I was lucky enough to spend this past weekend basking in the sunshine at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. Admittedly, I wasn’t 100% prepared to go – it was my Dad’s ticket but he was injured and couldn’t travel, so I ended up having both an impromptu holiday and F1 experience. It was a disappointing weekend for Hamilton fans but the weather was glorious and Barcelona has a lot to offer.
Circuit de Catalunya
The Barcelona track is famed for its unsual shape, with several hair pin bends. I found out – through eavesdropping on other people’s conversations and the race programme – that it’s one of the few tracks where it’s vital to start in pole position in order to win the race. The nature of the track, including its bends, lack of straights and also gusty winds that affect the light weight cars, mean that whoever starts ahead of the race can usually get a strong lead early on.
Our seats were great, situated under cover and right across from the pit lane. As someone who enjoys F1 but isn’t a fanatic this was ideal for me as it gave me much more activity to watch than just the cars flying by. The best seats were in the stands just to the left of us, where the cars take the first bend and much of the over taking happens, but they were uncovered, and with temperatures at almost 30 degrees, I was happy to be in the shade. We could also see the start of the race from where we were as well as the chequered flag and the finish.
I have to take my hat off to the Spanish race organisers and say that they have the Grand Prix phenomenally well organised. A bus from the city centre took us straight to the track. They run every five minutes from 8am – 6pm Friday to Sunday on race weekend, fill up quickly and leave, which is ideal, especially after leaving at the end with thousands of other people. It’s a short trek from the bus drop-off to the stands and seats, but nothing like the hour long walk to the track at Monza. Once inside, there’s the F1 village selling the team’s merchandise, as well as food stalls and a bar. The food is limited – some sandwiches and a hot dog. Food options at other circuits tend to be better. We brought our own food on the second day. The biggest bonus? There are so many toilets that there is never a queue.
If you have a weekend ticket for the Grand Prix, make the most of at least the Saturday for qualifying and race day. There are GP3 and GP2 races on both days and Porsche races, which are just as exciting, if not more so, than the actual F1 race. The highlight of Sunday was certainly watching British driver Alex Lynn win his first ever GP2 race with a huge margin. He could well be one of the next Williams Grand Prix stars. It’s a great weekend of entertainment and really gets the buzz going, so enjoy the entire weekend if you can.
Headphones with commentary are available for a price, but it’s also nice to just enjoy the atmosphere and hear the cars. Although quieter this season, the cars still make a good noise and the crowd also make it worthwhile. Commentary is audible through the loud speakers but, if you can, access the circuit internet and keep an eye on the live updates from Sky or BBC Sport.
It was a disappointing start for Hamilton fans as he instantly fell into third place thanks to a lot of wheel spin and a determined Vettel for Ferrari. His first pit stop was also shoddy, clearly visible from where we were sitting and which elicited cries of annoyance from many sitting around us. He battled hard to work his way towards the front, playing with Vettel until he could pass him, but it was obvious from early on that the race was Rosberg’s.
In some ways, this did ruin the race slightly. We even saw some Hamilton fans leaving their seats and not coming back, clearly believing it would be a waste of time to see the finish. It was a good race for Rosberg though and many were happy to see him win and finally overtake Lewis this season. The last half of the race was focused on the battle between the Red Bulls and Toro Rosso cars. Max Verstappen is popular with the crowds, especially because of his racing family. A lot of the interviews on the day focused on the 17-year-old and his success. Spanish fans were upset to see Alonso retire from the race so early, but a lot of Spanish attention was placed on Carlos Sainz, who seemed to lap up the love from his home country.
The dramatic moment when Romain Grosjean over shot his pit mark and ploughed into one of his mechanics happened right in front of us. He was seen later nursing a bandage and holding an ice pack to his groin but giving the camera a smile and a thumbs up. All in all, the pit stops at Catalunya were slow and not particularly polished. Maybe the 40 degree track temperatures and fast-wearing tyres had something to do with that.
Rosberg was thrilled with his victory. The fans around us seemed less so, but his podium was still roundly cheered. It was nice to see Hamilton congratulate his team-mate and sound positive during his post-race interviews. His pre-race appearances on the big screen were distinctly cold, culminating in him being pulled over by the safety car during the driver’s parade for misbehaving. While young and having fun, Hamilton’s attitude often gets him some negative press and many fans were musing on the bus on the way home whether or not his temperament lost him the race in Barcelona.
In terms of destination, Barcelona itself is buzzing and beautiful, an active hub of a city centre but close enough to the beach to relax. The gentle nature of everyone we met and relaxed atmosphere really made it feel like a holiday.
To shop, either walk down the Passeig de Gracia and take in some of the big names like Zara and Desigual, or head further South to the Born area, where there are hundreds of small boutiques on streets. Independently owned, most of them are unique and different, but some also stock designer brands at good prices.
To eat, check with your hotel concierge about good local places as there are great restaurants everywhere. Alsur Cafe has three locations and became our favourite spot for breakfast and light dinners. Pez Vela alongside the beach serves great food and Cava. Also hidden away in the city is a tiny ramen bar on Girona called Ramen-ya Hiro, run by a real Japanese ramen chef. The queue is long but well worth it, and it’s open until late. During the day, stop at any bar that claims to serve ‘the best mojito in Barcelona,’ because they’re all good and the staff are friendly.
To relax, hit the 2.5 mile long beach and either walk or park yourself up for a relaxing day sunbathing. Mojitos widely availble here too.
To explore, go to the Picasso Museum to see his amazing transformation as an artist and make sure to visit the Sagrada Familia to see Gaudi’s greatest unfinished masterpiece. It will astound anyone, even non-art lovers. Make sure to book tickets though, especially in tourist season.
My pick of Barcelona has to be the Boqueria Market. Crowded, loud, bustling and packed with food of all descriptions, from brightly coloured fruit stalls to nougat and chocolate. Stop anywhere for great, fresh tapas and then walk around sampling as much as you can. There’s a woman in the middle giving out free samples of ice-cream, her banana coconut flavour is to die for.
Love the city, enjoy the race
Barcelona is a captivating city with so much to do, see and eat. The race weekend made it especially buzzy but, sadly, also made it full of loud, obnoxious British and American tourists who weren’t there for the culture, only the race. While a great weekend and entertaining, I have it on good authority from my Mum that the tracks at Silverstone and Monza are better, the atmosphere is more exhilarating and that the food choices are more extensive. If you’re planning to visit Barcelona, take in the city. If you’re planning to visit for the next Spanish Grand Prix, make that just two days out of a longer holiday. There’s much more to appreciate there than just the F1.