Formula One’s return to Imola conjures Ayrton Senna memories for Lewis Hamilton

F1 Lewis Hamilton Senna
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IMOLA, Italy — Lewis Hamilton was a 9-year-old karting driver when he learned his idol Ayrton Senna died after crashing into a concrete wall during the 1994 F1 San Marino Grand Prix.

More than a quarter of a century later, Hamilton still has vivid memories of when his father broke the news as the pair repaired his kart.

“I remember I had to walk away from my dad, because my dad would never let me cry in front of him,” Hamilton said on Friday while preparing for his first Formula One race on the Imola track where Senna lost his life.

“I had to go to a different place, and it was not so easy,” the six-time series champion added, his voice quavering with emotion.

“But I remember trying to challenge that sadness into adrenaline and I think I won that weekend. But the following weeks were tough.”

This weekend’s Emilia Romagna GP marks the first F1 race at Imola since 2006, when Hamilton raced in GP2 at the circuit. He returns as F1′s new holder of most grand prix wins, after eclipsing Michael Schumacher last weekend by winning a record 92nd race in Portugal.

Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger was also killed during the 1994 race weekend in a high-speed crash.

Senna was a three-time F1 champion and considered among the series’ greatest drivers.

Lewis Hamilton inspects the track with his team ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, Italy. (Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images).

“It’s just something we’ll always remember,” said Hamilton, who was given one of Senna’s race helmets by Senna’s family at a Brazilian GP. “I went around today, and it was a really special lap just going around seeing this historic track, passing the hard reminder of where Ayrton crashed.

“It is very surreal still for me when I go to places, where you drive through the tunnel in Monaco or you drive at the British GP where you know that the greats in the past have raced at those places,” the Mercedes driver added. “That’s heartwarming to know that I was able to be here and do what he was doing 26 years ago.”

Mercedes can clinch a record seventh consecutive constructors’ title on Sunday unless Red Bull outscores it by 34 points — something Red Bull hasn’t done in more than four years.

“I remember when we debated in 2014 internally what we could set as a target,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said. “And we said, ‘Winning a championship would be fantastic.’ And (engineering director) Aldo Costa said, ‘We are not ambitious enough. We should write down that our aim is to win multiple championships.’

“If someone would have told us back then that it would be seven I would have clearly thought he would need some support. And here we go, we have achieved it.”

Inserted into the revised calendar due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, this race will be held with an abbreviated format.

No practice was held Friday, leaving only one practice session on Saturday (which was led by Hamilton) before qualifying.

No fans will be allowed in due to rising virus cases in Italy.

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.