IMOLA, Italy (AP) — This weekend’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix in northern Italy was canceled Wednesday because of deadly floods in the region.
Formula One said it made the decision for safety reasons and to avoid any extra burden on the emergency services, after consulting with Italian political figures. Drivers including Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen gave their backing, and Ferrari said the team supported the decision to call off its home race.
“It is such a tragedy to see what has happened to Imola and Emilia-Romagna, the town and region that I grew up in and my thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the flooding and the families and communities affected,” F1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali said.
At least five people have died in the flooding and 5,000 more have been evacuated, while electricity supplies and cell phone networks have been severely affected. Thousands of fans were expected at the circuit from Friday for practice sessions ahead of the race, adding more load to an already stretched transport system.
“I want to express my gratitude and admiration for the incredible emergency services who are working tirelessly to help those who need help and alleviate the situation — they are heroes and the whole of Italy is proud of them,” Domenicali said. “The decision that has been taken is the right one for everyone in the local communities and the F1 family as we need to ensure safety and not create extra burden for the authorities while they deal with this very awful situation.”
Formula One personnel had earlier been told to stay away from the track after floods affected large parts of the Emilia-Romagna region. Some residents of Imola, where the track is located, were warned to move to higher floors of their homes. The Santerno River runs right next to the track.
Matteo Salvini, the infrastructure minister in Italy’s government, had requested that the race be canceled to favor the flow of resources and aid to the hardest hit areas of the flooding.
Ferrari supported the decision to cancel the race, with team principal Fred Vasseur saying it was “heartbreaking to see what people are going through at the moment.”
Verstappen, the defending F1 champion and standings leader, and his Red Bull team said they also supported the decision. So did Hamilton, the seven-time champion who drives for Mercedes.
“Thoughts are with those affected by this tragedy and the amazing emergency services working on the ground,” Hamilton wrote on Instagram. “I know we all understand that safety comes first.”
It is the second race on the 2023 calendar to be canceled. The Chinese Grand Prix was scheduled for April but was canceled in December amid concerns about pandemic-related restrictions.
If the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix is not rescheduled — something which appears unlikely given F1’s packed calendar — the season will have 22 races, the same as last year, rather than setting a record for most F1 races in a year with 23.
The AlphaTauri team, which is based in nearby Faenza and is the closest team to the circuit, issued an appeal for donations to help local people Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, our town of Faenza has once again experienced significant rainfall and subsequent flooding,” the team said on Twitter.
The Emilia-Romagna GP was meant to be the start of three weeks of back-to-back-to-back races. The Monaco Grand Prix is on May 28 and the Spanish GP is a week later.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports