In the view of the deepening economic crisis, Formula One Authorities and the Spanish government decided to scrap the European Grand Prix, hosted for the last five consecutive years in Valencia. How do the citizens of Spain’s third largest city feel about that?
Spain may be regarded as a popular holiday destination, with weather and nightlife that hardly ever disappoint. And yet, in 2008 the difficult economic situation became a public fact and things just got worse since then. Unemployment is at an 18-year high at approximately 25% and borrowing costs hit a 12-year high, with an estimated €100bn to be transferred from a EU bailout fund to Spanish banks.
The only fairly reliable sector that seems to be aiding Spain’s financial situation is tourism; but apart from sandy beaches and sultry stag parties, Spain holds another peg for visitors paying hard cash, and that is: Formula One.
The Spanish Grand Prix, set early in the race calendar – before the international touristic period begins -consistently sees fans from all over the world flooding to Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya. With a walking advert promoting the home race in the person of a two-time World Champion, Fernando Alonso, the Spanish GP is one of the most popular ones among viewers and visitors, whilst the circuit itself, with a mix of fast and slow corners and a rough track surface is one of most challenging for the drivers and always makes for a great show. Mind Maldonado’s maiden win in May this year, with Alonso’s forced blessing.
But the F1 adventure didn’t used to end for Spain with the three May days – until now. For the fifth consecutive year Valencia is hosting the European Grand Prix, reintroduced into the Championship in 1999 after appearing on and off the race calendar in the 1980s. However, it seems that the seven-year contact with Valencia will be scrapped at this point, for one simple reason: to cut costs.
The Telefonica Grand Prix of Europe is an estimated expense of over €20m per year (some sources claiming it is €50m) and although some can recognise the benefits that hosting an international event can bring into the city’s budget, the majority is skeptical, if not appalled by the nuisance of all organisational work – and by funding a spectacle of one of the world’s most pretentious sporting disciplines. To set up the temporary street circuit, roads are being closed off, with diversions and restricted access to public areas causing outrage among the locals.
Police from Playa el Cabanyal agree that the road blockades and influx of people can be an issue, especially this year, when the GP coincides with the celebrations of San Juan, which traditionally take place at the beach:
“Yes, Formula One does help the economy, because it attracts tourists. However, the numbers of visitors since the first year have dropped a lot. The circuit has a capacity of about 120 thousand, and that was the number first year. This year they are setting it up for 40 thousand. And above that they are making offers of 2 for 1 [the organisers are offering a package for the race and Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences].
“Also, the fact that it takes place on the same weekend as San Juan will create additional problems. San Juan should be a great celebration of tradition on the beach, but this year it is overshadowed by the disruptions caused by the race.”
Workers of the Municipal Transport Company (EMT) are striking this weekend against the cuts which is leading to disruption to public transport, whilst a local movement Cirucuit Urbà No has sent a letter to Alonso insisting the Spanish driver should take his helmet off at the race for him to experience the “humiliation, distress and deprivation” they say to be feeling through the organisation of this “insignificant” sport, which they claim creates an “illusion and fantasy for a very few people”.
Scrapping of the European Grand Prix doesn’t mean, however, that Valencia will cease to be a host to Formula One, with talks that starting from next year the Spanish Grand Prix would alternate between Barcelona and Valencia, starting with the former. Drivers generally agree that Valencia Street Circuit is one of their favourites, if not for the speeds on the long straight, than at least for its beauty, so they would surely be sad to say goodbye. In the meantime, the locals are not that interested:
“I’m not a Formula One fan,” says Alfonso, native to Valencia, “So to me they might as well get rid of it. It makes a lot of problems in the end.”
Antonio, who moved to Valencia a few years back, agrees: “They say they will alternate between the two cities, but I think that they’re going to stop it altogether here. They simply can’t afford it, it’s not worth it.”
Filippo, an Italian restaurant owner in Valencia, can see both sides of the argument: “Surely, there are benefits from having it here. No doubt, there is a lot of money flowing in from tourists and advertisers; but what about the money that has to be put in this first? What is the greater value? And why do we not see any of this money coming back to us?”
Valencia, once seemingly a proud example of booming economy, investing in international sporting events (apart from Formula One, also the America’s Cup sailing competition) and excessive architectural projects (see the City of Arts and Sciences complex) is now one of the most indebted Spanish cities, with approximately €25bn in debt, out of which €4bn owed to street cleaners, healthcare suppliers and other providers, as reported by Reuters. The question that it’s facing now is what cuts, if any, will help it get out of the crisis the country has found itself in.