How heat and traffic trouble left F1 fans fuming after the Spanish Grand Prix

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Hundreds of thousands of excited Formula 1 fans poured into the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Sunday, keen to watch Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen battle it out at the front as a full house of spectators returned to the track for the first time since 2019.

The pandemic meant the 2020 event was run behind closed doors, and only around 1,000 were admitted 12 months ago as the easing of restrictions began.

But while the return of fans and the increased revenue they bring is exactly what the circuit and promoters needed, the organisers seemed ill-equipped to accommodate them all. Reports started circulating regarding traffic congestion in and around the circuit, problems with public transport and queues at food and drink stalls, some even reported to have run out of water.

F1 fan Lena Ferle, who attended the race, explained to RaceFans that while metallic and glass bottles were not accepted into the venue, attendees were encouraged to bring their own plastic bottles. She found a maximum size of 1.5 litres was imposed, to the surprise of several fans who had turned up with larger containers widely-used in Spain.

The track baked in 37C temperatures on race day
“I didn’t understand the 1.5 litres rule because some people brought big canisters,” she explained. “They had to leave them at the entrance.”

Air temperatures hit 37C at the track on Sunday, and Lena found thirsty fans soon depleted the circuit’s supplies.

“We brought water and snacks, but not a lot because we had to carry the bags around the whole circuit. The buses dropped us off at the main gate [but] the gate we were supposed to get in was a 30-minute walk uphill in the sun.

“As soon as we settled in the general admission, one of us would go and get some stuff to eat and drink because we knew the queues would be bad by midday. We were okay with that, but we could watch the queues getting longer and longer, either for the bathrooms or the stalls for water and food.

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“On Saturday and Sunday, the stalls in general admission between turn six and seven ran out of water around 2pm.

Fans complained of traffic chaos and water shortages
“On Sunday, 30 minutes before the race started, the water stopped working in the bathrooms. I had luck to be one of the last people to use it because they wouldn’t let anyone in after that.”

The heat wasn’t the only problem. Many fans experienced difficulty getting to the track in the first place.

“The transport was like hell,” said Lena, “we had luck to only wait one hour on Friday and two hours on Saturday. I heard that some people waited to get on a train until 11pm on Saturday and Sunday.”

The lack of organisation at the stations led to “massive crowds” at times. “It was dangerous,” she added, “the waiting would’ve been fine if there was a system.”

Another fan who attended the race, David O’Brien, told RaceFans he felt the most “basic thing” at an event is to provide sufficient water, which the circuit had not done. He added he saw “five people who had collapsed,” adding it was “so badly organised it was dangerous.”

A third fan, Matt Tusan, reported he “didn’t have many issues” but felt he was “one of the lucky ones” judging by what he’d read of others’ experiences.

This was not the most highly-attended F1 round the venue has hosted. In 2006 130,000 fans showed up to watch Fernando Alonso win his home race.

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F1 is booming in popularity at the moment and many venues are have seen attendances rise as fans return to the stands in the wake of the pandemic. But this isn’t the only time in the last 12 months spectators have had good cause to feel dissatisfied with how they have been treated at a grand prix.

Belgian GP fans saw no racing due to heavy rain
Spectators who attended the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix stood or sat for hours in the rain and saw no racing. The grand prix was abandoned after three laps behind the Safety Car and no refunds were given.

Weather conditions were at the other extreme in Spain last weekend. As climate change make these dramatic variations more pronounced, the challenge of scheduling 20-plus races globally, in conditions which are comfortable for fans to spectate, will only become more difficult.

Last weekend Formula 1 bosses indicated they plan to group more races by region next season in an effort to reduce transportation and therefore costs – and emissions. But will that mean more races being held at unseasonable times? The Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Abu Dhabi races are already shunted to opposite ends of the calendar and run as night races so spectators are spared the unbearable daytime heat.

