May 12, 2013

Bye, bye Barcelona?

The Spanish Grand Prix is at risk but likely to stay until 2016 © Getty Images

There’s nothing like a bit of doom and gloom to get the F1 world all in a lather. In the Barcelona paddock this weekend, one of the bits of gossip doing the rounds was that this would be Formula One’s last visit to the Circuit de Catalunya.

On the one hand, the rumour makes sense. Spain’s economy is still in freefall, and the evidence of the financial crisis was writ large across the grandstands, which were far emptier than is normal for Fernando Alonso’s home race. Even Pelouse – the general admission area – saw large swathes of vacant grass where once hordes of fans stood, waving blue Renault flags while wearing red Ferrari tops.

Not that the official crowd figures bear any relation to the evidence of our own eyeballs – apparently 30,000 more people attended the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix weekend than the 2012 edition.

And who can blame the Spanish for choosing to stay away? Unemployment figures hover around 25% nationwide, while youth unemployment continues to hover around the 50% mark.

National debt is currently running so high that they should probably start thinking about inventing a new number to describe it, and regional debt – which is counted separately in Spain, thanks to the system of autonomous provinces, or communitats – is also at sky-high levels. Catalunya’s debts exceed $55 billion, and that is without taking their share of the national debt into account.

So looking at the Spanish Grand Prix as little more than a numbers game, it is easy to see why the paddock rumour mill is talking about a farewell to Catalunya. But there’s a teensy-weensy problem with the theory…

The Circuit de Catalunya has a valid contract to host the race until 2016, and they are not currently in breach of that contract with the commercial rights holder.

Sure, we’ve heard renewed chatter about an alternation deal with Valencia this weekend, but that’s not going to happen. The infrastructure there has been stripped out by the locals, and the public purse is in very bad shape. Valencia has earned the reputation as the province that is home to the bulk of Spain’s white elephants, boom time ideas built when credit was plentiful, and empty ever since. The locals are angry, and they’d rather have schools and hospitals than a motor race.

Any chatter about a renewed alternation deal will be yet another negotiating tactic aimed at making sure that Catalunya continue to pony up the goods until the end of their contract, and not a genuine proposal at keeping F1 at two different sites in Spain.


Posted by Kate Walker on 17/05/2013

@fromtheoutside I'd always assumed it was the F1 equivalent of having the teeshirt from a band's first tour. 'I've like Alonso since the the Renault days, whereas you only got into his with McLaren'.

I don't know if they still do them, but in 2010 the Ferrari merchandise stand at BCN was selling special Alonso Ferrari teeshirts in that pale Asturian blue.

@Hairs Thanks for the back-up! I've reread the piece twice now and still can't work out where I was misleading or offensive in any way to Spain.

Posted by Hairs on 13/05/2013

@elmusiloco I'm not entirely sure what's misleading about the article... is Spain's economy actually booming?

Barcelona doesn't have a valid contract?

Bernie's not spreading rumours to drive a negotiation?

Posted by fromtheoutside on 13/05/2013

Good insights, but thanks to it's Western European location and in general being a popular tourist destination, Barcelona is a sound place to host a Grand Prix. You will know from the turnout in India two years ago that it doesn't rely purely on local uptake.

Also, the flags waved for Alonso are of the colours of Asturias, the region in Spain where Alonso is from. Coincidentally the colours match those of the defunct Renault team. It has nothing to do with any loyalty towards Alonso's association with Renault. In these touch economic times it may just be that it's cheaper to pull out an old Renault flag than buy a new Asturian one :)

Posted by Jéan on 13/05/2013

Would be a pity to see Barcelona go. This my favourite venue (and city) for anyone planning to watch an F1 race.

Posted by elmusiloco on 13/05/2013

After reading all this nonsense let's be clear on something: anyone visiting Spain -as I have done twice- will notice instantly the warm weather, the friendly people and the great food. On top of that they have a world class F1 facility for teams and fans. I guess, quite the opposite to what this reporter might experience at home. The only excuse I can find for such a misleading article.

Posted by bronwyn collier on 12/05/2013

Good riddance. It's a boring track.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker