Formula One comes back to Catalonia as locals fear for its future

The engines are rumbling but local businesses are grumbling amid concerns the Spanish Grand Prix could be entering its final lap

Preparations for the latest and possibly last Spanish Grand Prix
Preparations for the latest and possibly last Spanish Grand Prix / Daniel Wittenberg

Daniel Wittenberg | Barcelona

May 10, 2019 05:42 PM

The familiar noise of Formula One is once again reverberating across the eastern valleys of Catalonia as one of world's fastest and most contentious sports comes back to the comparatively tranquil industrial province around Granollers.

The Spanish Grand Prix – the traditional jump start for the European part of the championship, held every year since 1991 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – is back in force this weekend, however there are fears it could be the last.

"Lack of concrete support"

Hotel owners in towns near the racetrack, located around 30km from the center of Barcelona, have expressed "serious concerns" that its current contract with Formula One, which runs out this season, might not be renewed, blaming a "lack of concrete support" from the environmentalist outgoing Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau.

"The Grand Prix is the star product of the season for our region," Enric Gisbert, head of the local hotel association, told the Catalan News Agency (ACN). "We have no beach, no snow, no other attraction that gives us such a substantial source of income, which helps to guarantee the 500 jobs that our hotels currently generate."

Financial turbocharging

Formula One has been credited with turbocharging the local economy in recent times. Last year, more than 90,000 spectators attended the event, which extends into a long weekend with the added spectacle of practice sessions and a qualifying shoot-out, bringing in an estimated 180 million euros for the Catalan economy.

More than half of the visitors come from outside Spain, providing a quarter of annual profits for neighboring hotels, as well as added income from tourism for Barcelona in the form of day trips or holidays planned around the race.

"Losing Formula One would be a disaster," Gisbert added. "An entire sector that has been toiling away for the last 25 years would disappear in five minutes. We expect politicians to realize its importance and make an effort to keep it."

Funding from Barcelona

Although the race track is outside the precinct of Barcelona City Council, the support of its mayor has long been vital for funding the maintenance of the circuit, which was built in 1991 ahead of the Barcelona Olympics the following year.

In 2013, the city of Barcelona signed a sponsorship deal with the venue, on the basis that its flagship event is bound to boost tourism in the Catalan capital as well as its surroundings. This has enabled the circuit to stay in pole position to stage both Formula One and motorcycle races, as well as hosting high-profile test sessions.

However, Colau's silence on the future of the showpiece, having expressed reservations in the past, has led to doubt over her commitment and prompted speculation that the mayor may be prepared to park the Spanish Grand Prix.