Montmelò, the spiritual home of Formula 1® in Spain

Up to then, Formula 1® had visited four Spanish circuits: Pedralbes, Jarama, Montjuich and Jerez, adding up to around 20 grands prix in total. This was still nothing like France, which has hosted F1® at seven different venues: Reims, Rouen, Clermont Ferrand, Le Mans, Le Castellet, Dijon and Magny Cours. But there was at least still a wide geographical spread, as well an ample variety of circuits in Spain.

And then, suddenly, Barcelona arrived. Or, to be more precise, Montmelò. Think of Catalonia’s principal city (or, as the locals call it, the capital) and what springs instantly to mind are Las Ramblas, elegant boulevards, and the stunning coastal boardwalk. 
Montmelò isn’t quite the same. It’s fair to say that the area actually hosting the venue for the Spanish Grand Prix, far from the city centre, is less appealing. Rather than Gaudi’s architectural conceits, the hills around Montmelò showcase extensive and obviously productive industry. The track is next to the motorway coming down from the south of France, but there the glamour stops. The closest real town to the circuit, Granollers, doesn’t have a huge amount to offer the tourist either. So how come Montmelò has been the king of Spanish Formula 1® since 1991, with no pretenders to its throne? It all comes down passion in the end, rather than politics or industry. Catalonia was very much the economic powerhouse of Spain in the 1990s, helping the Montmelò circuit to make its mark in the rarefied world of Formula 1®

But the real reason why this circuit to the north of Barcelona has been so successful is because of its unique technical characteristics. There are a lot of corners and they are all very different, including some that are of massive technical and sporting significance. 
Only one let-up punctuates the frenetic action over the course of a lap, which is the long pit straight that gradually descends all the way to the braking area before the first corner: approached by the drivers at more than 300kph. 
This is an extremely complicated braking area, then afterwards a sharp right-left leads onto the biggest climb of the circuit that ends in a seemingly never-ending right hand corner: a place where champions can make the difference and where aerodynamic load is at its highest. It’s called, somewhat prosaically, Turn 3. 
The corner is still climbing as it goes endlessly on, and it’s not at all the sort of place where you might try anything heroic. And yet in 2013 Fernando Alonso improvised a remarkable overtaking move round the outside, on a bit of track where nobody else dared go. He famously went on to win the race; his final Ferrari victory. The elevation drops off after Turn 3 but the Catalan circuit still delivers a rollercoaster ride of acceleration, braking, and hugely varied technical corners that go up and down all the way to the long final corner. That last bend is now interrupted by a chicane, but until about 10 years ago this downhill bend was one of the most dramatic places on the entire world championship: as two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen will remember well, retiring his McLaren-Mercedes almost within sight of the flag at the 2001 race with a technical problem.
This year Barcelona (or rather Montmelò) hosts Formula 1® for the 27th consecutive time. And that probably now makes it the spiritual home of Spanish motorsport.

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