Circuito del Jarama – Half a Century of Ups and Downs

April 29, 2017
Marijan Malcevic

  • Circuito del Jarama, San Sebastian, Madrid
  • Circuito del Jarama
  • Circuito del Jarama, truck racing
  • Circuito del Jarama 2021

The Circuito del Jarama (Circuit of Jarama), located in San Sebastian near Madrid, Spain, is the oldest still operative race track in Spain. The circuit was officially opened in 1967, hosting the non-championship Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix in the same year. After that, Jarama hosted the Spanish Grand Prix ten more times until 1981.

Many other major competitions were visiting Jarama in the past, such were Motorcycle World Championship, Superbike, Formula 2, Formula 3000, World Touring Car Championship, World Sportscar Championship, FIA GT Championship, Le Mans Series or World Series by Renault. Today, the circuit is mostly serving for national events, the only international competition is the FIA European Truck Racing Championship.

RACE hired John Hugenholtz to design a race track

Despite a long history of motorsport in Spain, a country had no permanent racing circuit and didn’t host Formula 1 races since 1954, following a closure of Pedralbes Circuit in 1955, caused by Le Mans disaster same year. In the mid-1960s, the Royal Automobile Club of Spain (RACE) decided to find a location for a permanent race track. They chose San Sebastian de los Reyes, about 20 km north of Madrid.

RACE hired Dutchman John Hugenholtz, who designed Suzuka and Zolder, to draw their race track. Hugenholtz had no much space so he designed twisty and compact track, 3,404 meters long.

Circuito Permanente del Jarama map, layout

An orignal layout of the Circuito Permanente del Jarama

Racers came even before an official opening

The construction began in 1966 under the direction of Alessandro Rocci. Racers didn’t want to wait for an official opening, so the first race took place on the unfinished circuit on December 18, 1966. The construction workers finished their job by February 1967 and the circuit was officially opened on July 2, 1967. The official name of the circuit was Circuito Permanente del Jarama. The 3.4 km race track featured thirteen corners, most of them were bearing the famous names –  Nuvolari, Fangio, Varzi, Le Mans, Farina, Ascari, Portago, Bugatti or Monza.

Jim Clark was the first Grand Prix winner at Jarama

In August 1967, Jim Clark won the first Formula 2 race at Jarama. Three months later, on November 12, the Formula One Spanish Grand Prix was organized for the first time since 1954. It was the non-championship race under Formula One rules and Jim Clark took another victory, beating Graham Hill and Jack Brabham.

Next year, in 1968, Jarama became a part of the Formula One World Championship. The race was held on May 12 as the second round of the championship. Unfortunately, Jim Clark wasn’t there to defend his last year’s win. He won the season-opening round in South Africa and after that, he lost his life at Formula 2 race at Hockenheim in April. Ferrari’s Chris Amon took the pole with a lap time 1.27.9. In the 90-lap race, Graham Hill brought a victory to mourning Lotus team, ahead of Pedro Rodriguez and Denny Hulme.

Circuito Permanente del Jarama pitlane

Circuito Permanente del Jarama in the

Jarama and Montjuic were hosting Spanish Grand Prix

Jarama had to alternate with Barcelona’s Montjuïc street circuit as the host of the Spanish Grand Prix, so Formula One cars were coming to San Sebastian every two years. Such a schedule stayed until 1975 when Montjuic circuit was declared unsafe and Formula One came to Jarama permanently from 1976 onwards.

In 1970, the race was won by defending world champion Jackie Stewart, driving a March 701. Bruce McLaren finished second, ahead of Mario Andretti, for whom it was the first F1 podium in a career. Jack Brabham was the fastest man on the track, setting fastest laps both in qualifying (1.23.9) and race (1.24.3).

In 1972, Ferrari’s Jacky Ickx was more than five seconds faster when setting lap time 1.18.43 in qualifying. In the race, Ickx finished second, behind Emerson Fittipaldi in the #5 Lotus 72D. Another Ferrari driver Clay Regazzoni completed a podium.

Formula One cars, racing, Jarama

Formula One cars were racing at Jarama eleven times

Niki Lauda scored his maiden F1 win at Jarama

In 1974, Niki Lauda was fastest both in qualifying (1.18.44) and race, winning the race ahead of Ferrari teammate Clay Regazzoni. McLaren’s Emerson Fittipaldi finished in the third place. For Niki Lauda, it was his maiden F1 championship victory in a career.

In 1976, McLaren’s James Hunt won the race, after starting from pole position. His #11 McLaren M23 was disqualified in post-race scrutineering but McLaren appealed the disqualification so Hunt was confirmed as the winner. Niki Lauda (Ferarri) and Gunnar Nilsson (Lotus) completed a podium.

