’s National Stadium hosted the Race of Champions in 2012.

Formula 1’s presence in Asia has been limited; event in Singapore and Japan both thrive, and China returned in 2024 after a four-season absence due to the pandemic, but Malaysia dropped from the schedule after 2017, and Vietnam’s proposed event in 2020 was cancelled due to the pandemic and never appeared owing to corruption charges – unrelated to the grand prix – placed upon the organizer. Korea – which dropped from the calendar in 2013 after a spell at unpopular Mokpo – has also been linked with a grand prix from 2026 or 2027.

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Williams’ problems on track might be a least in part due to a car that has a weight problem.Clive Rose - Getty Images

Williams' Cars Just Too Darn Heavy

Williams has had a scoreless start to the year, its predicament accentuated by its substantial off-season overhaul of working practices, as well as the early season crashes that hampered its parts situation and delayed its in-season development.

“I cannot understate how large it is,” team principal James Vowles said on the changes back at Grove since he joined in early 2023, adding foundations are in place to ensure “we’re not sinking on sand anymore,” giving a more stable platform for the new 2026 regulations. Headcount has grown from 700 to over 1,000 personnel, structures have been changed, and focus behind-the-scenes is turning to modernization of technology and equipment.

An always transparent Vowles has revealed that Williams has been running overweight this season—it is not the only team to have struggled, with Alpine having also started above the weight limit—but the numbers involved highlighted the scale of the issue.

Williams took 14kg of weight out of its chassis from 2023 to 2024, “an extraordinary feat,” per Vowles, but that weight has been added elsewhere in the car such that it is still very heavy.

Vowles estimates that Williams is hemorrhaging around four-and-a-half tenths in lap time, a substantial loss given the tightly-contested nature of the midfield.

“Despite the chassis being in a better place we added an enormous amount of weight,” Vowles said.

“Alex [Albon] has a car that is much better balanced [in 2024], if you go back and take four and a half tenths off, you’ll realize why he’s been frustrated.

“What hindered us was at the beginning of the season we have damaged four gearboxes beyond repair, we have damaged five floors, four front wings, four rear wings, and some miscellaneous bits. Any team on the grid, you can’t deal with that, plus taking out weight, plus adding aero performance. I’m not proud of these facts but the reason I’m being open is that’s a red line.”

Imola was the start of Williams’ weight-shedding process, with the laminate on the floor changed to make the component lighter, and Vowles expects the team to be “closer but not there” by the middle of the European season in July.

Vowles emphasized that his honesty was not intended to embarrass Williams personnel, but merely to highlight the changes required in structure, operations and the build process, acknowledging the long-term nature of the project.

Williams is one team with a vacancy for 2025, alongside Alex Albon, with the Vowles-led changes making the squad a significantly more attractive proposition than it was a few years ago. Vowles says Williams has three options for 2025 and does not expect a decision to be too long in the making.

Imola Great, But Future Uncertain

There are few better locations for a sporting event than the Italian countryside when it comes to scenery, passion and atmosphere, and Imola welcomed Formula 1 back after the devastating floods caused the event’s cancellation in 2023.

Formula 1 declared a weekend attendance of 200,000—up from 130,000 in 2022—and spectators clamber for views on the hills and houses that surround and intertwine a circuit that grew up around the town.

It is a slightly antiquated Grand Prix given its outdated facilities and tiny infrastructure, particularly when compared with Formula 1’s prior event in Miami, and there are traffic bottlenecks and compromises for personnel working the Grand Prix.

Its presence on the calendar is no doubt smoothed by Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali—who was born in the town—and the entire area is steeped in motorsport, with Ferrari and RB located nearby, and other major giants such as Lamborghini and Ducati also based in the region.

Imola holds a contract for only 2025 and Formula 1’s annual Italian Grand Prix takes place at Monza, which is finally undergoing renovation work after being pressured by Imola’s post-pandemic revival, meaning that the Emilia Romagna round still faces an uncertain future. It is a wonderful setting, a superb track for a qualifying lap, but underwhelming for racing.