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F1 in Madrid: What’s the track, why is it moving and more

Formula 1’s Spanish Grand Prix is leaving Barcelona for Madrid from 2026, but what does the track look like and what is behind the move?

IFEMA Madrid

Formula 1

F1 announced this week (23 January) that Madrid will host the Spanish GP from 2026, but why is the move happening and has the series visited Spain’s capital before? 

These are all questions that have been raised since the news, plus many more like what is the circuit like, and does it mean the future of Barcelona - the current Spanish GP venue - is in doubt?  

The move is part of a long-term contract for Madrid which expires in 2035 and the plan is to race on a hybrid 3.4-mile circuit featuring street and non-street sections, subject to FIA approval. 

It has sparked controversy from the F1 community because Madrid adds to the list of non-permanent tracks that have joined the calendar in recent years like Jeddah, Miami and Las Vegas.  

This means in 2026 there will likely be at least nine non-permanent circuits in an F1 season, which would be almost a third of races if the calendar stays at 24 rounds.  

That is a large increase from 10 years ago when there were just four temporary circuits - Australia, Monaco, Canada and Singapore - on the 2014 calendar, suggesting that urban tracks are something Liberty Media, the owners of F1, are pushing further towards.  

Where in Madrid is the F1 circuit located? 

The 2026 Spanish GP will be held in the area of Campo de las Naciones, which is within Madrid’s municipality but around 18.6 miles north-east of the city centre. 

madrid-cropped

madrid-cropped

Its circuit will be built on the fairgrounds by IFEMA Madrid’s convention centre, which already hosts various exhibitions and events from music concerts to theatre shows, while Real Madrid CF's training complex is also nearby.

Meanwhile, Madrid’s airport is also local to IFEMA, so think of it like the London E-Prix which happens on the grounds of the ExCel International Exhibition and Convention Centre just three miles east of Canary Wharf and a mile walk from London City Airport.

Madrid F1 circuit track guide  

Madrid's circuit will be a hybrid 3.4-mile track, subject to FIA approval, where its 20 corners - all of differing speeds - contribute to a predicted lap time of 1m32s. It will feature both street sections running through the IFEMA exhibition building area and non-street parts that are yet to be built on the land adjacent, where the two bits will be connected by a pair of tunnels drawing comparisons to Miami. 

The lap starts with a short run to the chicane of Turns 1 and 2 before a fast Turn 3 bend takes the circuit clockwise. A fairly long straight takes drivers into another right bend taken flat-out before a sudden left chicane at Turns 5 and 6. 

Cars are then taken through the first tunnel before going uphill to a section of existing roads from Turns 7 to 9, which starts with another chicane before a quick right-hander. 

That sequence is followed by a long straight taking drivers to the steep, 180 degrees Turn 10 bend that is banked in a similar way to the final corner at Zandvoort Circuit. Designers hope a prime overtaking spot is what follows with the sharp, left-handed Turn 11 which is quickly followed by a sharp right-hander.  

Next up is a very fast and twisty sequence through Turns 13 and 17, which runs through the second tunnel and back into the main exhibition centre where drivers must navigate a series of high-speed bends.  

The lap is then slowed right down for its final three corners, similar to Sochi Autodrome’s final sector, to complete the lap.  

A bull fighting poster on a news stand in Jarama, atmosphere

Photo by: Motorsport Images

A bull fighting poster on a news stand in Jarama, atmosphere

Why is F1 moving to Madrid? 

F1 is moving to Madrid for many reasons. The first is obviously financial, as Madrid will have put a package together that was hard for F1 to turn down.  

Secondly, F1 has said that sustainability is a big factor in choosing Spain’s capital because, over the past five years, IFEMA Madrid has reduced its carbon footprint by 78% which is in line with F1’s objective to be carbon-neutral by 2030.  

In addition, all of IFEMA’s buildings use 100% certified renewable energy and they are looking to implement zero waste disposal at all sites by 2026. 

But, perhaps the biggest reason for F1 choosing Madrid is its accessibility. Since Liberty Media took ownership of F1 it has pushed for more urban tracks making it easier for fans to attend and Madrid's circuit will have an initial capacity of 110,000, before increasing to 140,000 over the first half of its contract. 

The venue is also well served by public transport as it has its own metro station on the same line as Madrid airport just three miles out from IFEMA, so fans can theoretically be at the track shortly after arriving in Spain. 

This contrasts Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya, which is 26 miles from the city’s airport and traffic getting in and out of the venue has often caused controversy. 

Meanwhile, many other non-urban tracks like Spa-Francorchamps - whose F1 contract is only until 2025 - is 49.7 miles from its nearest airport, Maastricht Aachen Airport, which is actually in the Netherlands and not Belgium thus why Liberty Media wants more city circuits.  

