As F1 confirmed its long-mooted move to Madrid in 2026 for a 10-year period, we look back at the series’ first decade in the region.
The Jarama circuit, in the Community of Madrid but about 30 km from the city, was inaugurated in 1967 and following a demonstration race in November, the twisty 3.404-kilometre circuit hosted its first proper F1 grand prix on 12 May 1968.
Chris Amon put Ferrari on pole position and looked on course to win until on lap 57 of 90 a fuel pump failure forced him to retire. Graham Hill, who had come from seventh on the grid, inherited first place and handed Lotus the victory.
However, after that first successful edition, F1 began to alternate Jarama with Barcelona’s perilous Montjuic Circuit, with the Madrid track hosting the Spanish GP in 1970, 1972 and 1974 until a fatal accident in the 1975 race ended Montjuic’s stay on the calendar.
Jarama hosted the Spanish GP for the second time in 1970, but the event descended into chaos over the number of participants allowed to start the race and over whether or not practice and qualifying results would count for the grid.
Drivers took the the grid without knowing if they had qualified or not and ultimately only 16 cars were allowed to start, with the likes of Jo Siffert forcefully thrown off the grid.
The drama didn’t stop there as on the first lap Jackie Oliver slammed into Jacky Ickx’s Ferrari, setting both cars ablaze. With Ickx coming off worse, a steward and a member of the Guardia Civil helped the Belgian escape the inferno.
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Poleman Chris Amon, Ferrari 312 is left behind by Pedro Rodriguez, BRM P133 and Denny Hulme, McLaren M7A Ford at the start
Lauda’s first victory
Emerson Fittipaldi took his second F1 victory at Jarama in 1972, in a rainy race held on a Monday. But perhaps the most historic edition came in 1974. In a wet-to-dry race that took two full hours, Ferrari’s Niki Lauda put in a brilliant performance from pole to take his maiden F1 grand prix win, and Ferrari’s 50th.
At the 1976 race, Lauda arrived with three broken ribs after a tractor accident on his farm in Salzburg. He still qualified second behind title rival James Hunt and a retirement for Hunt’s team-mate Jochen Mass ensured the finishing order remained the same.
Afterwards, Hunt was disqualified on technical grounds, but two months later he was reinstated as the winner following a lengthy appeal procedure.
Back-to-back wins for Mario Andretti and Lotus in 1977 and 1978 were followed by a triumph for Ligier’s Patrick Depailler, in perhaps the last quiet edition of the Spanish GP at Jarama.
Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images
Mario Andretti in the new Lotus 79
FISA vs FOCA
The 1980 edition took place at the height of the FISA-FOCA war, a long-simmering dispute between the divisive Jean-Marie Balestre’s governing body and the Bernie Ecclestone-led band of constructors, which boiled over in Spain by Balestre handing out heavy fines to drivers missing safety briefings.
With Balestre demanding any outstanding fines had to be paid for the on-track action to go ahead, the Spanish automobile club RACE offered to pay them up front in a bid to save its race.
But with no compromise forthcoming, RACE took control of its event and held the race outside FISA’s auspices, with its supportive teams Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo not taking part.
The 12 remaining FOCA-aligned teams still contested a non-points race of attrition won by Williams’ Alan Jones.
The 1981 edition of the Spanish GP proved to be the last at Jarama. The race itself was a spectacle, delivering Gilles Villeneuve’s final F1 victory after a titanic defence against Jacques Laffite, beating the Frenchman by a mere 0.220s.
From a commercial point of view, it was a failure, however, with only 25,000 people filling the grandstands due to high ticket prices and a bomb threat from terrorist group ETA.
The grand prix had already been making yearly losses and RACE could not keep up its financial support. With further question marks over its safety, which would have required more investment, Jarama disappeared off the calendar.
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Gilles Villeneuve, Ferrari 126CK followed by Jacques Laffite, Ligier JS17 Matra and John Watson, McLaren MP4/1 Ford.
Spain then went five years without F1 racing until its return in 1986 at Jerez. But since then it has been a part of the calendar uninterruptedly for nearly 40 years, with five editions at Jerez followed by a successful move to Montmelo near Barcelona, which is set for its 34th consecutive grand prix this year.
But amid Fernando Alonso’s enduring popularity and Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari move, interest from Madrid steadily picked up again.
The capital was chosen as the first city to host the official F1 Exhibition, which could be visited from April until the end of August last year at its IFEMA convention centre near the Barajas International Airport.
It further opened the doors for IFEMA to host the Spanish Grand Prix from 2026 onwards, with Barcelona’s F1 future beyond its current 2026 deal still unclear.