Lost F1 tracks: The madness of Montjuic Park

Decades before the Spanish Grand Prix found a permanent home in Montmelo, Barcelona’s daunting Montjuic street circuit was one of the most feared venues on the Formula 1 calendar.

Lost F1 tracks: The madness of Montjuic Park

Montmelo’s Circuit de Catalunya was constructed as part of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The newly-built circuit 30 minutes outside Barcelona would host the cycling team time trial event, but was conceived with a long-term goal in mind to bring Formula 1 back to the Catalan metropole.

Fittingly, many actual Olympic venues were constructed on the site of Barcelona’s previous Formula 1 venue: Montjuic.

The iconic hill overlooking the city played a crucial part in several stages of Barcelona’s eventful history. Due to its strategic location, Montjuic was the ideal site for medieval fortifications.

In modern times the hill retained its importance, hosting the 1929 World Fair. In the ‘30s the city prepared an anti-fascist alternative to Adolf Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics, which was cancelled due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

Between 1933 and 1936 Montjuic also hosted four editions of the Penya Rhin Grand Prix, a race which was irregularly hosted on three different street circuits in different Barcelona suburbs: Villafranca, Montjuic and Pedralbes. In 1936 the celebrated Italian Tazio Nuvolari won the last edition on Montjuic.

After World War II, Barcelona first joined the world championship in 1951 at Pedralbes, but following the 1955 Le Mans disaster, the high-speed street track disappeared from the calendar.

Formula 1 returned to Spain in the sixties. Jarama, a permanent facility outside Madrid, would alternate with the returning Montjuic.

Bruce McLaren passes the Palacio de la Agricultura, now a theatre, in the 1969 Spanish Grand Prix

Bruce McLaren passes the Palacio de la Agricultura, now a theatre, in the 1969 Spanish Grand Prix

The Montjuic street track was a joy to behold. Meandering its way around the history-infused hill, the 3.79km track connected several iconic locations and breathtaking sights.

The paddock was located at the old Olympic stadium. At the end of an undulating straight, cars would descend down to the famous Magic Fountain, passing the old Greek Theatre and the National Arts Museum. A high-speed loop past the Poble Espanyol open air museum would send them back onto the main straight.

Montjuic was a glorious location for motor racing, featuring changes in altitude and camber reminiscent of Monaco. But it was also dangerous. The final flat-out sector was particularly quick for a street track.

Even more problematic was that run-off was non-existent. The track was lined with trees, only separated from the racing line by makeshift guardrails.

Tom Pryce and Arturo Merzario battle it out past one of the 1929 World Fair sites

Tom Pryce and Arturo Merzario battle it out past one of the 1929 World Fair sites

Things came to a head in 1975, when several drivers protested after a track inspection revealed that several parts of the guardrails were not mounted properly.

The gruesome deaths of François Cevert and Helmuth Koinigg - both killed at Watkins Glen in previous years after contact with loose guardrails - were still fresh on people’s minds.

Motorsport authority FISA pressured local organisers into fixing their guardrails, but those fixes too appeared to have been questionable at best. The first Friday practice session was cancelled, while only a handful of drivers made it out for the second session.

Once again, overnight repairs didn’t appear to satisfy the drivers. After three laps on Saturday Emerson Fittipaldi had seen enough. The Brazilian climbed out of his McLaren M23 and left for the airport.

It was a sign of the times that the race went ahead anyway, even without the reigning world champion and despite a negative outcome of a vote among entrants.

Montjuic's hairpins and cambered turns were reminiscent of Monaco

Montjuic's hairpins and cambered turns were reminiscent of Monaco

During the race, the paddock’s worst fears became a reality when Rolf Stommelen lost the rear wing of his Embassy Hill machine and somersaulted over the guardrails. Five spectators, including a photographer and a fireman, were killed.

The tragedy sealed the race's fate and F1 would never return to the winding streets of one of the most daunting venues in its history.

