A track to remember with awe
Anthony Rowlinson / 05.15
In a week or so the F1 mega-trucks will rumble into the unremarkable Spanish municipality of Montmeló, 32km north-east of Barcelona. They’ll cover the route to the Circuit de Catalunya, host venue of the Spanish GP, on autopilot, so familiar has it become in the weeks and months spent testing and racing there since 1991.
The C-de-C has grown into a minor modern classic: that’s familiar yet challenging; efficient yet quietly characterful. Everything, in fact, that we’ve come to expect of a latter-day F1 circuit – and an extremely popular one with fans, too, in the Fernando Alonso era.
Few of them though, we’d venture, will know an awful lot about another one-time Spanish GP venue hidden away in Barcelona proper – the terrifying and deadly Montjuïc Park circuit. And this despite the fact that many of them will have strolled around the track without realising they were walking in the wheeltracks of legends: all the ’60s and ’70s F1 greats tested their mettle here – Stewart, Rindt, Lauda, Hunt, Cevert, Ickx, Regazzoni, Fittipaldi, Hill, Hailwood, Reutemann…
Montjuïc is a grand public park these days, home to a number of buildings built for the 1992 Olympics. Hard to imagine that ranks of screaming Cosworth V8s and Ferrari-12s tore around its roads every other year from 1969-1975. Yet they did – ultimately with fatal consequences, as you’ll read on p80 . So as you settle down to enjoy this year’s Spanish GP, perhaps pause to reflect on the risks faced by the F1 superstars of yesteryear as they went about their business.
How might the modern crop of talent have fared at a track so perilous? Well, after the initial culture shock of being asked to race around a circuit with loose safety barriers (yes, really), we’re sure they’d have had a blast, given the Spa-meets-Monaco nature of Montjuïc. Local hero and polesitter Alonso in a McLaren M23, harried into Turn 1 by Seb Vettel in a Ferrari 312T… that would definitely have been worth the price of an entry ticket.
Where in that mix might we have found this month’s cover star, Valtteri Bottas? Let’s say he’d have been a Williams man then, too, although the mid-’70s were just before the team hit the F1 big time. So Bottas, an emerging talent in a tricky Williams, as he was in his F1 rookie season, 2013. But a dodgy car wouldn’t have been enough to veil his talent 40 years back, as it wasn’t two seasons ago. And had Valtteri been sitting in a Williams FW06, as the team started to come good in ’78, he surely would have shone, then as now, in this year’s FW37.
Some might question the cover credentials of Bottas, before he has even won a grand prix, but we have no doubts. He has already shown flashes of superstar talent and there are plenty of gnarly old heads at Williams – including our own technical consultant, Pat Symonds – who recognise genius when they see it.
And none other than double world champ (and now Bottas’s mentor) Mika Häkkinen reckon he’s made of the right stuff: “Becoming a world champion is a process,” he says, “but Valtteri’s taking all the right steps. With his talent he can get there.”
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