The glorious home of racing's heart

BOOK OF THE WEEK: Echoes Of Imola by David Tremayne (Motor Racing Publications, pounds 16.99)
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The Independent Online
It is one of those more invigorating times of the sporting year, when thoughts and Formula One transporters turn to Imola. Expectations rises high as the towering bank of humanity above the approach to the start/finish line; anticipation flows like the streams of the spa towns up in the vine-clad hills.

Returning to Imola again feels the way it used to, the way it always was before, as Niki Lauda so poignantly put it, God took away his protective hand. The deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna at the 1994 San Marino grand prix turned last year's event into a pilgrimage of trepidation. But faith and hope, like the circuit and the cars, were rebuilt, and this piece of Italy was restored to its rightful place in the hearts and minds of the Formula One fraternity.

That particular allure, which will doubtless be evident at next Sunday's race, is celebrated in this book. It recalls the origins of this challenging track, the "little Nurburgring" that was to become the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari and the home of Italy's second grand prix. It features the landmark incidents: the glorious, the dramatic and the sad.

Vitally, however, it captures the ambiance of Imola, both within and beyond the perimeter fencing. Here the fabled passion for motor racing carries none of the intimidation some sense, and even fear, at Monza, the traditional, northern bastion of the Tifosi. The mood, joyous and harmonious, reflects the gentility and embrace of the Emilia-Romagna region.

All joy, of course, was drained that dramatic weekend two years ago, and Tremayne describes how a usually divided, cynical community became briefly united in grief and fright, only to separate again. He has a tendency, in common with many specialist writers, to relate matters which may concern the press corps but not the world outside, and to dwell too long on things too technical for a wider audience.

But rest assured, the main events are here: the infamous Villeneuve-Pironi duel in 1982, when the former claimed his Ferrari team-mate reneged on a pact and overtook him on the last lap; the Prost-Senna fall-out in 1989, after the Frenchman accused the Brazilian of breaking their "no overtaking" agreement on the first lap. A more vivid image of that latter race was the fireball that engulfed Gerhard Berger's Ferrari at Tamburello. The Austrian was lucky. Senna, whose Williams plunged into the same wall, was not.

Despite persistent suggestions that he was killed by a suspension component piercing his helmet, Professor Sid Watkins, head of the Formula One medical commission, reiterates his belief that the right front wheel inflicted the fatal blow.

A chicane has checked the flat out sweep of Tamburello but, even without the spectre of the wall, the echoes can still be heard. Mercifully, not all are morbid. This great circuit is born again