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23, the rst of the field at the start

Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23, the rst of the field at the start

Will Barcelona be dropped from the F1 calendar? 

The Spanish GP moving to Madrid from 2026 has inevitably caused doubt over Barcelona’s future, where its Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya has hosted the event since 1991. 

So, do F1 think it's worth visiting Spain twice a year? Stefano Domenicali does as the F1 CEO told the championship’s official website “the fact we are in Madrid is not excluding the fact we could stay in Barcelona for the future”. 

However, slots on the F1 calendar are now at a premium as the series is currently experiencing a boom in popularity, where the number of venues interested in hosting a grand prix exceeds the amount of races that can be included on the calendar.  

In addition, Madrid joins Melbourne and Bahrain in having a new contract which goes beyond 2030 so that is another challenge posed to Barcelona in trying to arrange a long-term deal with F1, while the venue also does not fit Liberty Media’s mould of wanting tracks in urban areas.  

Therefore, many obstacles confront Barcelona in its fight to stay on the calendar, but Spain has emerged as a big market recently with double F1 world champion Fernando Alonso and grand prix winner Carlos Sainz both hailing from the country, while the series has signed a contract with DAZN, who broadcast the series in Spain, until at least 2026.  

So, it certainly isn’t out of the question for Spain to host two grands prix in the season as it has done in previous years through the European GP. This was an event introduced in the 1980s where the race visited a country that already had its own grand prix, so in 1994, it was hosted by Jerez while the Spanish GP was in Barcelona.  

Jerez hosted the European GP once more in 1997 before the event returned to Spain in 2008 with Valencia, which remained on the F1 calendar until 2012. So, there have been seven times in the history of F1 that Spain has hosted two races in a season meaning that tally could increase, but it will be a big task for Barcelona to make it eight or more.  

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F310B, leads the field at the start

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F310B, leads the field at the start

Has F1 visited Madrid before?  

In 2026 Madrid will end a 45-year absence from the F1 calendar, having last visited the capital in 1981. Madrid hosted the Spanish GP 11 times between 1967 and 1981, although two of those - ’67 and ’80 - were non-championship races meaning it was not part of any series so drivers were not racing for points.  

The Jarama circuit, in the Community of Madrid but approximately 18.6 miles from the city centre, was built for 1967 and the original track was a very twisty layout mostly filled with fast bends as 12 corners helped complete a 2.12-mile lap.  

Jim Clark won the first Spanish GP to be held at the Jarama circuit, but the following year Graham Hill took victory when it wasn’t a non-championship race and part of the F1 calendar for the first time. From 1969 F1 began to alternate Jarama with Barcelona’s Montjuic Circuit, until a fatal accident - Rolf Stommelen crashed into the spectator area causing four fans to die - in 1975 ended Montjuic’s stay on the calendar, leaving Madrid as the permanent host from ’76 to ’81. 

Jarama also delivered many historic moments in its time on the F1 calendar, including Niki Lauda’s first grand prix victory in 1974. 

Lauda started from pole in wet conditions, but he lost the lead to Ronnie Peterson at race start before re-gaining position through the pit-stop window. He later crossed the line 35.6 seconds ahead of Clay Regazzoni in a Ferrari 1-2, as Peterson retired with an engine failure while the 1974 Spanish GP also ended six laps short of the scheduled 90 because it hit the two-hour maximum. 

Lauda was again fighting at the front in F1’s next visit to Jarama. The Ferrari driver was initially declared the winner of the 1976 Spanish GP, as his championship rival James Hunt was disqualified in post-race scrutineering because his McLaren car was found to be 1.5cm too wide. However, McLaren later appealed the decision and Hunt was reinstated as race victor because the 1.5cm difference was “minimal”.  

Many more memorable moments happened in Jarama after Hunt’s victory, like Mario Andretti claiming back-to-back wins in 1977-78, while the 1980 Spanish GP was a non-championship event because it happened at the height of the FISA-FOCA war - a huge dispute between Jean-Marie Balestre's governing body and the Bernie Ecclestone-led band of constructors. 

The field heads towards the first corner at the start of the race

Photo by: David Phipps

The field heads towards the first corner at the start of the race

Williams’ Alan Jones won the 1980 Spanish GP, but Jarama was back on the F1 calendar for 1981 for what proved to be the last time. The 1981 Spanish GP was a spectacle on-track as it gave Gilles Villeneuve his final grand prix victory, but only 25,000 fans attended due to high ticket prices and a bomb threat from terrorist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, also known as ETA. 

So, with concerns over safety and finances Jarama dropped off the F1 calendar - as did Spain until 1986 with the addition of Jerez - and has not returned since. 

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