How Bizet’s Carmen came to be the soundtrack of Formula One racing

29 July 2022, 13:59 | Updated: 29 July 2022, 14:28

The overture to Georges Bizet’s Carmen is played as F1 drivers spray champagne on the podium.
The overture to Georges Bizet’s Carmen is played as F1 drivers spray champagne on the podium. Picture: Alamy

By Siena Linton

The overture to Bizet’s opera Carmen has accompanied the Formula One champagne-spraying podium tradition since the mid-90s.

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Since it was first televised in 1978, Formula One racing has become synonymous with the catchy bass guitar riff on the outro to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’, from their multiple award-winning 1977 album Rumours.

But in more recent years, a number of different tracks have appeared on the sport’s broadcasts, including the ‘Ode to Joy’ from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and, most notably, the overture to Georges Bizet’s opera, Carmen.

So the Formula One tradition goes, drivers on the grand prix podium hear two national anthems – one to represent the winning driver’s nationality, and a second paying homage to that of the team they drive for.

Then, as the winning trio of drivers pop their champagne bottles, the overture to Carmen kicks off in the galloping rhythm of ‘Les Toreadors’.

Read more: Did you know that Carmen had a completely DISASTROUS premiere?

Why was Bizet’s Carmen chosen for the Formula One podium ceremony?

The precise reason for choosing Bizet’s Carmen as a soundtrack to the champagne popping ritual is hard to track down, but there are a few possible explanations.

Some suggest that it was a personal choice by Bernie Ecclestone, chief executive of the Formula One Group until 2017, having cycled through various soundtracks from Europe’s 1986 hit ‘The Final Countdown’ to Beethoven’s Ninth, before settling on Carmen in the mid-90s.

However, others suggest that the choice was actually made by the wider governing body for Formula One and other car racing events, the FIA (International Automobile Federation), as the overture has also been heard at the World Rally Championship.

One other suggestion is a play on words around the title of the opera, reading it as ‘Car Men’ rather than Carmen, as famed choreographer Matthew Bourne would later do in his 2000 dance production, The Car Man.

Whatever the reason, the pulsing excitement of Bizet’s melody is undoubtedly a perfect fit for any Grand Prix.