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F1's Spanish problem could be solved by GENIUS plan

F1's Spanish problem could be solved by GENIUS plan

F1's Spanish problem could be solved by GENIUS plan

F1's Spanish problem could be solved by GENIUS plan

Another year and another street circuit announcement to add the growing roster on the Formula 1 calendar as Madrid sees the sport return for the first time since 1981.

The paradigm shift prioritising street circuits over traditional tracks is hardly anything new after the additions of Las Vegas, Miami, Jeddah, and the oft-forgotten doomed Vietnamese GP at Hanoi.

Yet the announcement of Madrid coming onto the calendar for 2026 marks a dangerous new move I fear could lay a template that tears apart Formula 1's fabric.

We're not adding a new stop to F1's annual globetrotting travels.

No, with traditional circuit Catalunya now looking uncertain as the home of the Spanish Grand Prix, Formula 1 could be replacing one of its modern-day core venues for another trip around the streets of a city with an all-too-familiar-looking layout.

READ MORE: F1 confirms MAJOR calendar change as iconic venue returns

Formula 1 has been racing around the Catalunya circuit every year since 1991

The Case for Barcelona

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya may not have the 'Year One' history of Silverstone, Spa, or Monza, but it's been part of the calendar for almost as long as Suzuka — an irrefutable favourite.

A slot in the 1950 season is no prerequisite to a track being a traditional or classic venue, and, love it or hate it, Barcelona is one of Formula 1's long-time 'proper' tracks.

The 2.9-mile layout is a near-perfect mixture of fast, medium, and slow corners along an undulating tarmac rollercoaster with grass and gravel ready to catch out those who push the limit.

Perhaps it's not one that can guarantee an overtaking bonanza like Spielberg, but few tracks can.

Instead, Barcelona represents a tyre-management challenge for drivers and forces the teams to outwit each other on the pit wall to get ahead with ingenious strategies.

Many of today's street circuits now feel too much the same such as the Jeddah circuit in Saudi Arabia (above)

"Copy and Paste"

Formula 1's calendar should be diverse, and each of the traditional tracks that populate the European leg of the global tour are notably unique in what they bring.

A high-speed aerodrome at Silverstone, Spielberg's mountainous hairpins, downforce-abandoning straights at Monza, Spa's relentless fight through the forest, and the Hungaroring's narrow nature all force something different from the drivers and teams.

Contrast this against what we have at Las Vegas, Jeddah, Miami, and, in two years, Madrid: close walls, slow chicanes to break up monotonous straights, and an abundance of 'flowing' high-speed corners where passing is impossible.

These venues have their place, and, individually, each 'new-breed' street circuit brings something wildly different from the traditional tracks and the Tilke-domes.

Yet I can't see enough difference between Miami and Jeddah, for example, to justify both earning a place on the already busy calendar, let alone adding Las Vegas and now Madrid to the mix.

Formula 1 has flirted with the idea of running a race in London

City Swapping

I feel the pandemic and the revolving door of tracks like Portimao, Istanbul Park, Lusail, Imola, Paul Ricard, Nurburgring, and Mugello somewhat muffled the impact of Jeddah and Miami's arrivals.

The dropping of Sochi, a concrete wall street circuit for all intents and purposes, around the announcement of Vegas felt like a similar enough switch.

However, the possibility of directly swapping Barcelona for Madrid would leave a bitter taste and a worry about what might come next with this dangerous new precedent.

What's next? Will we have a race around Rome at the expense of Monza or a Formula E-esque run around London's Docklands rather than Silverstone as the drive to city centres continues?

Current contractual agreements will prevent this, but it seems to me that the healthier solution to maintain the wide variety that is the foundation of the sport is to have something similar to the German GP's 2008-2014 approach.

Hockenheim and Nurburgring swapping around let both venues exist without either losing out or leaving the sport with too many European-style circuits.

Madrid swapping with Miami and Jeddah, for example, could build excitement for fans as the calendar brings a new venue instead of the collective groan seen on social media in the wake of the announcement.

Do I think this would ever happen? No. But it shows that Formula 1's city-focused strategy could coexist with the 70-year tried-and-tested approach that seems to be fading away.

The alteration of Hockenheim and the Nurburgring (above) was a handy solution for the German Grand Prix

Heritage or Highways

Let's be clear: progress is necessary, and Formula 1 must evolve to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world.

Bringing the sport closer to untapped audiences in major global cities who can't ignore the grand prix weekend buzz is a surefire way to raise interest.

However, there's a delicate balance to strike, and the current trajectory threatens to erode the sport's core identity.

We risk losing the essence of what makes Formula 1 unique — a blend of technological innovation, driver skill, and historic rivalries played out on some of the most formidable and revered tracks in the world that, when combined, become greater than the sum of their parts.

Formula 1 is at a crossroads and must decide whether its rich heritage with a tapestry of varied tracks can continue or head down a path with similarly designed anonymous highways and side streets filling the calendar.

For in chasing new horizons, Formula 1 must take care to not leave its soul behind.

READ MORE: F1 Schedule 2024: Full calendar with all you need to know about every grand prix


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