Spanish Grand Prix
Spain’s first F1 Race
The Spanish Grand Prix, known in Spain as the Gran Premio de España, was first held in 1913. In fact, it was originally a road race over a distance of 300 kilometres and built on a tradition for for road-racing which began in the early years of the 20th century (the Catalan Cup having been held in of 1908 and 1909).
The first Grand Prix was won by a competitor from Salamanca in a Rolls Royce, who completed the 300 kilometre course at Guadarrama, near Madrid, with an average speed of 86.90kph.
The Catalan Connection
The earlier Catalan Cup races were held at a 28 kilometre circuit called the Baix Penedes, which was located in the Spanish resort town of Sitges in Catalonia. This north-eastern Spanish Province, centred on Barcelona, would become the home of Formula One in Spain, and as early as 1922, F1 enthusiasts were planning the construction of a permanent circuit at Sitges.
A local-born racing driver by the name of Frick Armangue helped promote the idea of a circuit at Sitges, and the architect Jaume Mestres was commissioned to design the track. Almost a year later and, at a cost of four million pesetas, the Sitges-Terramar oval was officially opened.
The banked concrete oval provided a 2 kilometre circuit which was immediately put to good use, being the venue for the second Spanish Grand Prix the same day it opened – 28th October 1923.
This race was a great success, with Count Louis Zborowski Miller 122 and Alberto Divo’s Sunbeam battling it out over 200 laps. Zborowski held out until the last ten laps but was then forced to switch a wheel, unable to make up the time he handed the victory to Divo.
F1 moves to San Sebastian – 1920s and 1930s
Sadly, the state-of-the-art circuit at Sitges-Terramar would not host the next Grand Prix. The circuit was overwhelmed by financial problems, and after hosting just one Grand Prix, the event moved to San Sebastian on Spain’s northern coast, home to the 18 kilometre Lasarte track.
In 1926 San Sebastian was the venue for the Grand Prix of Europe, and in the same year, it hosted the third Spanish Grand Prix. The epic race lasted almost six hours and was won by Meo Constantini’s Bugatti.
Following on from this, in 1928 and 1929, the Grand Prix was won by Louis Chiron of Monte Carlo. The famous driver was at the height of this career and he would go on to win again in 1933. Indeed, the veteran went on to compete in F1 races until his 58th birthday!
Until the 1930s, Spanish Grand Prix events had not been run to actual Formula One standards. Grand Prix racing in Spain, as in most of Europe, was run according to a loosely defined set of regulations.
From 1924 though, with the formation of a regulating body for Grand Prix and other forms of racing, races became more standardised. Spain adopted the “formula” – a combination of engine size and vehicle weight – in the late 1920s. This changed to the 750kg formula in the 1930s.
The Civil War and beyond
Just as Spain was beginning to embrace F1 wholeheartedly, the civil war began. All motorsports ceased to be of importance with the country locked in a brutal civil war. The Spanish Grand Prix would not be held again until 1946.
This race again took place in Catalonia, on the Pedralbes circuit in Barcelona, and was also the location for the 1951 World Championship F1 race – the first time the World Championship had visited Spain. Unsurprisingly, in 1954 the Pedralbes circuit again hosted the Grand Prix.
Revival in the 1960s and 1970s
Rivalry between Madrid and Barcelona played a part in the resurgence of Spanish motorsport in the 1960s. The Royal Automobile Club of Spain commissioned John Hugenholz, designer of Zandvoort and Suzuka, to build a showcase circuit, named Jarama, just outside the Spanish capital.
Meanwhile, in Barcelona an existing circuit was revamped and routed through Montjuic Park. Both tracks offered great opportunities for F1 racing and Spain was suddenly the It Girl of the international racing scene.
In 1968 Jarama was the venue for a World Championship race, and was established as thevenue for the first European race of the World Championship for several years to come.
In 1969 Barcelona once again hosted a Grand Prix, after an agreement had been reached to share future races between Jarama and Montjuic Park. The success of F1 racing in Catalonia seemed assured, with exciting contests being held throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, until a fatal accident during the 1975 Grand Prix.
The race began with an accident at the startline, eliminating two drivers. As the cars came round the track for the 26th lap, disaster struck. A Hill-Ford driven by Rolf Stommelen crashed, and four people were killed. The race was immediately halted, and the incident spelled the end for Montjuic. Henceforth all races would be held at Madrid’s Jarama circuit.
