It is a truth universally acknowledged that Formula 1 cars are driven nowhere more often than in Spain.
For, in addition to Grands Prix run in that country, which have numbered one or sometimes two per season ever since the late 1960s (bar a short interregnum from 1982 to 1985), Formula 1 teams have long chosen the sunny circuits of Barcelona and Jerez on which to perform pre-season testing (and in-season testing, too, when it used to be allowed).
Indeed, as I write, they are hard at work at the Circuit de Catalunya (Barcelona), trialling aero upgrades designed to optimise their cars' performance in the Australian Grand Prix, which will kick off the 2013 Formula 1 season later this month.
McLaren has won Grands Prix in Spain - of course it has - but not perhaps as many as you might think. The Woking boys have triumphed in just four of the 22 Grands Prix that have been held at the Circuit de Catalunya (Kimi Raikkonen in 2005 and a 1998-1999-2000 hat-trick for Mika Hakkinen) and three of the seven Grands Prix that have been held at the Circuit de Jerez (Hakkinen again, in 1997, his maiden Grand Prix victory, Ayrton Senna in 1989 and Alain Prost in 1988). And McLaren won none of the five European Grands Prix that ran through the streets of Valencia every summer between 2008 and 2012.
Spanish Grands Prix are nowadays rammed to the grandstand rafters with boisterous Fernando Alonso fans - for, ever since he won back-to-back World Championships for Renault in 2005-06, Alonso has generated in Spain a patriotic fervour for Formula 1 that would have been difficult to predict before his arrival on the Grand Prix scene. Pre-Alonso, Spanish motorsport fans had had eyes only for the two-wheeled variety of the sport. Even now, Spain has only ever had one Formula 1 World Champion - indeed Spain has only ever had one Formula 1 race winner - whereas, over the years, Spanish motorcyclists Angel Nieto, Ricardo Tormo, Jorge Martinez, Manuel Herreros, Sito Pons, Alex Criville, Emilio Alzamora, Alvaro Bautista, Dani Pedrosa, Julian Simon, Nicolas Terol, Toni Elias, Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo have all won two-wheeled World Championships. And, as a result, for a generation, crowds of 130,000 or more have frequently flocked to watch Moto GP races at the Circuit de Catalunya, the Circuit de Jerez and the Circuit de Valencia.
By contrast, when I first began reporting on Formula 1, 40-odd years ago now, Spanish Grands Prix were very sparsely attended affairs. After one-off Grands Prix run on the wonderful but dangerous Pedralbes circuit in a western suburb of Barcelona in 1951 and 1954, which had been won respectively by Juan Manuel Fangio (Alfa Romeo) and Mike Hawthorn (Ferrari), the Spanish Grand Prix had returned to a regular slot on the Formula 1 calendar in 1967, for a non-championship race won by Lotus's Jim Clark, and from 1968 it had become a pukka event of World Championship status.
Much as the British Grand Prix was at that time shared by Silverstone and Brands Hatch, each circuit hosting the race every other year, so also was the Spanish Grand Prix shared until 1975 by Jarama and Montjuic (like Pedralbes, a magnificent but perilous street circuit, and like Pedralbes also in Barcelona).
Jarama was a narrow and tortuous racetrack, built in 1967 on arid scrub-land just north of Madrid, on which overtaking was extremely difficult, and which is famous in McLaren circles only for James Hunt's controversial win there in 1976. Hunt had apparently won, but was disqualified shortly after the race for a technical infringement. McLaren appealed - and, a few months later, the appeal was upheld, reinstating Hunt as the race's winner, and beginning the Englishman's run of victories that culminated in his taking the World Championship, in dramatic fashion, at season's end, in Fuji, Japan.
But Hunt's Spanish Grand Prix win in 1976 would be McLaren's only victory at Jarama, which hosted its final Grand Prix in 1981.
The last Spanish Grand Prix ever held at Montjuic was mired in controversy, and, ultimately, tragedy.
Concerned that the crash-barriers that lined the challenging hillside switchback were not properly bolted together, every top driver except Lotus's Jacky Ickx (who was not a member of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, which had been formed the previous decade with a view to give drivers a common voice via which to campaign for better safety conditions) boycotted the Friday practice sessions.
In panicky response, the circuit authorities effected a quick fix, but many drivers were still unimpressed, including the reigning World Champion, Emerson Fittipaldi, who had won McLaren's first Formula 1 World Championship the previous year. By now clearly McLaren's number-one driver, his beautiful McLaren-Ford M23 proudly carrying a big red '1' on its red-and-white nosecone, Emerson completed only three laps in Saturday qualifying, at barely more than jogging pace, then drove into the McLaren pit, parked, declared the circuit still unsafe, withdrew from the Grand Prix, and went home. McLaren would therefore field only one car for the next day's race, for its number-two driver, Jochen Mass, who at that time had only once stood on a Grand Prix podium, as a result of his third place in Brazil just a few weeks before.
Predictably, when it finally got underway, the race was a disaster. At the start, Vittorio Brambilla (March) and Mario Andretti (Parnelli) collided, the Parnelli being punted into Niki Lauda's Ferrari, which in turn then T-boned Clay Regazzoni's Ferrari. By the end of lap one, Patrick Depailler (Tyrrell) had also crashed out. It was too much for Emerson's brother Wilson Fittipaldi (Fittipaldi), and also for Arturo Merzario (Williams), both of whom promptly withdrew in protest.
A couple of laps later Jody Scheckter's Tyrrell suffered a Cosworth engine failure, dumping oil on the famously treacherous track, causing Alan Jones (Hesketh) and Mark Donohue (Penske) also to crash out. A lap later James Hunt (Hesketh) also slid off on Scheckter's oil. Then, John Watson (Surtees) also succumbed. Next, Tom Pryce (Shadow) and Tony Brise (Williams) had a coming-together. Soon after, Ronnie Peterson (Lotus) and Francois Migault (Hill) also tangled.
Worse was to come. On lap 26 the rear wing of Rolf Stommelen's Hill became detached, causing him to lose control of his car at high speed. Carlos Pace (Brabham) also then shunted, in his efforts to avoid Stommelen's crazily gyrating Hill, which finally slammed into the ill-repaired crash barrier, hurtled over the top of it, flew through the air, and landed in an area in which spectators had been watching trackside. Stommelen survived, albeit with a broken leg, a fractured wrist and two cracked ribs. But five spectators were killed.
Enough was enough. The race was stopped after only 29 of the scheduled 75 laps. The winner, not that anyone noticed, was Mass, in the only McLaren that had started the race. He would never win another Grand Prix. And, despite the fact that the record books show the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix as one of McLaren's 182 Grand Prix victories, by no means can the afternoon of April 27th 1975 be described as one of the team's finest hours.