After the Royal Automobile Club of Spain lost interest in the Spanish Grand Prix, which was hosted at Jarama, Pedro Pacheco, the Mayor of Jerez de la Frontera, decided to support a project to build a racing circuit to promote the town and its famous sherries.
The circuit was finished in time for the 1986 race and it could scarcely have been better for Jerez as Ayrton Senna's Lotus and Nigel Mansell's Williams battled into the closing stages. It was dramatic stuff. A late pit stop had delayed Mansell and with two laps to go the Englishman was 5.3 secs behind Senna; going into the final lap the gap was down to 1.5. In the last hundred yards of the race Mansell pulled out to pass and the cars crossed the finishing line side by side. The official verdict was victory to Senna - by 0.014s, one of the closest finishes in the history of F1. Mansell would get his revenge with victories at Jerez in 1987 and 1988, while Senna won again in 1989.
The problem was that no-one came to watch the races at Jerez although the circuit was packed whenever there was a motorcycle race. The 1990 event witnessed a horrifying practice accident when Martin Donnelly's Lotus disintegrated after hitting a barrier in a high-speed corner. Donnelly was hurled from the wreck, grievously injured. The weekend continued under a shadow, the race being won for Ferrari by Alain Prost.
A year later the F1 trucks went to the new Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona instead of trekking down to Jerez. The circuit continued to be used for Formula 1 testing but returned to the limelight when it hosted the 1994 European Grand Prix, won by Michael Schumacher. There would be another European GP in 1997 but this was a storming event with the World Championship to be settled between Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve. In the end Schumacher drove Villeneuve off when the Canadian tried to take the lead. But Villeneuve kept going and it was Schumacher who ended up in the sandtrap. He was later excluded from the 1997 World Championship for his behavior. The race marked the first victory for Mika Hakkinen in a McLaren-Mercedes but the podium ceremony was controversial and ended up with FIA President Max Mosley informing Pacheco that his race track would never be given another Grand Prix. To date the Formula 1 circus has not returned although the FIA line has mellowed, saying that a race may be possible again in the future. The track remains a popular venue for F1 tests.