When biggest isn’t big enough


Senna and Mansell? No thanks! I'll take winter testing please... (pic RachelC)

After all that stock car action it’s time to turn elsewhere. This morning there were mutterings from the folks in suits in Barcelona that their Grand Prix could be gone in the next couple of years. Artur Mas, President of Catalunya no less, was the one issuing the warning, so the comments shouldn’t be ignored.


The El Pais newspaper carried the interview where Mas generally praised the race but warned that economically it doesn’t add up, “Everybody knows that we have restrictions on the budgets and that F1 is loss-making.”


So, F1 is loss-making? Clearly nobody told this to Bernie, but from the circuits’ point of view it is almost always true. That never fails to leave me gasping at the sheer audacity of Formula 1, like a fashion house that assumes that basking in the reflection of the star designer is payment enough for the lowly interns. Of course the whole region benefits from a Grand Prix coming to town, unless the race is stuck in a place where it is the only attraction of note, so it all (just) makes sense.


Barcelona works as a Grand Prix venue because it is close enough to one of the world’s most spectacular cities. I first went to Barcelona for the race in 1996 and I’ve clocked another three visits since as I fell in love with the place. Senor Mas has thankfully noticed this phenomenon, “we also have to consider the economic impact that it has and how it promotes the country. It places Catalunya in the world.”


So, F1 race loses money, but the region benefits. Nothing new there, but in the case of Barcelona it got me wondering just how much money it must have been losing back in the 1990s. Today the Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya is the most attended race of the year as the Alonso-mad fans number close to 200,000. This is despite the second race in Valencia providing Barcelona with a bit of competition these days. Surely things have never been better for the Montmelo track?


When I first went to the Spanish Grand Prix there was a crowd that would be dwarfed by most BTCC meetings. We certainly got in and out of the track a lot quicker than we were used to at Donington Park. What’s more there were hardly any locals in the stands. We had French, American, Irish, Italian and Finnish fans around us, we barely noticed a Spanish contingent anywhere.


But maybe that was the point – foreign tourism was given a boost by the race which means money was drawn in from far-away. Perhaps the current Alonso-centric crowd would spend their Euros in and around Catalunya regardless of the race being present or not. With one of the three Moto GP meetings held on Spanish soil being held at the Circuit de Catalunya, no doubt for a far smaller fee than F1, it’s not like the track is without any other big events. The Montmelo track has been on the calendar for 20 years – the first of which provided the iconic TV pictures of Senna and Mansell duelling side-by-side with sparks flying. Less people paid to watch that magic moment than have attended F1 testing there over these last few days, which is a stark indication of how Alonso’s success has transformed the image of F1 in Spain.


Barcelona isn’t alone; barely a week goes by without the Melbourne politicians getting tetchy despite packing in people by the hundreds of thousands. Anyway, Barcelona has a deal with FOM to host the Spanish Grand Prix until 2016, so don’t expect it to disappear quite as suddenly as the Bahrain race looks set to…


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