The Spanish Grand Prix before Barcelona

The home of the Spanish Grand Prix is the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and as the site of winter testing the teams are intimately familiar with the track. The Spanish Grand Prix has been held here every year since 1991, but it wasn’t always the home of Formula One in Spain, with 7 other circuits hosting the Spanish Grand Prix in the years before the race settled there.

The first race to take the title Spanish Grand Prix dates back as far as 1913, with three laps of just over 100km of public road close to Madrid being used to stage the race, with the honour of victory going to Carlos de Salamanca driving a Rolls-Royce.

The next event to take the title Spanish Grand Prix would not be staged until ten years later, when a majestic 2km oval featuring 60 degree banking was built in Stiges. Looking at the track one can only imagine what Fernando Alonso would make of an opportunity to drive a modern car around such a daunting track!

The oval would stage the Spanish Grand Prix in in 1923, but unfortunately the track was in financial problems from the get go, and would not stage another international race as a result.

The next track to take on the mantle of the Spanish Grand Prix was the 17.7 km long Circuito Lasarte that was already used for the San Sebastian Grand Prix. The Spanish Grand Prix would be staged here from 1926-1929, and again from 1933-1935.

After the war the Spanish Grand Prix returned in 1951, its first appearance on the modern Formula One calendar, finding a new home on the streets of Barcelona. The race was held on what was known as the Pedralbes circuit, a fast 6.3 km section of roads which had held a non-championship round in the inaugural season of the Formula One championship under the banner of the Penya Rhin Grand Prix. The Spanish Grand Prix of 1951 was the final round of the season, and saw Juan Manual Fangio seal the first of his five world drivers’ championship in style with a victory for Alfa Romeo. Another F1 race would be staged at Pedralbes in 1954, but after the Le Mans disaster of 1955 a greater focus on spectator safety would see the demise of the street race, and the Spanish Grand Prix would disappear until 1967.

The next venue to take over the reins of the Spanish Grand Prix was the Circuit del Jarama, a tight 3.4 km track north of Madrid. A non-championship Grand Prix was staged in there in 1967 (won by Jim Clark in a Lotus) before Jarama would hold a round of the world championship in 1968 (which Graham Hill would win for Lotus). The Spanish Grand Prix would then alternate between Jarama and a circuit in Barcelona, Montjuic Park, another street race but this time set in the hills above Barcelona. Montjuic Park was a wonderfully fast 3.79 km track that would stage the race every two years between 1969 (with Jackie Stewart winning in a Matra) and 1975. Montjuic Park was one of those gloriously unsafe venues that provided a thrilling challenge but was simply not safe for Formula One. Prior to the 1975 race there was trouble as GPDA were unhappy with the state of the barriers around the track, and a strike was threatened. The race did go ahead (without Emerson Fittipaldi, who refused to participate), but would end in tragedy, with 5 spectators killed when Rolf Stommelen’s car went into the crowd after its rear wing failed while leading the race. Jochen Mass would take his sole Grand Prix victory in a McLaren in the shortened race that also saw Lella Lombardi score half a point for finishing sixth, but the accident would spell the end of the track. Jarama would continue to hold the Spanish Grand Prix then up until 1981, in a race that saw Gilles Villeneuve take his last ever victory, famously leading a train of cars home across the line (just 1.2 seconds separated Villeneuve from Elio De Angelis Lotus in fifth position!), Gilles taking of advantage of his Ferrari’s power to hang on to the lead on Jarama’s short straight and placing his Ferrari where it needed to be in the corners to hang on for the win.

Villeneuves great win in 1981 however underlined that the tight Jarama was just not suitable for Formula One, and when the Spanish Grand Prix returned in 1986, it would be in a new venue, Jerez. The first Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez would be won by Ayrton Senna for Lotus…barely holding off a charging Nigel Mansell by just 0.014 seconds, with both cars weaving across the track coming out of the final corner, Senna taking the win by the finest of margins.

Jerez would host the Spanish Grand Prix from 1986 through to 1990 (a Ferrari 1-2 with Prost leading home Mansell), before the race was switched to its current home in Barcelona in 1991

That 1991 race was an instant classic, Nigel Mansell winning with a storming drive for Williams in a wet/dry race that will always be remembered for the image of Mansell and Ayrton Senna going wheel to wheel down the main straight, sparks flying as neither driver ceded an inch. Since then the track has produced some a mixture of memorable races and more sedate affairs with overtaking difficult on the circuit and a premium placed on qualifying – but the has witnessed some classic races – from Michael Schumacher’s dramatic first victory for Ferrari as he sailed serenely past his opposition in atrocious conditions in 1996 through to more recent races including Pastor Maldonado’s shock win for Williams in 2012 and Max Verstappen’s debut win for Red Bull last year after the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg took each other out of contention on the opening lap. While the track does not always produce the most memorable races, it has in spite of its use in off season testing refused to be dominated by a single team or driver in recent years, with Max Verstappen being amazingly the 10th different winner in the last 10 races, so there’s hope for the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas who have yet to take a win there that this might be their year!!

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