After spells at Jarama and the southern Jerez track, F1 would ultimately come full circle and return to Barcelona in 1991.

While Montjuic remained the cultural heart of the Catalan capital, motor racing finally found a more suitable home.

The start of the ill-fated 1975 Spanish Grand Prix

The start of the ill-fated 1975 Spanish Grand Prix

shares
comments
Perez using Verstappen's car set-up to avoid getting "lost"
Previous article

Perez using Verstappen's car set-up to avoid getting "lost"

Next article

Vettel: ‘Wasted opportunity’ if Aston Martin writes off 2021 season

Vettel: ‘Wasted opportunity’ if Aston Martin writes off 2021 season
Load comments
Why Mercedes' Spanish GP gains aren't as grand as they seemed Prime

Why Mercedes' Spanish GP gains aren't as grand as they seemed

Mercedes' strong showing in last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix prompted team boss Toto Wolff to say it had halved its deficit to the leaders and its Formula 1 title chances were back on after a rocky start to the 2022 campaign. But a closer inspection of the team's performance suggests its gains aren't as grand as they first appeared

What's next for the Green Red Bull controversy? Prime

What's next for the Green Red Bull controversy?

From the 'pink Mercedes' to the 'Green Red Bull', the Silverstone-based team has received suspicious glares from up and down the Formula 1 paddock over its car design exploits. But after being cleared by the FIA over its Spanish Grand Prix updates amid a backdrop of cries of foul play, what's next in this saga?

Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022 Prime

Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022

In an unusually hectic Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc was denied a dominant performance by his Ferrari engine letting go which allowed Max Verstappen to pick up the pieces. But numerous flashpoints kept the race twisting and turning throughout, with one perfect score from an emerging contender

Formula 1
May 23, 2022
How Verstappen overcame his and Red Bull’s errors to win in Spain Prime

How Verstappen overcame his and Red Bull’s errors to win in Spain

Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari engine disaster offered an open goal for Max Verstappen and Red Bull to strike, but the reigning Formula 1 world champion still had to solve multiple errors and profit from a begrudged assist from team-mate Sergio Perez, which created an unexpectedly eventful Spanish Grand Prix

Formula 1
May 23, 2022
Why Red Bull can win a Spanish GP that looked perfect for Ferrari Prime

Why Red Bull can win a Spanish GP that looked perfect for Ferrari

Formula 1's return to Spain on Friday ended with Ferrari leading the way from Mercedes, while Red Bull could only manage third fastest overall courtesy of Max Verstappen. But its chances of victory are far from remote with a deeper dig into the times despite Ferrari's strong start...

Formula 1
May 20, 2022
The key aspects of Porsche and Audi's planned F1 entries Prime

The key aspects of Porsche and Audi's planned F1 entries

The VW Group’s German superpowers of sportscar racing have all but confirmed they are coming to F1 when the next set of engine rules come into force in 2026. Here's why both manufacturers are all set to take the plunge, and crucially how it might work

Formula 1
May 19, 2022
How Vegas went from byword for F1 indifference to grand Liberty coup Prime

How Vegas went from byword for F1 indifference to grand Liberty coup

Holding a race in Las Vegas – party central, a city of dreams and decadence and, yes, more than a smattering of tackiness – has been on Liberty Media’s most-wanted list since it acquired Formula 1’s commercial rights. But, as LUKE SMITH explains, F1 has been here before and the relationship didn’t work out

Formula 1
May 18, 2022
Why de Vries' FP1 outing could add a new path to his current crossroads Prime

Why de Vries' FP1 outing could add a new path to his current crossroads

A Formula 2 and Formula E champion, Nyck de Vries is currently considering where his future in motorsport lies. Continuing in WEC and Formula E is possible and he's also courted glances Stateside after impressing in an IndyCar test. But ahead of his Formula 1 FP1 debut with Williams, he could have another option if he impresses...

Formula 1
May 18, 2022