In a day and age where races are drop like flies from the F1 calendar, the Spanish Grand Prix has been a staple since 1967, after the race was revived in the decades following the Spanish Civil War and World Wars One and Two. The Spanish Grand Prix is one of the oldest races still being contested in the world today, and the race held its centenary back in 2013, a race won by none other than Fernando Alonso. In anticipation of this weekend’s Spanish GP, I’ve looked back the history of the race, starting back at it’s pre World War One origins.
Motorsport in Spain has had a presence as far back as 1908 and 1909, where the Catalan Cup was raced on roads in Stiges near Barcelona. Both the 1908 and 1909 races were won by the Frenchman Jules Goux, who also became the first European racing driver to take victory in the Indianapolis 500 four years later in 1913. It was also in 1913 that Spain held it’s first Grand Prix race, which was played out to touring car/production car rules on a 300km road circuit near Madrid, and on the road to Valladolid. In 1923 the race moved back to Stiges, this time on a permanent 1.2 mile oval before financial difficulties saw the Spanish Grand Prix move to Circuito Lasarte on the country’s northern coast. Circuito Lasarte became home to Spain’s then premier motor race, the San Sebastian Grand Prix, as the Spanish Grand Prix was not yet established as a main Grand Prix race.
The years 1927-1932 saw a mix of sports car races, and cancelled race meetings as the San Sebastian Grand Prix/Spanish Grand Prix struggled with political and economic difficulties however the race was revived in 1933 at Circuito Lasarte as the Spanish Grand Prix proper, held with government backing. Loius Chiron and Alfa Romeo won the newly revived 1933 race before Mercedes Benz would go on to take victory in 1934 and 1935. Following 1935, the onset of the Spanish Civil War saw regular Grand Prix motor racing end in Spain, and the race was held just twice in the following three decades, once in 1951 in a race won by the great Juan Manuel Fangio and once in 1954 where Mike Hawthorn took victory in his Ferrari. Both these races were held on the Pedralbes Street Circuit in Barcelona, circuit which was popular with drivers and fans alike.
Spain returned to the world of international motorsport in 1967, where Jim Clark won a non championship Grand Prix at Jarama in his Lotus. One year on, 1968 saw the fully fledged return of the Spanish Grand Prix, a race which would be shared between Jarama and the Montjuic Street Circuit in Barcelona. The race was shared between the two successfully until 1975, where following pre-race safety concerns and a protest by drivers the race went ahead and ended in tragedy when Ralf Stommelen’s rear wing broke off and killed four spectators in a horrific accident. Stommelen would go on to complete the 1975 season without scoring any points before leaving F1 at the close of 1978. He tragically died at Riverside International Raceway in California in 1983 due after a mechanical failure at speeds close to 190mph.
Montjuic would never again host a Spanish Grand Prix, and in 1976 the race returned to Jarama, won by McLaren’s James Hunt before the Lotus of Mario Andretti would dominate in 1977 and 1978. In 1981 Jarama would host it’s final Spanish Grand Prix, in which Gilles Villeneuve would take victory in his Ferrari. Work began on the well known Jerez Circuit in 1985, and construction was completed in time for the running of the once again revived Spanish Grand Prix in 1986, where Aryton Senna would take victory from Nigel Mansell by 0.014 seconds. The race was held at Jerez until 1990, a year when Martin Donnelly suffered a huge accident which destroyed his Lotus. Due to Jerez’s remote location, deep within rural Andalucia and the scale of Donnelly’s accident, the Spanish Grand Prix moved to it’s current home, the Circuit de Catalunya in 1991 where Nigel would win the first two races in his Williams.
F1 has remained at the Circuit de Catalunya ever since, and despite a mooted agreement to alternate the race with the now derelict Valencia Street Circuit, the Spanish Grand Prix’s current home has stood the test of time. Michael Schumacher remains the driver with the most Spanish Grand Prix wins to his name (six), and Ferrari are still some way ahead of McLaren and Williams in terms of constructors victories (12 to 8). The Spanish Grand Prix, and it’s early season slot have been a staple of the F1 calendar for as long as many of us can remember, and it will be fascinating to see just how long the race remains in today’s ever changing Formula One landscape.