The Spanish Grand Prix has been held near Barcelona for more than three decades. Now city rival Madrid wants to snatch the event from its longstanding rival, sparking mixed reactions from F1 drivers.
Barcelona’s contract with Formula One runs out after the 2026 race, and the possibility that Madrid could host the prestigious race has divided opinion this weekend at Montmelo, where the Grand Prix has been run since 1991.
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of the city, is well known to drivers thanks to all the races as well as the preseason testing that until this year was conducted here in the winter.
Lewis Hamilton opposes any move. He has won the race a record six times and called it a “classic” circuit.
“I don’t think I would want to lose Barcelona,” the Mercedes driver said. “I do think it’s really important we keep some of the classic circuits, at least the ones that provide great racing. Budapest is spectacular. Silverstone is spectacular. This track (in Montmelo).”
Beyond the always intense rivalry between football clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona, the two cities also have long competed to attract industry.
Madrid regional chief Isabel Díaz Ayuso, a conservative who has criticized the separatist leaders of Catalonia, said last month while successfully running for re-election that she was “convinced” that her city could persuade F1 to change host cities.
“I am convinced, but we are still negotiating and must wait. In any case, I am extremely positive,” she told online newspaper Voxpopuli.
Madrid hosted the Spanish GP at the nearby Jarama circuit off and on from the late 1960s to early 1980s.
Now Ayuso is offering F1 an urban circuit in downtown Madrid.
In recent years F1 has trended toward urban and temporary circuits, which offer spectators the services and attractions of a city and are not difficult to get to.
Catalan authorities said this weekend that they are committed to keeping the event. The track is run by a public company with 80% owned by Catalonia’s regional government.
“This circuit has a present and a future,” said Roger Torrent, the head of business policy for the Catalan regional government. “I am convinced that we will have Formula One for many years to come.”
Spain had a second race at Valencia from 2008-2012, but it is not clear that F1 would want two races in the country now.
For drivers, the choice is more one of what kind of track they prefer.
While Hamilton likes the permanent Barcelona track, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who grew up in Monaco with its famous street circuit, said he would be fine with the swap.
“(Barcelona) is a track that we all know so well as drivers, so it would be strange to not come here,” Leclerc said. “But me personally, I love street tracks. I think just the feeling that you get from it is very, very special. So Madrid would be really nice too.”
Fernando Alonso, the home favorite, said that he wants permanent racing tracks to be the norm, not the exception.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to the region if they are happy to host the race or not,” he said. “So if they don’t want the race, it is very easy then, because some other region will love to have it.”
The Montmelo circuit is expected to see some 120,000 fans turn out for Sunday’s race in a repeat of sellout crowds from last season.
But last year’s race weekend was also hit by big problems for fans getting to and from the circuit. That drew a rebuke from F1, which called the situation “not acceptable.”
This year, transport officials have scheduled more trains to ensure those extremely long lines are not seen again.
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