Formula 1 canceled this weekend’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix on Wednesday after heavy rain and deadly flooding in northern Italy made racing at Imola dangerous.
Italian officials have warned locals to seek higher ground this week after heavy downpours caused rain-swollen rivers to overflow, flooded towns and disrupted power services and mobile phone networks. At least eight people have died and more than 5,000 have fled their homes.
Some of the hardest-hit areas received nearly 20 inches of rain in 36 hours, and nearly two dozen rivers have already overflowed.
Given the scale of the destruction and ongoing rescue efforts, Formula 1 said in a statement it had no choice but to cancel. The decision was made, he said, “because it is not possible to hold the event safely for our fans, the teams and our staff and it is the right and responsible thing to do given the situation facing the cities of the region.
“It would not be fair to put more pressure on local authorities and emergency services at this difficult time.”
The race at Imola would have been the sixth of the current Formula 1 season, a globe-trotting circuit that was in Miami two weeks ago and will move to Monaco by the end of the month. It’s unclear if the canceled event can be rescheduled; Formula 1’s busy schedule has little flexibility given the time and difficulty it takes to move it from country to country.
If the Imola race is not rescheduled, Formula 1 will have 22 races this year instead of the record 23 it had planned.
It had become clear earlier in the week that the race was in danger. Scenes of dramatic rescues of residents from flooded towns – via helicopters, small boats and even on the backs of rescue workers – have dominated Italian national news broadcasts for the past two days.
Area schools canceled classes, rail service was disrupted, and roads and highways were closed. Aerial photos showed submerged fields, mud-covered streets and flooded towns.
Formula 1 had previously ordered its teams to stay away from the Imola track, which runs alongside the Santerno river, and residents who had not left the town were warned to move to higher floors. Photographs of the track posted by reporters showed that the paddock area was flooded.
The entire Emilia-Romagna region faces the threat of more rain and more flooding this week, followed by months of cleanup and repairs.
“It is such a tragedy to see what happened to Imola and Emilia-Romagna, the city and the region in which I grew up,” said Stefano Domenicali, managing director of Formula 1. “My My thoughts and prayers are with the flood victims and the families and communities affected.
“The decision that has been taken is the right one for everyone in the local communities and the F1 family,” he added, “because we need to ensure safety and not create an additional burden for the authorities while they are dealing with this very horrible situation.”