Pre-Season testing ahead of the 2019 Formula One season is now complete. With F1 cars running up to 8 hours a day, views from pretty much any corner you like, affordable entry fees and sunshine (apart from when it snowed in 2018), attending as an F1 fan seems like a no-brainer. But not a huge amount of people go.
So what does a typical day look like? During the 2nd week of testing, I spent a day exploring the circuit and documenting some useful spots. All images were taken from ‘behind the fence’. This is as real-a-perspective as you can expect for a paying member of the public.
The track is officially ‘open’ for testing from 9am-6pm with a 1 hour lunch break between 1pm-2pm.
The ‘golden hours’ (when the Barcelona sun-set casts long shadows over the circuit) is between 5pm-6pm and was worth seeing the day through to the very end.
Car hire is the luxury (and ideal) choice, but for the purpose of this article I got the train. At 7:30 in the morning, the journey from Barcelona to Montmeló station is easy enough but getting from the station to the circuit is a little more difficult.
If it were a race weekend, shuttle buses run from the train station to the circuit. Sadly for me, it’s a test day. So it was a 25 min walk through the small town of Montmeló to Circuit de Catalunya. I passed some quiet shops and spotted a bakery in the middle of town. I couldn’t resist a cheeky pastry to start the day but after this there were no more distractions.I started a solid march to my destination.
The first sign of a race circuit was a small map by the roadside. I was pretty excited at this point, but frustratingly the main entrance (Gate 3) is close to Turn 16 (the final corner) meaning I spent the next 15 minutes walking the entire home straight before I could gain entry.
Entrance Gate & Facilities
When I arrived at Gate 3 I paid the €12 for the full day and that was it. After the standard security bag search, I walked across the public footbridge and arrived at the ‘Fan Zone’. Facilities included a food stool offering burgers, baguettes, chips and chocolates, as well as a bar serving coffees and beer (it turns out to be non-alcoholic beer only).
I also walked past the official Circuit De Catalunya shop, merchandise stools selling all sorts of old F1 team kit, a karting circuit for kids and a racing sim where you can try your hand on Circuit De Catalunya for around €10 for 10 minutes. To top it off, a DJ was about to start a set from 9am onwards.
I wasn’t having any of that though. I just wanted to see the track.
As the main grandstand is directly ahead of the ‘Fan Zone’, it seemed like the most sensible place to start.
Despite being able to sit pretty much anywhere in the stands, I think it’s one of the worst views on the circuit. The racing line is on the left-hand side of the track, which means the cars are almost hidden under the fence as they go past at around 180 mph. As it’s a straight, you also miss out on the sense of breaking distances and cornering speeds.
It’s not all bad though. The Barcelona sunshine is strong in February, and this was one of the few spots where I could have found shade during the hottest parts of the day. I should also state that a sitting here during a Grand Prix would provide a view of the starting grid and pit stops so that would no-doubt add to the spectacle.
It didn’t take me long to figure out I wanted to be at turn 1. After another 10-minute walk down the straight and past some closed seating blocks, I found one of the grandstands open at Block F.
Turns 1 & 2
At this point it’s about 9:45 and the seats are still wet with morning dew. As I sat down to watch the action, (the coffee is now cold and the dirt from drying the seat is over my hands), it immediately felt like a better spot. I could finally put my feet up and watch the cars breaking into turn 1, flowing into 2 before disappearing through turn 3. You can also catch a glimpse of them coming down the hill from turn 5 down to 6 and then they’re gone for another lap.
Having soaked up the action for another hour, I thought it was time to explore. I did walk around turn 3, but to be honest the view isn’t great and it’s a long walk. There are not many spectators and you are far away from the track (there is a large gravel trap between you and the cars) so I felt removed from the action.
It turns out there is an access tunnel near the grandstands at turn 1 leading you under the circuit into a viewing area for turns 4,5,6,7 and 8.
There is something nice about saying ‘I walked the entire circuit’ but I if I was to go again, I’d just use the access tunnel and miss out turn 3.
Turns 4,5,6,7 and 8
Once you are in the middle area there is a 360 degree view of 4,6, 7 & 8. Turn 5 is a couple of minutes’ walk away but it’s worth seeing. The corner is incredibly tight and I saw more locking up here than anywhere on the circuit.
It’s now 11am and an ice-cream stand is open which helps me with a bit of an energy kick. The views are beautiful. imagine sitting on a hilly grass bank in the summer with a spanish version of a Cornetto. When the cars are in the pits you can hear the birds and trees. Then when they are out, the silence is intreputed by screaming engines.
Sitting here I witnessed throttle-break-throttle with a serious amount of shifting inbetween corners. If had the energy I could have walked over the public footbridge taking me to the inside of turn 1. I didn’t go.
This is the fastest corner on the track. Pierre Gasly ended up dumping his Red Bull into the tyre wall there that day.
Unfortunately, the grandstand overlooking this corner is closed so the view was limited. You can sit on the grassy bank as they head off around that corner but I can’t help feel I was missing out on the best view to see the cars changing direction at 160 mph.
It’s now 1pm and the track is closed for lunch. There is a café between turns 9 and 10. I’m in desperate need of food and despite not having much of a view from the café, there is shade under the trees and my Spanish Omlette baguette was just what I needed.
It’s 2pm. A re-apply of sun cream for me before and the track is back open. One of the guys is straight out onto the circuit for a quick burst.
A Grandstand sits on the opposite side of the circuit by turn 10. I tried to figure out how to get to that (hoping for another access tunnel to get me there) but it turns out this was for Media and VIP only. Fancy.
The ‘twisty’ sections through sector 3 allows fantastic access (and I reckon better than turn 10 anyway). You can choose any seat you like, and despite the overgrown grass (no doubt they cut that back for the big races of the year), it’s was one of my favourite spots of the day. I sat here for a couple of hours watching the differnet lines the cars took through the corners.
Turns 14,15 and 16
As it was coming up to 4:30 I headed for the chicane. Views were linited which is a shame as the chicane of 14 and 15 would have been a great opportunity to see the cars changing direction at one of the slowest parts of the track. A couple of Ferrari fans were standing on bins to look over the fence, but I couldn’t even get my leg up that high, let alone pull myself up and balance myself comfortably.
Turn 16 was similar so I decided to finish the day back in the grand stand on the final straight. Despite the my previous comments about this spot, the sun was setting directly in front of me and I was thrilled that the chance to buy a cold, non-alcoholic beer was at arms reach.
Circuit de Catalunya does not provide live timing to the public. Luckily, I had a 4G data package on my phone that allowed me to follow the live feed on Autosport.com.
Even without the feed it would still have been a perfectly enjoyable day, but knowing who is running what, the tyres they are on (not everyone will know the colours) and how many laps they have clocked makes the whole day more of racing experience.
Another point to note is than for around 100 Euro, you a walk along the pitlane during the 1 hour break. I can imagine it’s a cracking thing to do but I did not participate. There was no sense of FOMO either as I fully appreciated my lunch time sit-down in the shade….
Despite the very reasonable entrance costs, if you are traveling from anywhere outside of Barcelona there are obviously additional expenses. Flights, accommodation, travel to and from the circuit as well as your food bill and anything else you fancy spending your money on.
The atmosphere you will find during qualify or on a race day is missed, and It’s a world away from the glitz and glamour you would expect to find when the season kicks off in Melbourne in less than 2 weeks’ time – but it’s a special trip for any F1 fan.
And let’s not forget, when your day at the track is finished, you can spend some time in the beautiful city of Barcelona too.
It’s going to be a feature in my calendar for years to come.
I hope to see you there next year.