For a long time Spain’s motor racing tradition was primarily on two wheels. Still today the Iberian Peninsula is one of the most fertile lands for motorcycle racing but in the last 25 years the performances of two drivers have led to a boom in interest in four-wheeled sport: Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso. Both are double world champions – Sainz in the WRC and Alonso in Formula 1 – but Fernando still aims to add to his haul.
The Spanish Grand Prix first entered the Formula 1 calendar in 1951, and since 1991 it has been held at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona. From the 22 races that have taken place on this track, Scuderia Ferrari has seven victories – the last in 2007, the year in which Kimi Raikkonen took the world championship. That is a very strong tradition, but what has made the Spanish round really special for the whole Scuderia has been the arrival of Fernando Alonso at the team.
In the last ten years the annual visit to this track has become an amazing event, mostly due to the passion of Fernando’s fans, who have transformed the grand prix into a real party. It could be no different given that the Spanish driver continues to cement his status as the national figurehead in motor racing. The big turnout of fans packing out the circuit’s grandstands from the start of free practice on Friday shows the huge passion, leading to a sea of hundreds of Spanish and Asturian flags for the whole weekend.
Alonso’s home race has always been rewarding and touching but at the same time it is very demanding. That is a mix of emotions that Fernando experienced for the first time in 2001 at his first Spanish Grand Prix. He finished his weekend with 13th place at the wheel of his Minardi – and it’s been uphill ever since. Of his 11 appearances, the 2006 victory stands out: a success he took in front of the King of Spain, Juan Carlos. In total Fernando has reached the podium six times and, in his three races for Ferrari, his record stands at two podiums and a fifth place.
“The wins at Barcelona in 2006, Monza in 2010 and Valencia last year are unquestionably the races that have given me the best emotions of my career,” said Fernando. “The warmth of the fans and the feeling you get when you race in Spain are always special, from the moment you arrive at the airport and you head to the hotel and the circuit. From the first laps on the track on Friday and Saturday morning you can immediately feel the passion of the fans in the grandstands and that sparks off extra motivation because you want to do that little bit extra to make sure they can celebrate. That’s how the search begins for that elusive tenth of a second of performance that you are always seeking when you’re in a Formula 1 car.”
Felipe Massa also has a good record at this track. The Brazilian driver took pole position and victory at the wheel of the Ferrari in 2007. Felipe also made it to the Circuit de Catalunya podium the following year, finishing second behind his team-mate Raikkonen in the last of the four one-twos the Scuderia has secured in the Spanish Grand Prix.
“I really like going to Spain,” said Felipe. “I’ve always liked both the feel of Barcelona itself and the atmosphere at the track during the race weekend. The Circuit de Catalunya is the track that we know best thanks to all the tests that we do there at the start of the year: it’s a complex, technical track where it’s important to have good aerodynamic downforce. My best memory from Barcelona came in 2007 when I won the race: it was a great victory in front of a fantastic crowd that saw me fight with many opponents – including Fernando, who was then at McLaren. Obviously I’m not happy with my last race in Bahrain and so I hope to be able to get back to fighting for the top places this weekend.”
In the 2013 championship the Barcelona round will be the only one on Spanish territory – by contrast with the last five seasons when the Formula 1 World Championship had a second race in the country, the European Grand Prix at the Valencia street circuit. Interestingly the first and the last editions of that race were won by the current Ferrari duo: Felipe in 2008 and Fernando last year after he pulled off an outstanding and unforgettable climb through the field.