Imola, Mio Amore: Remembering the 1993 San Marino Grand Prix

In 1993, Hungarian motorsport journalist Károly Méhes travelled to Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix. He recounts happy memories of his first race abroad at the infamous Italian track where Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger lost their lives one year later.

I had already been an accredited journalist at the Hungarian Grand Prix for 3 years when I decided to go for my first Grand Prix abroad in 1993. With no Austrian Grand Prix on the calendar at the time, Imola was the closest race to my base in Budapest. The San Marino GP usually marked the beginning of the European F1 season, so expectations were high amongst the sport’s followers. I was pretty excited to be going myself!

Excited Buzz in the Paddock

My colleague and I arrived at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari beside the Santerno River in time for the first free practice session. The track is almost in the downtown era of Citta Imola! Entering the paddock, there was an excited buzz: Senna hasn’t arrived yet! The triple world champion McLaren driver had tensions within his team and refused to sign a contract for the whole season, agreeing only to drive on a race-to-race basis for the cool sum of $1 million dollars per race! Not more than 20 minutes later, Senna arrived. Of course, the media pounced on him! He had just gotten off an overnight flight from Sao Paulo to Milan, followed by a helicopter transfer to the Imola circuit. He hadn’t got much sleep, so it was no surprise when he spun and the hit the pitwall. His F1 rookie teammate Michael Andretti did the same, though presumably not for the same reason.

Interview with Niki Lauda

Meantime, I was over the moon when with my Austrian colleague, Heinz Prüller, helped me organize my first interview with Niki Lauda, who was a consultant to Ferrari at the time (Piccolo Commendatore). It was the home race for the Scuderia, as the Maranello factory is just 80km to the west, but the Berger-Alesi duo had practically no chance against the mighty Williams-Renaults, McLarens and Benettons.

Driving a Porsche but no money for a hotel room!

On this weekend, the Porsche SuperCup made its first appearance as an F1 support race, an association that continues to this day. To promote the inaugural event, Porsche provided the F1 journalists with some cars for the weekend! It was simple: there was a big basket full of car keys in the Porsche motorhome. You were allowed to choose one key and if you were lucky enough to have it open one of the cars, it belonged to you for the weekend! We got lucky at our first race abroad and from lunchtime on Friday, a yellow Porsche 968 belonged to us for two and a half days! Being a Porsche “owner” led to a very funny situation. Marlboro’s press lady, Agnés Carlier was kind to book us a hotel in Riolo Terme, a nearby spa town.

On arrival, we bumped into James Hunt, who was checking into the hotel at the same time. We were in good company! Unfortunately, it turned out that the room price was simply too high for us, so we began to argue with the clerk to give us a cheaper room. After a few minutes, he agreed to offer us the cleaner’s cabinet in the basement. Deal agreed, he offered to help us with our luggage, and the two poor Hungarian journos led him to a brand new Porsche 968! We managed a few tours around the area in our beautiful car over the course of the weekend, including a visit to the nearby city state of San Marino that gives the race its name.

Clean Sweep for Prost

The race weekend itself proved to be a clean sweep for Alain Prost, who returned from a sabbatical in 1992 and he was favourite to take the titles in 1993. Senna couldn’t be discounted however, despite running an underpowered Ford engine in his McLaren. Under two weeks earlier, he had produced an epic drive to win the European Grand Prix in the wet at Donington Park. His chances of a repeat victory at Imola looked slim. Prost took the pole and despite a poor getaway, still managed to win ahead of young charger Michael Schumacher (Benetton) and Martin Brundle (Ligier). JJ Lehto came home 4th for Sauber, claiming more points in the team’s promising debut year.

Sadly, neither of the Ferraris saw the chequered flag, but local spirits were raised when Italian team Minardi scored a point when Fabrizio Barbazza finished in 6th place. Imola was a great experience for us and we returned there almost every year until 2006, when the last San Marino GP was held. I strongly hope Liberty Media will bring racing back to this iconic track in Reggio Emilia.

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