Barcelona set to remain only grand prix in Spain

Fernando Alonso fans in Barcelona

Fernando Alonso fans in Barcelona

Barcelona is ready to deal a blow to fellow Spanish city Valencia’s hopes of a return to the Formula One calendar next year, the head of its Circuit de Catalunya said on Saturday.

The track’s director general Salvador Servia played down suggestions that Barcelona, which has hosted an annual grand prix since 1991, would be forced to alternate with Valencia, which has been dropped from the schedule this season.

“We are working on next year. We have already published the ticket prices for 2014,” Servia told Reuters, adding that Barcelona wanted to extend a contract that ran until 2016 to remain a permanent fixture on the calendar.

“We have done 23 years of Formula One and our objective is to do another 23 years.”

Hit hard by an economic crisis that has left almost five million unemployed, Spain has been reduced to hosting just one race this year for the first time since 2007.

Circuits pay millions of dollars in hosting fees to Formula One management for the right to put on races.

The street circuit at Valencia, down the coast from Barcelona, staged the European Grand Prix from 2008-12.

Almost three-quarters of the crowd at the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend are coming from abroad, Servia said, helping to offset the impact of lower ticket sales to locals.

“Last year we started selling overseas, targeting travel agencies and tour operators and we carried the same way this year,” he said. “We have sold quite a lot in England, Germany and France.”

Barcelona has the advantage of being the first European race of the season. It is easy to reach by road from neighbouring France and is well served by relatively cheap flights from nearby countries.

Servia said motor racing fans were combining the race with a short holiday in the Catalan capital or on the coast.

He is expecting a crowd of around 93,000 on Sunday, ending a decline that set in after attendances peaked at 140,000 in 2007 when Spaniard Fernando Alonso had just won back-to-back world championships.

The circuit, 80 percent owned by the Catalan government, makes a loss on race weekend but Servia said the race brought broader economic benefits.

The direct economic impact from hosting motor sport is estimated at 160 million euros ($208 million) annually, he said, noting the Formula One weekend made up the bulk of that sum.

“We are in a crisis but we will carry on putting on the grand prix with all the qualities as if we were still rich,” he said. (Reuters)