After two lean years during the pandemic, the Spanish Grand Prix welcomed a sell-out crowd of roughly 300,000 fans flocking to the Montmelo venue across the weekend.
While the event was the shot in the arm that the local promoters needed after several years of declining attendance, the circuit and its surrounding facilities appeared to struggle to handle the masses of spectators, with reports of severe traffic congestion around the circuit, huge queues at concession stands and public transport services that were being overwhelmed.
When asked to comment on the situation on Sunday, F1 told Motorsport.com that it had “made the promoter aware that this is not acceptable and must be fixed for next season”.
On Tuesday, the circuit’s CEO Josep Lluis Santamaria said he had received a letter from F1 boss Stefano Domenicali urging it to improve its crowd management and acknowledged there’s a room for improvement.
“I received a letter from the President and CEO of Formula 1, in which he congratulates us on the weekend, stresses the importance of the Spanish GP in F1 history and celebrates the passion that has been experienced during the grand prix,” Santamaria told Motorsport.com.
“In the letter, F1 also points out that there are things that we must work on together, both the circuit and F1, to continue to improve and make the experience even better for the fans.
“Domenicali said that Formula 1 and the circuit will discuss issues like traffic and other minor ones to make the whole weekend better.”
Santamaria admitted that the venue had underestimated the number of spectators that would turn up on Friday, as historically local fans often only turned up from Saturday onwards.
But on Saturday RENFE, which runs the commuter trains between Montmelo and Barcelona, also struggled to cope with the large throngs of people queueing to get back to the city centre.
“It is true that there have been mistakes that need to be worked on and modified,” Santamaria explained. “It has been a grand prix with the third best turnout in the history of the race.
Fans in the fanzone
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images
“RENFE reported that around 75,000 people used its trains to travel this weekend in Catalunya, approximately 26% of the total number of people attending the grand prix. That figure is double the number of people who came by train to Montmelo in 2019, the last grand prix before the pandemic.
“As there were some problems on Saturday and it took a long time to empty the Montmelo station, RENFE increased the frequency and number of trains. On Sunday, the mayor of Montmelo told us that everything had gone quite well, and that traffic had been able to flow smoothly.
“It is true that on Friday there was a larger number of people than expected. We estimated 25,5000 people and 54,000 came and handling these large numbers of people requires working on many areas. We are already working with both traffic and mobility departments to provide a better service to everyone.
“We understand the discomfort of the spectators. Some have had no problems, but at some points there has been quite a lot of congestion.”
Once inside the venue, many fans complained about facing long queues to purchase refreshments, only to find out some stalls had run out of supplies. The situation was made worse by the 36-degree heat as Catalunya faced its first wave of summer of 2022.
After facing twice the number of fans it had expected on Friday, the circuit attempted to fix the situation overnight by installing more refreshment stalls but said there was a limit to what it could do.
“The temperature on Friday was very high, so there were significant queues at some points. We took action on that same night from Friday to Saturday, opening 45 more points of sale that were planned for Sunday, and seven more, for drinks only.
“It should be noted that for the first time coolers were allowed to enter, with bottles of up to 1.5 litres, and the caps were not removed, and removing them is something that is always done in sporting facilities.
“It is possible that at some point some of the supply locations may have been short on water, but it was replenished throughout the day and there were other drinks available as well.
“What we couldn’t control was the temperature. Everything was sized according to the number of people who were coming, but the temperature has worked against us.”
In a way, the fact that the race was a victim of its own success was a good problem to have for the promoter.
After years of declining attendance, it looked like the Spanish Grand Prix was running on its last legs, but the recent spike in interest in Formula 1 has allowed Montmelo to survive its 30-year anniversary, having signed a contract extension until 2026.
“On a sporting level, the grand prix has been a success, and personally I was very excited to see all the grandstands after so many years with low attendance and the last two almost empty,” Santamaria noted.
“It shows that Formula 1 is once again of interest to the home crowd here. And what’s more, with a race that was arguably one of the most spectacular ones that we have seen here in recent years.”