It’s long been a rumour that F1 was heading to Madrid and finally, it’s been confirmed with a 10-year deal to be put in place starting from 2026. The big question mark is what yet another street circuit means for the future of F1.
The Madrid race will be held at the IFEMA exhibition venue and isn’t a pure street circuit, rather it’s been described as a hybrid track with over two thirds of the track resembling a permanent one.
The Fate of Barcelona
The first question people asked was whether Barcelona will be removed from the calendar? Formula 1 CEO, Stefano Domenicali, made it very clear that there is room for both Spanish races.
“For the avoidance of doubt and to clarify here, the fact we are in Madrid is not excluding the fact we could stay in Barcelona for the future,” he told Formula 1.com.
“Looking ahead, there are discussions in place to see if we can really extend our collaboration with Barcelona, with whom we have a very good relationship, for the future.”
So it’s not a given that Barcelona will be axed, especially considering that Spain has been loving F1 recently. In 2023, the country had a total season TV audience of 77 million, an 84 percent increase against 2022. The demand is there to host both races, but there’s another reason to keep the Barcelona circuit around.
While the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya doesn’t offer the most exciting races, it’s one of the few circuits on the calendar where future talent from junior categories can actually bridge the knowledge gap when they enter F1. It isn’t just related to Formula 2 and 3, but other series as well. It’s easily the most well-known track to all drivers coming into F1.
Losing Barcelona would hamper Formula 1’s ability to foster new talent by removing part of their grassroots efforts. The junior categories don’t just provide drivers, but engineers and mechanics all of which need tracks like Barcelona and Silverstone to prepare for Formula 1.
Street Circuits vs Permanent Circuits
There is debate among the F1 fanbase and even from those in the paddock about the prevalence of street circuits. Frankly, they make a lot of money regardless of the quality of racing provided.
The reason Formula 1 are adding more street circuits is “to put fans at the heart of a race weekend,” according to Williams’ blog post. Basically, the official reason is that city locations are easier to reach than permanent tracks often found further away from metropolitan areas, something that Domenicali mentions.
“They have presented a fascinating project, one that will be built in the next couple of years and a project that is considering the fans and their whole experience, from their travel to the whole event experience,” Domenicali said.
Street circuits are also great for the host city. The event generates money and interest for both Formula 1 and the host city. Domenicali essentially corroborates this when discussing the possibility of hosting both races in Spain.
“It’s a nice problem to have, to have multiple cities – some in the same country – wanting to host a Grand Prix. It shows the value of our proposition.”
Formula 1 is a business after all, and street circuits provide great value for all stakeholders, meaning that the sport gets more offers from potential hosts who want to see a prestigious event in their city on a track that also shows off the best of their city. It’s sport and tourism all in one and it’s proving to be a winning strategy.
Will the spirit of the sport be sacrificed for all this growth? Only time will tell.