Start Your Engines
As the 2012 season gets underway in Australia this month we take a look back to the Barcelona Grand Prix 2011with former Features Editor, Jeanie Johnston who visited this thrilling spectacle last summer.
Barcelona is the perfect place to take a first step into the fast moving spectacle of Formula 1. If you’re a diehard petrol head, you will probably want to spend every minute track-side, camping out in one of the many sites. However, if you are there for the glamour of Race Day on Sunday, you can combine it with a city break in one of the most exciting cities in Europe.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed in the boutique style Hotel Soho in the heart of the Eixample, just nine minutes walk (we timed it!) from the Placa de Catalunya, famous for department store legend El Corte Ingles and the starting point for most of the action in Barcelona. The rooms are edgy and modern but supremely comfortable, and there is a roof terrace with bar and swimming pool. We decided to do it the easy way by buying a grand prix package which included hotel, welcome drinks, transport to the race track and race tickets. We had three hotels to choose from, but hit the jackpot when we eschewed the five and four stars on offer in favour of the three star Soho.
WHAT TO DO
Saturday was sightseeing and shopping. We took the tourist bus to renew our acquaintance with Gaudi, the genius of modernista architecture. We had an unexpected treat at Park Guell, Gaudi’s garden city perched high above Barcelona. A sudden visit from police provided a spectacle of Olympic proportions as the many illicit street traders bundled up their goods and ran for their lives. Back in the centre, we hit the shops for real, particularly loving the buzz of Desigual and Masimmo Dutti, the upmarket offshoot of Zara. The short walk home in 27 degrees seemed much longer this time, and the pool and terrace was a delightful oasis among the rooftops. In fact we dawdled so long that we ended up choosing to have dinner directly across the road from our hotel – and what a find that was. Segons Mercat is a stylish bistro full of interesting people, with a reputation for fresh fish and tapas and an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients. www.segonsmercat.com
Race Day dawned gloriously sunny, as we made an early start to the track which is about 12 miles outside Barcelona in the small town of Montmelo. The best way to enjoy a Grand Prix is to have the coveted golden ticket which allows you to mingle with the drivers and celebs in the pit lane, or a package which takes you out to one of the hospitality areas. Other than that, the best seats in the house are in the stands overlooking the starting grid, the pit lane and the podium so that you don’t miss any of the drama. If food is not included in your ticket, you can find anything from a three course meal to excellent fast food and of course plenty of chilled beverages. My research had told me that the food is pricey and unpalatable, but not true.
Less expensive again is the ground ticket which lets you into the circuit, and you pick your favourite corner and set up camp, in sight of one of the big screens. The locals have it down to a fine art, arriving bristling with chairs, umbrellas and cool boxes. It’s a good way to watch but you really need to hire headsets to hear the commentary and keep up with the race leaders, especially when they start lapping the back markers or confusion reigns!
It was good to get there early as there is a whole programme of GP2, GP3, Mini and Porsche racing before the Grand Prix started, not to mention lots of opportunities for celeb spotting in the F1 village, the focal point of the track, where all the official merchandise is on sale. I got a few words with the ever charming former F1 driver turned BBC commentator, David Coulthard.
And so, at last, the roar of those engines hit a crescendo as the five red lights went out. Red Bull’s Mark Webber had put one over on team mate Sebastian Vettel to claim pole position, but Spaniard Fernando Alonso was determined to please the sea of red Ferrari hats dominating every grandstand and it was he who rounded the first corner in the lead. It’s impossible to describe what it felt like to be in the middle of that crowd. World champion Vettel eventually took the victory, despite being hunted down by Lewis Hamilton in a nail biting finish. It was time to waste champagne, as the drivers celebrated on the podium.
2012 Barcelona Grand Prix takes place on Sunday 13th May. Book a package with www.clubtravel.ie with departures from Dublin or package your own weekend with easyjet flights from Belfast and Grand Prix tickets from www.formula1.com and accommodation at Hotel Soho www.hotelsohobarcelona.com