A track to re­mem­ber with awe

An­thony Rowl­in­son / 05.15

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS -

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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