Another day, another Newswipe from your mans and I had a feeling this one would come up. It had been hinted at last year when the rumours started circling but F1 confirmed on Tuesday that the sport will be heading back to Madrid with a new street-circuit in 2026.
The rumoured layout will be centred around the IFEMA building in the heart of the city, it’ll be a “hybrid” 5.4km circuit with street and permanent elements in the track (Including a part to be built on what will be redeveloped land), 20 corners, and hints of twin tunnels and banked corners ala Zandvoort, as long as the FIA approves it of course. 110,000 capacity on launch with plans to expand to 140k later.
You could just smell the divide in the room on this one. On the one hand, it’s another street circuit. If the 2024 calendar holds until 2026, Madrid will become the ninth street track on the table, taking its percentage of tracks on the calendar past one-third. We also cover Formula E here on Motorsport101 and it’d be startling that if this holds up, F1 would have 50% more street tracks on the calendar than F-E’s six, a series that deliberately targeted racing on the streets from its inception.
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicalli said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of keeping Catalunya past its contract expiring in 2026, but the idea of having Barcelona and Madrid at loggerheads over Grand Prix screams bad optics. Good luck with that one.
It says a lot that I had many fans tell me on Elon Musk’s failed business investment that this move is bad, even at Catalunya’s expense, a track that’s been roasted by the community for years by being about as exciting as celery. And it’s hard to disagree. Formula 1 has made it no secret in recent years, it’s chasing “Superbowls”. Their Twitter bio through 2023 read: “Our biggest game happens 23 times a year.”
It wants to bring the sport to big-name flashy cities and the way to do that and turn a profit is to build temporary street tracks in high-profile locations or have the cities themselves flash the cash. Miami, Vegas (Which the sport built themselves so they could self-promote it and cut out the middleman), Baku, and Singapore to name a few. Monaco for difficulty and people screaming “traditions” is about the only one that dodges mass criticism.
The traditional road courses that the sport was built on don’t move the needle like they used to anymore. They’re not being built as often due to being incredibly expensive as a luxury piece of infrastructure, and others can’t guarantee they’d draw enough of a crowd to justify the highly competitive sanctioning fees the sport commands (It’s why I couldn’t realistically entertain a Jarama comeback, Aragon, or even a hop across the border to Portimao.)
Vegas was walking proof that a street track, when promoted correctly and laid out with the racing in mind, can work. It was a slippery and challenging surface that made the drivers work hard and the track had multiple passing opportunities. It can be done. But it feels like the exception in a landscape where you’re watching in the hope that a race descends into chaos for it to be entertaining (Hi Jeddah.)
Some of that is on the cars, which will only generate more and more downforce if the engineers aren’t kept in check, but there are other impracticalities associated with Street tracks that aren’t helping their public image. And for a sport that’s all about “the show” at the moment, they don’t look great on TV. Yes, they can draw bigger crowds, but don’t provide the same level of atmosphere that a road course does. One of the biggest crowd roars of the year? Hamilton’s pole lap in Hungary. And for the night races, it was genuinely hard to be able to differentiate between Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Las Vegas apart from the wide shots to show off the strip.
It sucks for us fans. The pandemic, in a weird sort of way, spoilt us. The sport was forced to compromise, adapt, and race in a bunch of tracks that largely pleased us. Mugello’s picturesque vibes. The Nurburgring returned. Portimao, one of MotoGP’s best was a temporary import. Istanbul Park was a former fan favourite and bred chaos in its brief Autumn comeback. Only Imola has survived the pandemic reshuffle.
A Ninth Street track seems like overkill. And it’s another irritating eye roll for a sport that continues to ignore the fans, given we’re too stubborn to make the hardcore step of not watching. Now where’s that 15th pitch for Kyalami…
The brand activation season has begun. From influencers getting paid bucketloads of cash to promote Sauber becoming Stake/Kick F1 team (And will likely still be called Sauber by many due to certain broadcaster restrictions on gambling advertising), to today’s news that AlphaTauri is now officially called Visa Cashapp RB, with their new team launch coming on February 8th.
I’m trying to be generous here but it’s hard not to groan at all this. I get it. If you’re not in the Top 4, you’re not eating well in F1 land. You have to generate cash however you can. Anything barring the kitchen sink that can be sponsored will be. I used to watch the UFC where this happened constantly as Georges St-Pierre walked down the entrance tunnel into the Harley-Davidson prep point to fight some guy who had “Condom Depot” on his trunks.
But this is… a lot. Sauber’s deal with Stake went all the way down to the chassis name. And now the artists formerly known as Minardi have not one, but two financial giants in its team name. And Visa CashApp RB was the best they could come up with. I know the internal name is V-CARB, which isn’t terrible, but it also sounds like the name of one of those startup businesses on Instagram that sells you protein-infused cereal.
And it’s such a shame because VISA is a hell of a title sponsor for them to land, especially given this was a team that in rumblings to be moved or sold this time last year. But now it’s only going to be known for a terrible team name with F1’s already actively going out of its way to avoid calling.
This is how the sausage is made. And F1 keeps finding new ways to remind us of that.