Along with Bahrain, the majority of Formula 1’s pre-season testing in recent times has taken place at three circuits in Spain. This time we talk about Circuito de Jerez, the southernmost of the Spanish tracks, which last hosted pre-season testing in 2015.
After Madrid’s Jarama circuit proved unsuitable for the demands of modern F1 machinery, the Spanish Grand Prix disappeared from the Formula 1 calendar between 1982-1985. It returned in 1986 at the brand new Circuito Permanente de Jerez, which was built in the middle of sherry country in the Andalusian region of southern Spain.
Jerez staged some memorable races over the next five years, though it was the scene in 1990 of a terrible crash that ended the career of Irishman Martin Donnelly. The circuit returned in 1997 as host of the European Grand Prix and saw the title decided in favour of Jacque Villeneuve after Michael Schumacher unsuccessfully tried to take him out! It happened on Lap 48 when Schumacher drove into the French-Canadian as he attempted to pass; the German ended up in the gravel and was subsequently disqualified from the season’s standings.
The same happened with Jo Ramirez, who worked for Ferrari, Tyrrell, ATS, Fittipaldi and eventually McLaren, where he ended his career in 2001. Ramirez lives not far from Jerez, in Malaga, and was a frequent visitor to the tests – often riding his bike. When I asked about his memories of the first Hungarian GP in 1986, his eyes lit up. We sat in the McLaren tent as Ramirez opened up, mainly about the great Ayrton Senna.
Since winter test days have a totally different rhythm to an F1 race weekend, there’s time to stroll around the track. Jerez also has a small museum (more info on the circuit website) that’s definitely worth visiting. It covers MotoGP as well as Formula 1 of course, and has some really cool items such as Nigel Mansell’s Williams FW11 from 1986, several drivers’ helmets (including Senna) and TV screens showing the past races held at the circuit.