Formula 1 Racing

Barcelona’s F1 race is improving, but is it too little too late?

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

As much as the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is a popular test venue with challenging layout drivers enjoy, its ageing facilities and historically poor accessibility have long been a thorn in the side of both people working in the F1 paddock and the fans who pay for the privilege to attend.

The circuit was built in 1991 as part of Barcelona’s bid for the 1992 Olympic Games, which completely revitalised the port city and helped it become a major tourist destination.

And from the first race in 1991, Barcelona’s custody of the Spanish Grand Prix has seen it become a yearly staple of the series, while also hosting a plethora of other two and four-wheel championships.

Like other European venues, the F1 race too struggled for attendance in recent years until Fernando Alonso returned from his hiatus to rejoin Carlos Sainz, and Netflix series Drive to Survive handed several poorly attended races an injection of fresh interest.

But that popularity boom also put increasing pressure on a facility that was largely left unchanged for decades. With weekend attendance creeping up towards 288,000 fans in 2024, traffic has long been a problem, with long queues clogging up the roads leading from Barcelona’s city centre to the Montmelo outskirts and the industrial estates surrounding the venue.

The event reached its nadir in 2022, when unexpectedly large crowds were queuing in the heat for hours to get into the circuit or buy drinks at its concessions, with the circuit soon running out of water. Montmelo’s small train station, a 30-minute walk to the track and served by a single commuter line, was also completely overwhelmed.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

That year’s series of unfortunate events prompted an apology from the promoters and a demand from F1 to improve its fan experience. Dissatisfied with Barcelona’s lack of urgency to bring its event up to modern standards, F1 began looking elsewhere and has since done a deal to take the Spanish Grand Prix to Madrid from 2026 onwards, the same year Barcelona’s current contract expires.

But right as Madrid looks poised to become Spain’s only F1 destination in the future, things now appear to be finally moving in the right direction in Barcelona.

In October 2022 the circuit and the regional government presented a 50m euro renovation plan, which included improved fan facilities, new…

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