PESSIMISTIC 💔 :F1’s lost legend and his epic race win😭💔

Before the Spanish GP turned dull :F1’s lost legend and his epic race win

The Circuit de Cataluyna has struggled to provide thrillers, but as Matt Bishop writes, the Spanish GP has thrown up landmark moments in F1 history

Every year since 1991 the Spanish Grand Prix has been held at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and, as sadly we saw again on Sunday, it rarely delivers an exciting race. There have been exceptions, especially when it has rained, as in 1996, when Michael Schumacher produced a masterclass in a dog of a Ferrari to win by 45 seconds and inspire a watching Stirling Moss to say, “That wasn’t a race; that was a demonstration of brilliance; the man is in a class of his own; there’s never been a driver so clear of the field in ability; it was one of the most fantastic demonstrations of skill I’ve ever seen.” In his pomp Moss had raced not only Juan Manuel Fangio but also Jim Clark, let us not forget.

There have been other good races at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, but I will mention just one more, and again inclement weather intervened in a positive way. In 1991, the first time a grand prix was held there, on a wet-then-dry-then-wet-then-dry track, Nigel Mansell won brilliantly, and who among us cannot summon to our mind’s eye the image of his Williams wheel to wheel with Ayrton Senna’s McLaren, the two cars just inches apart, as they hurtled down the main straight together? But too many Spanish Grands Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya have been just a tad dull.

A Spanish Grand Prix was first held 110 years ago, at Guadarrama, near Madrid, a 103km (64-mile) road course, then not again until 10 years later, at Sitges-Terramar, which was the fourth purpose-built racetrack ever constructed (after Brooklands, Indianapolis and Monza) and, like those three, included steep banking. It is now home to a chicken farm, which is probably why Jeremy Clarkson thought it amusing to drive a car there on The Grand Tour. From 1926 the Spanish Grand Prix was held, on and off, at Lasarte, near San Sebastian, but after the 1935 race there, in which Rudolf Caracciola, Luigi Fagioli and Manfred von Brauchitsch delivered a Mercedes-Benz 1-2-3, racing in Spain was abruptly ended by civil war. There were only two more Spanish Grands Prix between then and 1967, in 1951 and 1954, both at Pedralbes, in Barcelona, which was that almost unheard-of thing until the arrival in 2021 of the Jeddah Corniche circuit in Saudi Arabia: a superfast street circuit.

Fittipaldi talks to McLaren’s Teddy Mayer at Montjuïch Park in 1975 before withdrawing

More recently Spanish Formula 1 races have been held in Jerez and Valencia, albeit not always classified as Spanish Grands Prix, and in the 1970s the race was held at either Jarama or Montjuïch, another superfast street circuit in Barcelona. Indeed, if you walk it today, as I have, it is difficult to believe that Formula 1 cars raced flat-out there four times (1969, 1971, 1973 and 1975). Undoubtedly, it was too dangerous. Emerson Fittipaldi won there for Lotus in 1973, but in 1975, by then a McLaren man, he did not race there at all. I asked him about it a few years ago.

“As I jogged around the circuit on the Thursday before the race, I noticed that many guardrails were tied with very thin wire. I told Teddy [Mayer, the then McLaren boss] that I was OK with normal risks but this was unacceptable. [Jean-Marie] Balestre [then FIA President] said I had to race or I’d be banned from the next race, Monaco. So I raced exactly one lap, pulled into the pits, then got out and drove to Barcelona Airport to fly home to Geneva.

“As I walked out into the arrivals hall, I was stopped by lots of TV reporters. I assumed they wanted to ask me why I didn’t race – but, no, they wanted to ask me what I thought of the fact that the race was stopped after just 29 laps, that there were a lot of big shunts, and that one of them caused the deaths of five spectators. Terrible. So I was right to defy Balestre, and of course he didn’t ban me from racing at Monaco.”

That leaves Jarama, near Madrid, which hosted nine championship grands prix and two non-championship F1 races between 1967 and 1981. It was narrow and twisty, was never therefore regarded at the time as a great circuit despite having been designed by John Hugenholtz, who also created the magnificent Suzuka, but it is in my view underrated. Only charismatic drivers ever won Formula 1 races there – Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Mario Andretti, Patrick Depailler, Alan Jones and Gilles Villeneuve. The French-Canadian’s final grand prix win there in 1981, at Jarama’s last world championship event, was simply extraordinary.

Villeneuve holds off a charging Laffite and Watson for a famous final F1 win in Jarama

In a Ferrari that had no business being anywhere near the lead of a Formula 1 race – the 126C, which he called “a big red Cadillac” and the team’s new technical director Harvey Postlethwaite said had “a quarter of the downforce of the Williams, Brabham or Ligier” – Villeneuve did something almost impossible: he won. Not only did he win, but he won on a circuit on which overtaking was extremely tricky, despite having qualified only seventh, behind not only a number of Ligiers and Williamses but also a McLaren, a Renault and an Alfa Romeo. He crossed the finish line just ahead of a train of cars markedly wieldier than his big red Cadillac, the five of them covered by just 1.240 seconds. In the last few laps he switched off his rev limiter – to hell with the consequences – and his engine held together despite the abuse

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