The familiar noise of Formula One is once again reverberating across the eastern valleys of Catalonia as one of world’s fastest and most contentious sports comes back to the comparatively tranquil industrial province around Granollers.
The Spanish Grand Prix – the traditional jump start for the European part of the championship, held every year since 1991 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – is back in force this weekend, however there are fears it could be the last.
Driver Carlos Sainz concedes the Spanish Grand Prix could be set to drop off next year’s Formula One race calendar but remains hopeful the long-term future of the event can be saved.
Sainz became the sole Spaniard on the Formula One grid this year after Fernando Alonso retired from the sport and fears over the future of his home race have grown in recent weeks following media reports that Zandvoort in the Holland could make a return to the F1 calendar at Circuit de Catalunya’s expense.
‘Obviously for me it would be a big loss on the calendar, but as far as I know, negotiations are still ongoing and nothing has been confirmed,’ Sainz said to the press this week. ‘I am just wishing that all the institutions are going to do their job and agree on something. I think it’s in their own benefit, of Barcelona, of Spain, of Formula 1.
‘I think the Spanish Grand Prix has a lot of history in Formula 1. I think this track has a lot of history in Formula 1, and it would be a big shame to lose it.’
Hotel owners in towns near the racetrack, located around 30km from the centre of Barcelona, have also expressed ‘serious concerns’ that its current contract with Formula One, which runs out this season, might not be renewed, blaming a ‘lack of concrete support’ from the environmentalist Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau.
‘The Grand Prix is the star product of the season for our region,’ Enric Gisbert, head of the local hotel association, told the Catalan News Agency (ACN). ‘We have no beach, no snow, no other attraction that gives us such a substantial source of income, which helps to guarantee the 500 jobs that our hotels currently generate.’
Formula One has been credited with turbo-charging the local economy in recent times. Last year, more than 90,000 spectators attended the event, which extends into a long weekend with the added spectacle of practice sessions and a qualifying shoot-out, bringing in an estimated 180 million euros for the Catalan economy.
More than half of the visitors come from outside Spain, providing a quarter of annual profitsfor neighbouring hotels, as well as added income from tourism for Barcelona in the form of day trips or holidays planned around the race.
‘Losing Formula One would be a disaster,’ Gisbert added. ‘An entire sector that has been toiling away for the last 25 years would disappear in five minutes. We expect politicians to realise its importance and make an effort to keep it.’
Although the race track is outside the precinct of Barcelona City Council, the support of its mayor has long been vital for funding the maintenance of the circuit, which was built in 1991 ahead of the Barcelona Olympics the following year.
In 2013, the city of Barcelona signed a sponsorship deal with the venue, on the basis that its flagship event is bound to boost tourism in the Catalan capital as well as its surroundings. This has enabled the circuit to stay in pole position to stage both Formula One and motorcycle races, as well as hosting high-profile test sessions.
However, Colau’s silence on the future of the showpiece, having expressed reservations in the past, has led to doubt over her commitment and prompted speculation that the mayor may be prepared to park the Spanish Grand Prix.