• Cost of staging F1 race next year set to double to £15.75m
• Only 36,000 attended 2009 grand prix at Istanbul Park
The next round of the Formula One world championship in Turkey may well be the last time the country stages a race after organisers claimed they had been priced out, with costs set to double to m (£15.75m) next year.
The Istanbul Park circuit, whose contract runs out this year, hosted its first grand prix in 2005, and the construction costs and race fees were met by the government. Despite some logistical difficulties, with fans stuck in traffic jams, the inaugural race was sold out and seen as successful in a country with little or no tradition of, or interest in, motor sport. However, this factor became telling soon afterwards. Attendances began falling and by 2009 only 36,000 were at the circuit on race day. The same year, 128,000 attended the British grand prix.
Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One’s commercial rights holder, has blamed poor promotion, saying: “They have a huge catchment area of east European and Middle East countries. The layout is brilliant, they just don’t promote it.” Yet, in a further example of the labyrinthine financial arrangements within the sport, the operation of the circuit is leased to Ecclestone by the Turkish government.
The issue of a price rise first came up last year, when Turkey’s youth and sports director, Yunus Akgul, said: “Paying m for this organisation every year is a big burden. The figure is very high.” On Friday, there appeared to be confirmation that it was too high. The Hurriyet newspaper quoted Murat Yalcintas, head of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, who had tweeted: “It looks like the Formula One race will not be held in Istanbul next year. Because it [the finance ministry] found this figure very high it looks like it will not make the payment.”
Ecclestone is unlikely to be concerned as he has made it clear there are always countries keen to stage a race. The US grand prix returns next year in Austin, Texas, South Africa is bidding for rights in 2013 and Russia is advanced in negotiations to hold a race for a reported m.
Although not well-attended, the Hermann Tilke-designed circuit in Turkey is much-liked by armchair fans and drivers alike. Nico Rosberg described it as “one of the best of the newer tracks we visit over the year”. It boasts considerable elevation changes and a magnificent test in the form of Turn 8, features that have contributed to some enthralling racing. Last year Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber went wheel-to-wheel before a coming-together, while Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button competed furiously before Hamilton took the chequered flag.