Top 5 Spanish Grands Prix
It was meant to be the third in a triple-header but instead ends a double-header as the Spanish Grand Prix takes us into the seventh round of the 2023 F1 season in Barcelona this weekend.
And as I have been doing before every round in 2023, it’s time to go back down memory lane to revisit some iconic moments in the history of the race and bring you the top 5 Spanish Grands Prix of all time!
A total of 52 Spanish Grands Prix have been held as official F1 races, with the first taking place at the Pedralbes circuit in 1951 won by Juan Manuel Fangio.
It has been a mainstay on the calendar since 1986, and since 1991 the race has been held at the Catalunya circuit in Barcelona.
Mark Webber is the only Australian to ever win an official F1 round in Spain, doing so in 2010, although Alan Jones also won the Spanish Grand Prix in 1980 but the race was deemed a non-Championship event.
A quick note. Only races labelled the ‘Spanish Grand Prix’ have been considered this time for inclusion. A total of seven races have been held in the country labelled the ‘European Grand Prix’ at both the Jerez and Valencia circuits, but those races have been omitted this time around.
With all that in mind, which race stands the test of time as the best ever Spanish Grand Prix? Let’s find out.
5. 2016 – Winner: Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
It’s hard to think of now, but there was a time when Max Verstappen hadn’t won a grand prix. There was also a time where he didn’t drive for Red Bull. And there was also a time when Mercedes had won every race of the season, not Red Bull.
That time was 2016. The Spanish Grand Prix was the fifth race of the season and up to that point every race of the season had been dominated by Mercedes and won by the eventual World Champion of that season, Nico Rosberg.
Max Verstappen meanwhile had started the season with Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) and was putting in some great performances for Red Bull’s junior team. So great where his performances that he was drafted into the senior team alongside Daniel Ricciardo for Spain after Red Bull decided to give Daniil Kvyat the flick back down to the junior team for too many incidents.
While all the talk remained around this, the big talking point to come from the race would be THAT first lap crash between Mercedes teammates Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton had started from pole but Rosberg took the lead off the line, feverishly defending his position heading into turn four where the two collided and were out of the race on the spot.
The beneficiary? The Red Bulls. Particularly Ricciardo, who looked likely to take his first win of the season. However with Verstappen only stopping twice compared to Ricciardo three times, it was the Dutchman who eventually took the win, a stunning effort on debut for the team and in doing so became the youngest ever winner in F1 at the ripe old age of 18 years and 228 days.
It was a stunning achievement which kick-started the career of one of the greatest the sport has ever seen.
4. 1991 – Winner: Nigel Mansell (Williams)
A race known for its titanic battles and strong drive from Nigel Mansell, the 1991 Spanish Grand Prix is always regarded as a favourite among F1 fans.
Starting on a wet track, Mansell actually fell back early having started on the front row next to pole sitter Gerhard Berger in a McLaren.
Michael Schumacher, in only his fourth ever race, put a stunning move on Mansell on the opening lap to move up to third, with Mansell giving himself lots of work to do for the remainder of the race.
An epic battle between Ayrton Senna, Schumacher, Mansell and Jean Alesi for third place ensued for a large portion of the race, before Mansell was able to get past Schumacher and then switch focus to Senna.
What followed was some of the most memorable racing of all time, with the pair battling wheel-to-wheel down the main straight in a duel for the ages. Mansell eventually got through, and from that point on was a man possessed as he chased after Berger.
A bad pit-stop by Berger helped the cause, as did Senna letting him through to retake the lead. And just as round 2 of the battle looked to happen, Senna spun off, clearing the path for Mansell again to chase down Berger. However Berger would eventually retire with an electronic failure, giving the victory to Mansell and denying viewers from yet more epic racing.
Despite the ending fizzling out, it remains one of the best races of all time for classic wheel-to-wheel racing.
3. 2012 – Winner: Pastor Maldonado (Williams)
The 2012 Spanish Grand Prix is one of those “I remember where I was when I saw it” races that comes along so rarely. And the fact that a certain Pastor Maldonado won it, still baffles many F1 fans.
Maldonado always had some glimpses of speed in a fairly uncompetitive Williams car, but his reputation for crashing always overshadowed his potential.
That weekend in 2012 in Barcelona though saw the potential really shine through, with strong pace all weekend leading to a stunning front row start alongside Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren.
However Hamilton was sent to the back of the grid for the race after a fuel issue, meaning Maldonado secured his first ever pole position.
On race day it seemed unlikely that Maldonado could challenge for the win, with the Ferrari of home town hero Fernando Alonso favourite to make the most of Hamilton’s misfortune.
However Maldonado never faltered, driving an incredible race to hold off Alonso and secure his only ever F1 win, and to this date, the last by a Williams driver.
What made it even more incredible was the fact that it was the fifth different driver to win a race in the opening five races from a fifth different team. This was also a period in F1 where amazing six F1 World Champions were on the grid, or technically seven given that Nico Rosberg would go on to win a World Championship, showcasing the supreme talent on offer in the sport at that time.
It really was an incredible sight to see, and one made even more spectacular by the fact that the Williams garage literally caught fire during their post-race celebrations.
Easily one of the most memorable races of all time.
2. 1986 – Winner: Ayrton Senna (Lotus)
Can you imagine watching a race in 2023 with three drivers battling for the win wheel-to-wheel for the majority of the race? If that seems like a pipe dream, then I suggest looking up race footage of this grand prix to see what it was like.
Ayrton Senna in his Lotus had taken a sensational pole on the Saturday and maintained his lead in the opening stages, but was soon under threat from the Williams of Nigel Mansell and McLaren of Alain Prost, with all three of them battling closely.
Mansell eventually took the lead from Senna but had to pit for new tyres with ten laps remaining. This dropped him to third behind Prost, who had dropped back from the battle, and 20 seconds behind Senna in the lead.
However after quickly dispatching Prost, Mansell went about chasing down Senna and had amazingly closed the gap to within only 5.3 seconds with two laps remaining.
The final lap saw Mansell within 1.5 seconds and eventually caught up to Senna, nearly overtaking the Brazilian at the final hairpin but braked too late to make it stick.
He battled right up to the line and nearly claimed the win, narrowly being beaten by a mere 0.014 seconds, or 93 centimetres.
To this day it remains the third closest finish in the history of the sport, and showcased the supreme driving skills of some of the best to ever appear in F1.
1. 1996 – Winner: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
A race won by a driver by 45 seconds might not seem like a thrilling affair, but for the absolute pure dominance it saw by one of the greatest drivers of all time, it’s hard to overlook the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix as the best.
Going into the seventh race of not only the 1996 season but his career with Ferrari, Michael Schumacher had struggled with the underperforming F310. He had retired three times out of the first six races and had yet to win a race.
Schumacher qualified in third place for the Spanish Grand Prix, nearly a whole second off pole sitter Damon Hill in the Williams. The start wasn’t any better for the German, as a clutch issue dropped him back even further.
However the heavens soon opened, with torrential rain making it extremely difficult for others to remain on the circuit. But not for the ‘Regenmeister’, who soon found pace nobody else could, storming his way to the lead by lap 13 and then piling on the pace, lapping three seconds a lap faster than the rest of the field.
The dominance was second to none, with Schumacher taking one of the worst cars of his career and turning it into one of the most dominant race victories in the history of Formula 1.
The win not only cemented him as one of the best ever wet weather drivers, but also put his legacy firmly amongst the greats and set the bar for what was to come in his Ferrari career.
Do you agree with this list? Which Spanish Grand Prix is your favourite? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here