AUGUST 20, 2008
And so to Valencia
Formula 1 teams have been visiting the city of Valencia for some time, to test at the Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo. This was not enough for the local government, which was looking for a sporting event to draw people to the city, following the successful America's Cup event in 2007. The Cup teams remain in Valencia, preparing for the 33rd America's Cup, which will be held in the city at some point in the future when the competitors stop their legal arguments over who has the right to make the rules. While all this is going on, Valencia has turned its attention to using F1instead, although the race track that has been built on the streets draws attention to the yacht racing as the circuits jinks between the team bases and uses many of the same facilities that Valencia built for the Cup.
There is no doubt that the locals hope that Valencia will become a Spanish version of Monte Carlo. This is a mighty ambition, but also a reflection of the enthusiasm that exists in Spain for the sport, as a result of Fernando Alonso's successes in the World Championship in 2005 and 2006. F1 is big in Spain and there are no signs that the audience is yet waning because of Fernando's troubled 2007 and 2008 seasons.
The seven-year deal, which was signed in June 2007, soon after the regional elections returned the People's Party was returned to power.
The circuit has been used only once for Formula 3 and a sports car race and the event passed off well with the only complaint being that the swing bridge, which takes the track across the canal that links the inner basin to the main port, has a gap of three centimetres between the bridge and road, with a variation in height of a couple of millimetres. Compared to the old tramlines on which F1 cars used to race this is nothing but with modern F1 technology teams need to see whether this will make a difference.
The Spaniards are not worried and intend to make the Valencia event a real fiesta to create the kind of buzz that exists when F1 is in Monaco or Melbourne. The track is relatively fast but the city planners have been able to incorporate run-off areas which are suitable for the F1 cars and the layout suggests that there should be at least one place on the track where overtaking will be possible.
The race is a key part of the city's strategic plan, which has been pushed onwards for years by the mayor Barbera Nolla, who wants to make the city a tourist destination that will attract millions more people each year.
The process began in the 1960s when the city diverted the River Turia to stop the city flooding. This left the medieval city centre encircled by a large dry river bed. This has since been converted into a large park with some stunning architecture, including Norman Foster's Palacio de Congresos and Santiago Calatrava's stunning City of Arts and Sciences, which continues to expand all the time. The aim is to use the development to link the old city with the port area an in doing so create one of Europe's major cultural destinations.
Those who question whether the race will be a success miss the point. The event is designed to bring the city to the attention of the world and as such it is a priority for the city.