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GP Week : Issue 152
If I had it my way, we wouldn’t be racing in Barcelona next weekend. While everyone and their dog hates the grand prix in Valencia, I am of the opinion that the Circuit de Catalunya is nearly as bad. Sure, the layout’s a vast improvement on its cousin down the coast, and actually permits overtaking, but the problem with the track in Montmelo is that it comes with so much data as a test track that it’s dull to watch. Valencia is boring because it’s processional. Barcelona is boring because the teams have so much experience of running there, so much telemetry harvested from years of testing around those 16 corners, that the racing borders on predictable. Sure, you’ve got the occasional tyre failure knocking out a front-runner in the closing stages of the race. But exciting wheel-to-wheel racing in Barcelona? Who can remember the last time that happened? Quality of racing aside, do we really need more than one grand prix in Spain? Especially when neither of them can lay claim to being one of the calendar’s unmissable events. Formula One has an odd relationship with Spain. The first Formula One Spanish Grand Prix was held in 1951, although the race did not join the calendar as a regular event until 1967, when it ran until 1981, and then again since 1986. The country has produced 13 F1 drivers over the years, three of whom only raced once. That makes Spain a minnow in the F1 talent pool when compared with the likes of the UK (158 drivers), the US (155), Italy (101), and France (71). But when it comes to F1 circuits, we just can’t resist the place. F1 media may as well rent a place in Spain for the month of February, with pre-season testing taking place in a rotating selection from Barcelona, Valencia, and Jerez. Historically, the F1 circus has spent years gadding about the country in search of a good race: the Spanish Grand Prix has been held at Catalunya, Jerez, Jarama, Montjuïc, and Pedralbes. And don’t forget the glories of the Valencia street circuit, home to the European Grand Prix. The past two years have seen European economies toppling like dominoes, and the Spanish economy is one of those in gravest danger. In Spain, regional governments are given greater control over their budgets than in many other countries, and the local authorities for both Valencia and the Circuit de Catalunya are in trouble. The Communitat de Valencia regional debt was last calculated at £17 billion ($27 billion), while Catalunya was a reported £31 billion ($55 billion) in debt last summer. These figures do not include the regional governments’ share of Spain’s national debt. Neither Valencia nor Catalunya is in much of a position to spend money on fripperies like grands prix, and an alternation deal between the two circuits has been under discussion for quite some time. Spain’s national government is currently on an austerity drive that has seen an announcement of £22.5 billion ($36 billion) in budget cuts this year alone. Unemployment in Spain is the highest in Europe, at 24 percent, while half of those aged 18-25 are out of work. In such an environment, shouldn’t the alternation deal come about sooner rather than later so that the money currently being spent on FOM’s hosting fees can be put to better use? Arguments about the financial benefits of F1 don’t really apply to Spain. While Abu Dhabi and Singapore might use their races to promote national tourism, Spain has been a popular and inexpensive tourist destination for decades. Barcelona hardly benefits more from F1 than it does from city breaks and stag parties, while Valencia used the global spotlight of the sport to promote the ugliest part of an attractive city. There is a case for continuing to use Catalunya as a test circuit, though. Without the fees charged by FOM, the circuit can benefit from the income generated by spectators paying affordable prices to watch the cars run while the local hotels, restaurants, and bars get to make the most of the F1 circus’ famously deep pockets. Thinking about it, the solution is obvious. Last week’s in-season test should have been held at the Circuit de Catalunya, while the Spanish Grand Prix should take place in Mugello. Vitaly Petrov can moan all he wants – the racing would be incredible. SPAIN SHOULD TAKE A SIESTA OPINION KATE WALKER Asst Editor OPINION 21 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: