Classified spotlight: Lost Circuits of F1- Montjuïc,Barcelona

The Spanish Grand Prix has called Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya home ever since it was completed back in 1991, but this is not the first track that Formula 1 has raced on in the Catalan capital.
Wind the clock back to 1969 and F1 was racing around Montjuïc mountain, right in the centre of Barcelona.

The Spanish Grand Prix was held four times on Circuit Montjuïc, in 1969, ’71, ’73 and ’75 before the event moved to Jarama full-time.

It is most distinguished for both the fatal crash that led to its departure from the F1 calendar and for holding the only F1 race to date in which a female driver scored World Championship points.

Montjuic Park lies to the south west of Barcelona’s city centre on top of a 180m high hill overlooking the harbour. 
In 1913 the park was selected to host a world fair but it took until 1929 before the event finally went ahead. The park is dominated by the magnificent Palau Nacional – its domed architecture having been inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. 
This was completed in 1929 before becoming an Art museum in 1934.

During the same period, the Olympic Stadium was constructed with the intention of hosting the 1936 Olympics but Barcelona lost out to Berlin in the selection process and the facilities would not be used until the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The track itself was made up of city streets and cobbled pavements which followed the contours of the hill and circulated the Palau.
The opening half of the lap was a steep downhill section which included hairpins whereas the second part of the lap was fast, sweeping bends which challenged the drivers in the same manner as Spa’s flat-out corners.

From 1933-36, the Penya Rhin Grand Prix was held on what became the Montjuic circuit with winners including Achille Varzi, Luigi Fagioli and Tazio Nuvolari. 
It would be another thirty years before a racing engine coughed into life in this majestic wonderland.

The Montjuic circuit welcomed a very different racing animal back in 1966 when the ‘Real Automovile Club de Catuluna’ reopened the track to International Formula Two races. 
The pre-war track had given way to modern technology and the roads had been resurfaced for the sensitive modern machinery. Steel barriers were installed around the entire perimeter of the track to keep errant cars out of the numerous trees and buildings that surrounded the track.

New directives on safety meant that installation of these barriers was considered as a true advancement in safety as these were only starting to be introduced in F1. 

Sadly, in many ways, this presented a bitter irony when you realise why Montjuic was finally declared unsafe merely nine years later.

4th May 1969 – Montjuic hosted its first F1 race and it gave fore-warning of the nightmare that would end its tenure of Grand Prix racing when both Graham Hill and his team-mate Jochen Rindt crashed out due to failures of their respective rear wings..

18th April 1971 – Montjuic hosted the Spanish GP again. It was the race that witnessed the introduction of the slick tyre and also marked the first ever win by a Tyrrell chassis.

29th April 1973 – the race was dominated by the JPS Lotus team. Ronnie Peterson took pole position by 0.7 seconds and dominated the race until his gearbox broke 19 laps from the end. His team-mate Emerson Fittipaldi took over the lead but a slowly deflating tyre made his last laps an education in concentration.

1975 -The teams arrived in Barcelona for the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix to find the barriers in a woeful state. The original fitment of the barriers had been genuinely considered as pioneering but by 1975 they were in poor condition after their fitment and dismantling over the previous six years. Some bolts were only finger tight, others were smaller than the bolt holes and many of the support posts could be moved easily by hand.

In recent years the drivers had witnessed the deaths of Peter Revson, Francois Cevert and Helmuth Koinigg in which poorly assembled guard rails had been the main contributing factor to their deaths. Many drivers, with the Grand Prix Drivers Association supporting them, refused to drive. 
The spectators had little sympathy for the drivers and in an era of change spreading through the sport, even the journalists were displeased by developments.

Circuit officials promised that there would be overnight repairs and the drivers agreed to inspect the barriers the next day. Tyrrell’s designer – Derek Gardner – calculated that it would take 1,600 men eight hours to complete the repairs whilst watching a handful working on the barriers overnight.

On Saturday James Hunt commented that the work that had been done was only cosmetic and team members went round the track repairing the barrier themselves. 
The CSI, the FIA of the day, declared the circuit complied to F1 race standards

Around 4pm the organisers gave the drivers an ultimatum, either honour the contract to race or the Spanish police would impound all teams equipment. The drivers made their way to the cars and prepared for final practice.

Emerson Fittipaldi honoured his contract by running three laps – the quickest of which was 2’10:2 as opposed to pole man Niki Lauda on 1’23:4 and departed the circuit. Everyone else took to the circuit and qualified for the race.

The lack of running on this most challenging of tracks contributed to a number of accidents and at the start the Ferraris running into the first hairpin were swiped out of the race by Mario Andretti nudging the rear of Lauda and spinning him into Clay Regazzoni. Hunt emerged in the lead followed by Andretti and John Watson, but Hunt slid into a barrier after hitting oil on the seventh lap, Watson stopped with vibrations and Andretti’s rear suspension collapsed on lap 16.

Rolf Stommelen now led in his Embassy Hill with Carlos Pace close behind. On lap 26, Montjuic was consigned to the memories and history books. Just after the start line as Stommelen approached the left hander his rear wing came off.

The car snapped sharply to the left into the barrier and rebounded across the track in mid-air. Due to the crest of the hill the car vaulted the barrier on the other side of the road killing five spectators and injuring a further ten. Stommelen survived although he had broken both legs, his wrist and two ribs.

The barrier had stood up to the impact; it had been the Hill mechanics who had ensured this section of barrier was in good order. Rolf was slumped in the wreckage, staring straight ahead, and his car had come to rest on a spectator. The race continued for another four laps and it took at least ten minutes for an ambulance to reach the scene.

Jochen Mass overtook Jacky Ickx for the win and was awarded his only victory simply because he had been leading at the time of the stoppage. Pace had crashed in avoidance of Stommelen.

And so ended the racing at Montjuic. Its inherent dangers proved less of a problem than the shameful coercion of the organisers and teams forcing the drivers into their cars because commerce and politics over-ruled safety.

Last month, I travelled to Barcelona and was able to walk around the streets of the classic Circuit Montjuïc and see what it looks like today.

I began at the Palau Nacional and cut through the serene parkland to reach the site of the 1992 Summer Olympic Village, the highest part of the old circuit.

I knew that the old track comprised of normal roads but it took a while to realise that I was actually in the right place.

Parked cars lined the twisting road on either side and made it difficult to tell where I was.
The pit buildings had long been demolished, yet the road that ran alongside it still followed pretty much the same path as what it used to.

Instead of F1 cars roaring up the pit-straight, tourists flock to see the 1992 Olympic Village while cars and coaches border the pavements on each side of the road.

Instead of Emerson Fittipaldi’s black and gold Lotus 72, black and yellow taxis now corner around the hairpin at El Angulo de Miramar (Turn 1).

Rosaleda (Turn 2) is just as steep as it used to be and that same lamppost is still there, near the apex.

The area around Teatro Griego (Turn 4) has barely changed in almost half a century.
The main differences being that the small trees aren’t very small anymore and that bollards have replaced the barriers.

The buildings around Vias (Turn 5) haven’t changed a bit, although the lack of a grandstands these days make it impossible to get that angle.

The drivers would blast past the beautiful Palau Nacional and begin the climb back up the mountain.

They would then have to negotiate the fast left-right bends at La Pergola and Pueblo Espanol (Turns 7 & 8)…

Before taking the roundabout at Avenguda de l’estadi and roaring up to the start/finish line once again.

Circuit Montjuic is the personification of the phrase “The more things change, the more they stay the same”, because although it appears that the area hasn’t altered much since the 60’s, it’s the fine details that have.

That, coupled with the work that was completed for the Olympic Games, make parts of the area unrecognisable today and nobody would ever guess that there was once a Grand Prix track here.

The thing that struck me most, however, was how difficult it was to find information on the circuit in general.
There was no memorial to the five who were killed in 1975.

The Memorial of the race was hidden from the public.

In addition, I couldn’t find any archive images of Turns 6 to 11, it’s as if they never existed. 
It is truly a disservice to the circuit that it has become so lost to time and to Formula 1 history.

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