The Spanish Grand Prix
Everything you need to know for when F1 comes to Barcelona
By Duncan Rhodes
The Spanish Grand Prix is one of the most anticipated annual events in Catalonia, taking place each May in Montmelo, a small town just outside Barcelona. Come spring and F1 addicts from around the globe flock to these shores, to enjoy the race alongside enthusiastic Catalan and Spanish fans.
If you’re in town at the same time as Bernie and his buddies then a weekend of purring engines, chequered flags and podium finishes is hard to beat. We’ve provided a little info below about the history of the event, practicalities like buying tickets, travel info and tips on booking your accommodation.
History of the Spanish Grand Prix
Catalonia has a long racing history, which stretches back to the heady days of 1908 and 1909 when the Catalan Cup was staged on roads around Sitges, just outside Barcelona: Jules Goux won back to back victories with little more in the ways of safety equipment than a pair of goggles and leather gloves. The enthusiasm for racing led to the construction of a permanent track called Sitges-Terrama, which hosted the Grand Prix in 1923 but was abandoned immediately afterwards. (Today it’s the site of a chicken farm, although the 2km track remains in good condition!).
The Spanish Grand Prix has moved countless times through the last century, and older folk in Barcelona still remember fondly the Montjuic street circuit, a difficult track which wound its way around the city’s magical Montjuic mountain. The anticlockwise course had both a very slow and very fast section of track, which made setting up the cars up a challenge. The circuit held it’s inaugural Formula One Grand Prix in 1969, but it’s last, in 1975, was marked by tragedy. Two-times F1 world champion, Emerson Fittipaldi, withdrew in protest before the start of the race, citing the circuit as dangerous (a feeling held by many drivers), and sadly he was proved right: on lap 26 Rolf Stommelen’s car skidded off the track, killing five spectators. Formula One never returned to Montjuic.
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
Throughout the 1980s the Spanish Grand Prix took place in either Jarama or Jerez, but in 1991 work finished on a new track just outside Barcelona, in Montmelo: the Circuit de Catalunya (Catalonian Circuit). The same year Formula One moved back to Catalonia where it has remained ever since, arriving one year before the Olympics of 1992.
Renamed the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in 2013, the track is seen as an all-rounder circuit it as it has 16 corners of varying difficulty combined with long straights (although overtaking on the track is notoriously difficult). The track is 4.655 km long and the lap record is held by Kimi Räikkönen at 1 minute 21.67 seconds.
Over the years the track has been kind to the Brits, with Nigel Mansell winning in both 1991 and 1992, Damon Hill in 1994, Jensen Button in 2009 and more recently Lewis Hamilton in 2014, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Flying Finns have certainly had their fair share of Formula One success in Barcelona too with Mika Häkkinen taking first on the podium in 1998-2000 and Kimi popping out the Cava in 2005 and 2008.
Naturally none other than Herr Schumacher himself had the most success on the Catalan Circuit with an impressive six victories in Montmelo, between 1995 and 2004.
Meanwhile Fernando Alonso became the first Spaniard to win the Spanish Grand Prix in 2006, matching that feat seven years later in 2013. Alonso also came 2nd in 2003 and 2005 and his home performances have helped make the race enduringly popular amongst locals.
Buying Spanish Grand Prix Tickets
Ever since “Alonso fever” popularised F1 in Spain, it’s been wise to book your tickets to the Spanish Grand Prix well in advance. There are 14 grandstands at the Circuit de Catalunya, with prices typically starting at 100 euros for a one day pass and going up to 450 euros for a three day pass (for the main grand stand). You can reserve your tickets online with BookF1.
Naturally, hospitality packages and VIP tickets will set you back several thousands of euros, but if you’re looking to impress potential partners or treat high performing staff that could be money well invested. If you are organising corporate hospitality and want to splash out on a director’s box (for up to 30 people) then drop us a line on email@example.com as we work with specialist agents who can make your life a lot easier, whilst saving you some money at the same time. Don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Getting to Montmelo from Barcelona
Montmelo is a small town just 20 km outside Barcelona and for that reason many visitors to the F1 Spanish Grand Prix choose to stay in the cosmopolitan capital of Catalonia and travel to the Circuit de Catalunya each day. You can drive there, and there are 32,000 parking spaces available from around 20 euros for the three days.
Alternatively plenty of transport will take you from Barcelona to Montmelo. Trains run from Barcelona Sants, Passeig de Gracia or Clot rail stations and then from the aptly named Montemelo station shuttle buses will carry you to the race circuit. Train ticket is no more than a few euros one way, and the shuttle bus is free for F1 ticket holders. Bear in mind of course that many people will be making the same journey so allow plenty of time.
Sagalo, a private coach company throw on a bus service each year leaving from Passeig de Joan, 52. Generally speaking the buses depart every 15 minutes or so from 7.30am – 12pm, and return every 15 minutes from 3pm – 6pm. The buses drop you off 300m from the Circuit de Catalunya, take around 45 mins and cost around 10 euros. Just check their website for up to date info.
More Grand Prix Info
The organisers recommend that you bring sun glasses, sun protection/block (you can click here and check the weather a few days in advance), a cap and comfortable footwear.
Meanwhile the website F1 Destinations is a fantastic source of news, tips and advice for attending the race.
For accommodation in Barcelona during the Spanish Grand Prix then look no further than our Sleep section with its directory of hotels and places to stay.
We’ve also got tonnes of great advice for the first-time visitor to Barcelona (or indeed the seasoned pro!), so be sure to read our Barcelona guide, check our restaurant reviews and drop by our Drink section.
About the Author
Duncan established Barcelona Life in 2009, whilst freelancing for the likes of Conde Nast, The Guardian, Easyjet Magazine, CNN Traveller and many more. From interviews with Ferran Adria to revealing the secrets of the city’s poetry brothels, he knows the city inside out… and shares all his best tips right here.