The Spanish Grand Prix could find itself stripped of its place on the Formula 1 calendar after the racism that blighted testing at the Circuit de Catalunya early last year reared its ugly head again this weekend.
In February, 2008, Spanish fans with blackened faces and T-shirts emblazoned with the words 'Hamilton's Family' earned the track a severe reprimand from the FIA, with the sport's governing body threatening 'serious sanctions' – ranging as far as the loss of both of the country's grands prix, in Barcelona and Valencia – should any such unsavoury episode re-occur. Sadly, it has.
Shortly before the race, images were broadcast of a supporter with a blackened face holding and pointing towards what appeared to be a McLaren-Mercedes steering wheel, in an obvious reference to F1's first-ever black world champion, Lewis Hamilton. The man in question was being cheered and encouraged by a number of other spectators.
Hamilton became a figure of hate in Spain after then team-mate and national hero Fernando Alonso complained publicly in 2007 that he was receiving inferior treatment compared to the Briton at McLaren. The fall-out was such that the Spaniard left the Woking-based outfit at the end of the campaign, two years before his three-year contract was due for renewal and having come within a single point of claiming a third consecutive drivers' world crown.
The latest shame to befall the circuit has been treated with similar reprobation, with 13-time grand prix-winner David Coulthard suggesting that it was designed 'to make some sort of statement' and affirming that 'it's not a good thing to see'. The testing incident 15 months ago, he added, was 'viewed very dimly by the FIA – quite correctly'.
“I'm absolutely staggered,” agreed former F1 team owner Eddie Jordan. “Catalunya has always been a very friendly circuit and very hospitable, not just to the teams but to the drivers and everyone. I think there is a suspended sentence still hanging over them because the FIA did come down very strongly, and rightly so. It needs to come down even more heavily now, because this is totally and absolutely unacceptable.”
Last year, the Spanish motorsport federation (RFE) expressed its 'absolute repulsion' at the racist abuse that had been directed at Hamilton, affirming at the time: 'We strongly support the FIA's position with regards to fighting against all racial, political or religious discrimination in motorsport.'
'The Circuit de Catalunya will not allow even the smallest incident to repeat itself within its facilities,' a statement from the circuit had added following the initial incident. 'The Circuit de Catalunya will not accept any abuse of [its] image through racist attitudes or attacks on sporting competitions. The circuit requests the grand prix to be the genuine meeting-point for all the different supporters of drivers and teams in our sport, especially to represent the welcome and sporting values of our country and our national sponsor.
'In case of sanctions, the Circuit de Catalunya may consider the possibility of taking legal action against those who caused the incidents, regardless of the magnitude.'