The Circuito Urbano Valencia will become the sixth Spanish circuit to host a round of the world championship this weekend.
It will also be the third Spanish street track to hold a round of the championship. The previous two such circuit – Pedralbes and Montjuich Park – were lost from the championship following concerns over safety. Here’s look at the history of those tracks with some video footage.
Grand Prix winners
1951 – Juan Manuel Fangio
1954 – Mike Hawthorn
Pedralbes was first used to hold the non-championship Penya Rhin Grand Prix in 1946, in the west of Barcelona. It attracted a strong entry in 1948 and in 1951 held the final round of the world championship.
Ferrari’s Alberto Ascari and Alfa Romeo’s Juan Manuel Fangio went into that race in contention for the title, but although Ascari took pole position his tyres quickly wore out and Fangio took the win and the championship.
Pedralbes held the final round of the championship again three years later but this time Fangio had already won the championship. Mike Hawthorn won the race despite spinning early on, fighting past Harry Schell, Ascari and Maurice Trintignant.
In 1955 the Le Mans Disaster, which claimed the lives of 80 spectators and one driver, forced a re-appraisal of safety standards at circuits, and Pedralbes was never used for a round of the championship again.
The circuit, as used in its world championship years, was 6.3km (3.9 miles) long, with the start/finish line on the Avenida del Generalissimo Franco leading into a right-hand hairpin. A flick left led into a looping right-hander down the Avenida de la Victoria, followed by a left-hander after which the cars ran parallel to the main straight. Two right-handers brought the cars back to the start/finish area.
More about Pedralbes: F1 circuits history part 2: 1951-3
This video tells the story of the 1951 championship-decider:
Montjuich Park, Barcelona
Grand Prix winners
1969 – Jackie Stewart
1971 – Jackie Stewart
1973 – Emerson Fittipaldi
1975 – Jochen Mass
Also in Barcelona, Montjuich too held the Penya Rhin Grand Prix in 1933. The onset of the Spanish Civil War interrupted its use for racing. But after the installation of the regime of General Franco racing returned to the track in 1950, though not as part of the championship.
In 1969 Montjuich held a round of the world championship for the first time. It came as F1 teams were experimenting with aerodynamic devices for the first time and Lotus’s Graham Hill crashed out when the thin struts supporting one of his wings collapsed as he crested a rise on the track.
He tried to signal a warning to team mate Jochen Rindt but the Austrian suffered the same fate. The Lotus nearly cleared the crash barrier, hit Hill’s abandoned car, and rolled over. Hill and several spectators helped the wounded Rindt out of the car. Two weeks later aerofoils were banned.
Jackie Stewart won the race and he triumphed again in 1971 in the second world championship round at Montjuich (races in the intervening years were held at Jarama) after Chris Amon’s engine blew. The 1973 win went to Emerson Fittipaldi, but disaster struck the track once again in 1975.
By this time the issue of safety was becoming increasingly serious but as the drivers put pressure on the governing body to make changes they found themselves part of political arguments being fought with race organisers.
The Spanish Grand Prix organisers refused to accept the driver’s demands to install Armco barriers around the track. As the teams were based in a disused sports stadium with a single extrance the race organisers were in the perfect position to threaten to confiscate their equipment if they refused to compete.
The teams sent their mechanics around the track to securely fix as much of the barriers as they could. Fittipaldi did a handful of practice laps at reduced speed before withdrawing.
On the 26th lap of the race Rolf Stommelen crashed hard into a barrier. It folded beneath his car and launched it into a marshal’s post. Five people were killed though Stommelen escaped with leg injuries. Four laps later the race was stopped, and Jochen Mass declared the winner. Nigel Roebuck’s account of the carnage is particularly harrowing:
After the accident the Guardia Civil was just lashing out at anyone and everyone. There was complete bedlam. It was just unforgettable, seeing Rolf still slumped in the wreckage of the car at the top of the hill, conscious and staring straight ahead, and clearly in huge pain from his broken legs. Under the monocoque there was a body and the place was strewn with wreckage. There was a total absence of control. It really was a scene from hell.
Suffice to say, F1 did not return to Montjuich Park.
Despite the horror of 1975 the 3.7km (2.5 miles) Montjuich Park was an attractive setting for a Grand Prix circuit. It dipped and swooped through the parkland setting. From the start/finish line at the south end of the track it ran anti-clockwise, with two hairpin early in the lap before the track opened up with a series of very fast, sweeping bends.
Read more about Montjuich Park: F1 circuits history part 6: 1967-70
The afternath of the 1975 accident can be seen in this video, and the images of Stommelen’s car hint at the severity of the impact:
F1 cars returned to Montjuich Park last year for a demonstration event to commemorate its 75th anniversary. You can see pictures of the cars on Flickr here.