First built in 1953, the original configuration, which ran from Acqua Minerali to Rivazza, and from Rivazza to Tosa, through the pits and the Tamburello, were merely a series of straights with a few small bends.
The first motorcycle races took place in 1953, while the first car race took place a year later in 1954.
In 1963, the circuit hosted its first Formula One race, a non-championship event which was won by Jim Clark for Lotus. A further non-championship event took place in 1979, which saw Niki Lauda claim victory in a Brabham-Alfa Romeo.
A year later, Imola officially made its debut on the Formula One World Championship calendar when it hosted the Italian Grand Prix, the first time since 1948 that the Autodromo Nazionale Monza did not play host to the event.
The race, which was won by Nelson Piquet, was such a success that a new race, the San Marino Grand Prix, was established especially for Imola in 1981.
Between 1981 and 2006, Imola hosted 26 Grands Prix as well as hosting a round of the Superbike World Championship from 2001 to 2006 and subsequently from 2009. Since 2018 it has hosted the final round of the FIM Motocross World Championship.
The World Touring Car Championship visited Imola in 2005 (Race of San Marino), 2008 (Race of Europe), and 2009 (Race of Italy), while the venue hosted a round of the International GT Open from 2009 to 2011. The TCR International Series raced at Imola in 2016.
The 6 Hours of Imola was revived in 2011 and added to the Le Mans Series and Intercontinental Le Mans Cup as a season event until 2016. Since 2017 it has hosted the 12 Hours of Imola, a round of the 24H Series.
Since 2007, the circuit has undergone a number of major upgrades with a 'bypass' to the Variante Bassa chicane added for cars, making the run from Rivazza 2 to the first Tamburello chicane totally flat-out, much like the circuit in its original fast-flowing days. However the chicane is still used for motorcycle races.
A new pit and paddock facility was built in 2008, while the old pit garages and paddock were demolished and completely rebuilt and the pitlane was extended and resurfaced.
With most of the reconstruction work completed, in June 2008, the FIA gave the track a 1T rating, thereby allowing F1 testing to be held, and three years later, in August 2011, the track was awarded a '1' FIA homologation rating following an inspection by Charlie Whiting, thereby giving the circuit clearance to host a Formula One race again.
In recent years there have been talks aimed a bringing F1 back to Imola, most notably when the future of the event at Monza appeared to be in jeopardy.
Indeed, when it was announced that Monza had secured a new deal to continue in hosting the race in late 2016, officials at Imola took legal action, questioning the legality of government funding awarded to the Milan circuit. Later that year they withdrew their case.
In 2020 following the postponement of the Chinese Grand Prix due to the coronavirus pandemic, Imola submitted a bid to replace the event pending its cancellation. In late July, following weeks of speculation it was announced that Imola would host the Gran Premio dell' Emilia Romagna, the third of three races to be held in Italy as the sport revised its schedule in light of the pandemic.
Despite the many great races held there over the years, courtesy of its undulating layout, its fast straights, demanding corners and unforgiving chicanes, it will forever be remembered for that dreadful weekend in 1994, when, following a horrendous accident involving Rubens Barrichello in Friday practice, Roland Ratzenberger was to perish in an accident in qualifying and Ayrton Senna in a still unexplained incident during the race.