Mario Andretti is the only double winner

In 1977, Mario Andretti became the seventh different winner in seven Grand Prix races at Jarama. He started from pole in the #5 Lotus and won the race ahead of Carlos Reutemann (Ferrari) and Jody Scheckter (Wolf).

In 1978, Andretti became the first double winner at Jarama. He demonstrated a speed of new Lotus 79, setting a new lap record (1.16.39). His teammate Ronnie Peterson finished second, ahead of Ligier’s Jacques Laffite.

Jacques Laffite was the fastest but never won

In 1979, Laffite was even faster in qualifying, lapping a circuit with Ligier JS11 for one minute 14.50 seconds. In the race, he retired with blown engine, so his teammate Patrick Depailler took the win. Lotus drivers Carlos Reutemann and Mario Andretti completed a podium. During the race, Ferrari’s Gilles Villeneuve set a lap time 1.16.44, which is still today the official track record for the race.

In 1980, the Spanish Grand Prix was originally scheduled to be the seventh round of the championship but after problems caused by the FISA-FOCA war, the race was the non-championship event. Ligier’s Jacques Laffite was the fastest qualifier again (1.12.64) but retired after an accident. Alan Jones (Williams) won the race ahead of Jochen Mass (Arrows) and Elio de Angelis (Lotus).

1981 Formula One Spanish Grand Prix, Gilles Villeneuve

1981 Spanish Grand Prix – Villeneuve’s win in Formula One’s last visit to Jarama

Villeneuve’s tactical win in the last Grand Prix

The last Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama was held in 1981 and it was marked by Gilles Villeneuve‘s tactical victory over four drivers who formed a train of cars behind him. Villeneuve’s Ferrari 126CK was fast in straights but he was losing an advantage in corners. It was almost impossible to overtake on narrow track, so Jacques Laffite, John Watson, Carlos Reutemann and Elio de Angelis stayed behind Villeneuve, with five cars in the 1.24 seconds margin.

Formula One left Jarama after 1981

For the 1981 Grand Prix, the track was slightly modified at the Bugatti esses, being shortened to 3,314 meters and giving more space for run-off area in that turn. However, Jarama’s circuit was still too narrow, too short and without proper run-off areas considering safety standards in the early 1980s, so Formula One left Jarama and Spain after 1981’s race. The next Spanish Grand Prix was held in 1986 at Jerez.

Different racing competitions during the 1980s

After losing Formula One, a major event was the Motorcycle World Championship Grand Prix, which visited Jarama since 1969. Jarama was on the Moto GP calendar until 1988. Other major series to occasionally visit Jarama during the 1980s were the World Sportscar Championship, Formula 3000, the European Touring Car Championship and the World Touring Car Championship.

In April 1987, Jarama hosted the second round of the inaugural World Touring Car Championship. In the 4-hour race, the winners were BMW Motorsport’s Roberto Ravaglia and Emanuele Pirro. In June 1989, Jean-Louis Schlesser and Jochen Mass won the WSC race at Jarama, driving the #62 Sauber C9-Mercedes.

A look on the main straight of the Jarama Circuit

A look on the main straight of the Jarama Circuit

The race track was extended in 1990

In 1990, the RACE extended the circuit by increasing a length of the main straight and constructing a new section between Ascari and Portago turns. The pit lane was also extended and new garage facilities added. A length of a new circuit was 3,850 meters.

Such a changes caused an interest of motorcyclists, with two visits from the World Superbikes in 1991 and 1992. The Motorcycle World Championship returned in 1998 with Madrid Grand Prix, in addition to Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, but it was just a one-off return. In the car racing, the circuit was serving mainly for the national races.

Truck racing Grand Prix at Jarama circuit

Truck racing Grand Prix at Jarama circuit

New competitions in a new millennium

A new millennium came with few international racing competitions, such were FIA GT (2001 and 2002), the Le Mans Series (2001 and 2006) and World Series by Renault (2000-2004). Today, national car racing and motorcycle series are still holding a majority of a calendar, together with various driving schools and other events. The only international competition is the FIA European Truck Racing Championship Grand Prix.

In 2014, RACE started a seven-year investment programme Proyecto Jarama 2021, with a plan to completely rebuild all facilities and the track itself. Jarama will get an impressive control tower, new grandstands and modern pit garages, the length of a circuit would be extended and the final phase would be a construction of a new museum.

Video : Proyecto Jarama 2021

Address: Circuito del Jarama, Autovia A1, Km 28, 28700 San Sebastián de los Reyes, Madrid, Espana

Phone: +34 91 657 08 75

Official website:


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