Formula 1

Valencia’s F1 circuit: left on the curb

The facilities at the former European Grand Prix urban track have been plundered

Cristina Vázquez
Gallery: The state of Valencia’s F1 circuit (Spanish captions).
Gallery: The state of Valencia’s F1 circuit (Spanish captions).Monica Torres

The Formula 1 circuit in Valencia, which hosted five European Grand Prix between 2008 and 2012, is a wasteland these days.

The place where world-famous drivers such as Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel once awed fans of the sport now looks desolate, just three years after the last race was held here.

Electrical equipment has been stripped away, fences torn down, storage pallets sit in piles and filthy conditions are there for all to see along the five kilometers of street circuit that winds through the Mediterranean city’s port area.

A district filled with old factories was supposed to make way for modern canals and skyscrapers

The F1 project, which the then-ruling Popular Party (PP) claimed would not cost Valencian taxpayers “a single euro,” has turned out to be a massive burden on regional coffers.

The latest estimates by the PP’s rival Socialists put the expense at more than €200 million, much of which has yet to be paid off.

The new regional chief of public works, María José Salvador, said on Thursday that just the construction work and related financial costs represent €100 million. Between 2016 and 2023, her department will have to pay back a €60 million loan in annual installments of €7.5 million.

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Another €111 million were spent on the fee for the owner of the Formula 1 circus. The regional TV station Canal 9 also paid  €4.4 million a year for the broadcast rights. And the Valencia government bought Valmor Sports, the event organizer, for €1 – notwithstanding the fact that the company was carrying a debt of more than €30 million.

“No revenues were generated to recoup that investment,” explains Salvador. “We have been living the fable of the milkmaid and her pail, except that when the pail broke, there was no milk inside.”

A relationship dating from 2007

Valencia’s relationship with the sport began in 2007, when former regional premier Francisco Camps negotiated the conditions with Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone. The deal was initially for seven years, although the European Grand Prix was discontinued after the 2012 race.

Eight years later, Camps – who resigned in July 2011 over his involvement in the Gürtel corruption scandal – is the target of a new investigation involving his Formula 1 negotiations.

Bernie Ecclestone, the former F-1 chief.
Bernie Ecclestone, the former F-1 chief.Getty

The anti-corruption attorney is accusing Camps of embezzlement and breach of public duty for allegedly using Valmor Sports as a front company that purported to pay for the event, even though it was really the regional government that was putting up the funds.

While that inquiry progresses, the future of a city district with great potential remains on hold because of a collapsing race circuit.

The project that was going “to put Valencia on the map,” according to Camps, was meant to be funded through an ambitious property development in the area adjoining the circuit. A district filled with old factories would make way for modern canals and skyscrapers.

But Spain’s real estate crash put an end to those dreams, and these days there is no Formula 1 race and no development project here. Instead, trash is the only thing on view along the circuit.

Meanwhile, the city of Valencia, now run by a leftist group after ejecting the long-serving conservative Rita Barberá from power, wants to find a new use for the space occupied by the pit lane, which is still there because nobody knows whether Formula 1 cars might one day return to Valencia. The asphalt itself, with a length of 5.4 kilometers and 25 turns, remains in good shape.

English version by Susana Urra.

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