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The Circuit Circus

I see that the Imola authorities are going ahead with their plans to improve the circuit in spite of the San Marino GP being dropped from the calendar for 2007. The hope is to get the race back in 2008 but I cannot help but feel that it is a forlorn hope at best.

Imola

BMW Sauber at Imola

With Bernie Ecclestone trying to get the Silverstone organizers to agree to an alternating race with France (and, of course, the BRDC is not interested in such a plan), things look pretty bleak for Imola’s chances. There is a limit to the number of races that can be run each year (18 seems to be the maximum) and Far Eastern countries are lining up with money in their hands, desperate to get into the game. India is next to get a GP, in 2010 we’re told.

Simple mathematics indicates that, if you add a new race to the calendar, somewhere another has to be dropped. And it is Europe that suffers, inevitably, since it has by far the most races. No circuit in Europe can be confident that the ax will not visit at some time in the future.

Traditionalists (like me) can bemoan the loss of old and great circuits but the facts of modern life dictate that the oldest and best are the most likely to go. “Safety” is invariably the excuse to get rid of them because that is their greatness – they present a challenge to the driver and demand a higher level of skill to achieve good lap times.

But we all know that the real reason is money. It is costing the owners of older circuits millions to keep their tracks updated to the latest FIA specifications and this makes it almost impossible to balance the books. Already it costs a small fortune to go to watch a GP – in the future the gate fee will only increase. And that means many potential spectators will stay away – after all, they can see the race on television for a fraction of the cost. The resulting squeeze on the organizers’ finances gets worse as a result.

So how do the new circuits manage? The answer has to be that a GP is seen as a status symbol for the nation and the government helps with cash injections. Notice that half of the Turkish GP’s FIA fine this year was paid by the Turkish government – they want to retain their race because it has benefits beyond mere money; there is national pride to be considered.

In Europe, F1 has been around too long for its subsidiary benefits to be recognized by governments. It’s a case of familiarity breeds contempt. It would be hard, too, for a European government to justify huge expenditure on a GP to its constituents – too many of them could not care less about the sport.

So the spread of F1 to far corners of the earth will continue and fewer old circuits will be used in the future. But, just occasionally, the traditionalists get the last laugh – and here’s an item that made me smile:

F1 Racing-live reports that practice for the A1GP race in Beijing has had to be suspended because the cars just could not negotiate the hairpin. Total chaos ensued on the first lap, it seems. How ironic that all the money and hype has been insufficient to produce a circuit that cars can actually drive around…

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