Whatever the future holds, for now both F1 and the venue were quick to react to last weekend’s problems. “The huge number of fans at this event both inside and outside the circuit created the traffic issues for the fans,” said F1 in a statement. “We have made the promoter aware that this is not acceptable and must be fixed for next season.”

On Thursday, F1 stated the weekend was sold out, and were expecting an attendance of 110,000 across all three days. However the race promoters admitted the numbers who attended earlier in the weekend caught them by surprise.

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“We had special mobility measures for the grand prix but we received more fans than expected on Friday and Saturday,” explained the general manager of the Circuit de Catalunya José Luís Santamaría.

“Additional measures were set up on Saturday and also on Sunday in order to improve the fans mobility during the whole weekend, but at some peak hours there weren’t enough. We understand the discomfort of the spectators who suffered traffic jams and we are sorry to hear some experiences happened in our facilities.”

He promised improvements for next year’s race, which will be the second in its current five-year deal announced last year. “We are already working with traffic and mobility departments to provide a better service to everyone coming to the circuit and, for sure, we will improve the fan experience for next year during the F1 grand prix,” Santamaría added.

He also defended how the circuit responded to the high temperatures seen during the weekend. “Last week we had an unusual heatwave and we quickly reacted from Friday to increase the water provisions and to reduce the queues at some points during the weekend,” Santamaría said. “We organised a dedicated queue for water in every bar around the circuit, we put additional water-only stalls around the facilities and we had additional water bottles delivered last minute.”

Some aspects of the organisation of last weekend’s event clearly left much to be desired. While F1 is doing an excellent job of attracting new fans to the sport, it risks losing them quickly if their experience of attending a race in person is no better than this.

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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13 comments on “How heat and traffic trouble left F1 fans fuming after the Spanish Grand Prix”

  1. Given they were sold out and thus had a good idea of the maximum amount to expect, and with this being the 1st time for a long time they a) were so booked; b) had both Sainz and Alonso to excite home fans; c) first time for many fans to see the new generation cars; it seems like they were really not setting their expectations right if they expected less of those to already come for Friday and especially Saturday.

  2. The Montmelo circuit should’ve been more pre-prepared for a sell-out possibility, but as I’ve already brought this up before, I focus on something else here, & that’s the more regional-based schedule plan.
    Qatar will probably get paired with Abu Dhabi since the early-season flyaway phase already features two Middle East events.
    However, the daytime phase is only unbearable in the hottest months, something March, November, & December aren’t.

    Still, better to hold under artificial lighting, mainly as the tracks look cooler than when run fully in natural daylight.

  3. “We had special mobility measures for the grand prix but we received more fans than expected on Friday and Saturday,” explained the general manager of the Circuit de Catalunya José Luís Santamaría.

    That’s funny because you could NOT buy sunday only tickets… so how can they receive more fans than expected? two options: they force you to buy whole-weekend packages knowing most people don’t go on friday or saturday (which is a utter rip off) or they let in more people than they are prepared to.

    If only they had allowed fans during winter testing… maybe they’d have had a better idea of what needed to be done, as preparation.

    In any case, the prices are incredibly expensive (cheapest option 150€ per person without parking), they only allow you to buy weekend passes (which isnt the case for the MotoGP race at the same track!), and the track experience is woeful. How can they impose a water capacity limit when every weather expert was encouraging peope to take care of the unusually high temperatures during last weekend? It’s just baffling…

  4. We had tickets for stand A, but the marshalls let general admission swamp the stairs and spaces between the seats on the stand. The view was obstructed, especially for my child. its was mayhem and felt unsafe

  5. It was a total disaster. I’ve been to many gp abroad now and this was by far the worst. On Friday there were literally no staff on the food and drink stalls, so you would have to queue for an hour to get anything. The trains were horrendous, there was no real queuing system and they didn’t even fill the trains fully up before departing! No water stations anywhere that I could see. Won’t be going back unless I am reassured these issues are resolved.

    There’s not even any excuse that I can give them, most tracks with less transport options don’t struggle like this and they knew it was a sell put crowd.