Politics and excitement in the 1980s
In 1980, Jarama was the venue for an illegal Grand Prix, with no entrants from Ferrari, Renault or Alfa Romeo. The association representing the drivers and the F1 governing body were locked in disagreement, which was stalling competitions, but the Spanish decided to run the race anyway. Alan Jones took the title in his Williams, but sadly the points would not count towards his World Championship title attempt.
The 1981 Spanish Grand Prix is often referred to as one of the most engrossing races of the 1980s. Canadian Gilles Villeneuve won the race, having piloted his Ferrari expertly around the course. No other driver was able to overtake as Villeneuve drove superbly, and four other drivers crossed the line almost simulatenously – within 1.24 seconds.
However, Jarama was no longer a state-of-the-art venue and, in the early 1980s, Spain fell out of favour as an F1 destination. In 1985, Jerez de la Frontera began construction of a circuit to attract the Grand Prix back to the Iberian peninsula. It was finished in 1986 and the opening race was a huge PR coup, with Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell going head to head in a drama-filled race. The nail-biting contest ended with Mansell going into the final lap only 1.5 seconds down on his rival. Within a hundred metres of the finishing line, Mansell attempted to overtake and both cars crossed the line simultaneously. The victory went to Senna but, with only 0.014 seconds advantage, this was the closest finish in F1 history.
Jerez favoured Mansell in 1987 and 1988, with the Englishman winning in both years, while Senna added another victory in 1989. Despite all these high-profile races, Jerez would host its last Grand Prix only a year later in 1990. While the circuit was popular with the racing fraternity, it did not pull in the punters – nobody wanted to watch the Grand Prix in the southern Spanish town. Finally, in 1990, a serious accident at Jerez sealed its fate. It was time to move Spanish F1 back to its homeland of Catalonia.
The Circuit de Catalunya
In the mid 1980s, the Catalan government passed plans for an international standard racing circuit near Barcelona. Building work began three years later at the selected site, 20km north of the city itself, in Montmeló.
The Spanish Grand Prix was held at the circuit in the autumn of 1991 and the event enjoyed high profile coverage in a phenomenal race once again dominated by Mansell and Senna. Other memorable events include Michael Schumacher’s second place finish in 1994, when the German had driven for half of the race with only one gear!
To the delight of the home fans, in 2006, Fernando Alonso became the first Spanish F1 driver to stand in first place on the podium on home soil.
The circuit gained popularity as a site for test-racing during the winter months and is currently the unchallenged home of the Spanish Grand Prix. The Circuit de Catalunya is fast on the straight, with long sweeping curves – a combination which makes it popular with drivers.
It is sometimes considered to be a less exciting spectator circuit as so many drivers are familiar with the course layout, given the use of the circuit as an off-season training ground.
Spanish Grand Prix races are held at the Catalonia Circuit, which is 4.655km in length and has 15 corners. For a detailed, interactive look at the circuit, visit the BBC’s F1 Circuit Guide.
Circuit de Catalunya has 65,700 seats arranged in 14 grandstands. Over 35,000 tickets for the grass are available.
- Circuit de Catalunya’s address is:
- Mas ‘La Moreneta’
- Apartado de Correos 27
- E-08160 Montmelo
- Tele: (+34) 93 571 9704
- Fax: (+34) 93 572 2772
- Web: Circuit de Catalunya
Tickets can be booked online via ServiCaixa (English language service available), or by telephoning the Circuit de Catalunya Ticket Hotline on +34 93 571 97 71. Email enquiries should be addressed to [mailto:email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org].
Tickets are also on sales at the Circuit de Catalunya itself. The Visitors Information Office is open from Monday to Thursday from 9 am to 6 pm and on Friday from 9 am to 2 pm.
The Circuit de Catalunya is 20km from central Barcelona and a 40km drive from El Prat, the main airport serving the city. The track can be easily reached by car, via the AP-7 motorway. For excellent maps showing how to reach the stadium, check out the travel pages of the official Circuit website.
Montmeló Station is a 20 minute walk from the Circuit. There are extra trains during the Grand Prix, so this can be an easier and less stressful option than travelling by car. For train services and fares, refer to the Spanish national rail operator’s website – Renfe.
Sagalés coaches now serve the circuit during Grand Prix events. Coaches leave from central Barcelona and drop passengers at the East Area of the Circuit. Tickets cost 7 euros, and you can buy them at the Circuit, through ServiCaixa (see above) or directly from Sagalés by visiting Sagales.com.