    P.s the race was great! The weather was obviously great and the city is great! Only the organisation of the race let them down

    I took some photos @f1_gresty on insta if interested

  6. Yep, it was a real endurance test.

    We arrived about 5 hours before the race and the queue to get through security was huge and took about 30 mins to get through. The security guy also checked my bag and removed a can of deodorant, which was harsh given the heat.

    There were queues of up to an hour for drinks and lots of shortages. Jobsworth staff were also a pain, delaying us from exiting and reentering the area where our stand was located (stand J), meaning more time in the heat.

    There were almost no shaded areas available, other than some of the pop-up shops, although most of those were not air-conditioned and were actually hotter than being outside!

    The stand itself was uncovered so rather than spend most of the day in our seats, we only returned when there was on-track action. We even had to take a break from the race to get more drinks as the temperatures soared, although many stalls had run out. Weirdly, they all seemed to have plenty of (alcohol-free) beer left!

    I guess these are ‘first world problems’ but, hey, F1 is very much a first world sport and you would expect to be able to buy drinks, find shade etc.

    We left a few laps before the end of the race (hey, it’s Catalunya, we knew nothing would change) and boarded the train at Montmeló after a baking walk down through the town to the station. When we got there, the thermometer said 40 degrees. As we boarded the train, a poor lady nearly passed out.

    Certainly a GP I won’t forget!

  7. Focusing on the positives, it was great to see so many F1 fans at the race.

    What was also noticeable is how the average fan age has dropped massively since Liberty’s takeover. I would say a drop of at least 10 years plus there were far more women. The atmosphere was also less ‘stuffy’ than it has been in previous years and resembled the more carnival-like atmosphere that you get at the Catalunya MotoGP race.

    Hats-off to Liberty. I don’t agree with everything they’re doing but the sport certainly seems to be getting embraced by a more diverse cross-section of society as a result of their involvement. That’s got to be a good thing.

  8. We went all 3 days. Had grandstand tickets booked. Very lax on checking tickets and often (although not ourselves) people being evicted out of seats by actual ticket holders. Also we booked parking every day at car park C next to gate 3 (specified as some of our party had difficulty walking far). Car park C rarely had anyone checking parking tickets and on race day were turned away to park over 1.5k from gate 3. Very unsatisfactory. Race and atmos were brilliant though, but we went in 2019 and far less concession stands this year causing massive 1hr+ queues the whole day.

  9. laughing in Monza-where-every-kind-of-bottle-even-as-small-as-0.5L-and-made-of-whatever-material-are-prohibited style
    but surely you can buy the same 0.5L bottle of water inside the circuit where they are stupidly overpriced
    and if you ask the police about it, they tell you it’s because of safety, since a bottle can be thrown inside the track.
    they can never answer why one is allowed to buy one inside the track.
    “but surely there must be plenty of small fountains where people can drink free water!”, one might ask.
    no, there arent. there’s a few of them, but no water coming out.
    I don’t know why I keep giving them money year after year honestly.

    1. I don’t think anything will change unless they really feel the losses, which unfortunately they won’t because the popularity of the sport is growing…

      For myself, I have decided that – after attending the “race” in Spa last year – I won’t go to any races in the foreseeable future. I just don’t want to throw money at people who rip off paying customers…

      The Spa experience also made me kind of hate the sport, not the action itself of course, but rather the whole operational side where everything is about money and you don’t feel welcome and taken care of as a fan… It’s sad because it could be so much better with just a few twists here and there!

  10. I’m astonished by that 1.5l rule. Seems dangerous in hot weather, I’d go through that in less than two hours.

    We took a couple of the 5 litre water bottles to a blisteringly hot Hungary GP once and it barely got us through the afternoon.

    1. They’re much better organised at the Hungaroring.

      They even have those archways that spray you with a fine mist as you walk in and out!

      1. That’s awesome!

        And if the sport really cared about its fans, they would see to it that this was the standard in hot countries!

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