This year’s Turkish Grand Prix looks like being the country’s last, with organiser complaining that rising costs are putting the squeeze on the event’s future. The truth, seemingly, lies somewhere rather different…
While drivers will no doubt be disappointed at the loss of one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar, those in the know are hardly surprised at the announcement.
The Hermann Tilke-designed circuit cost $150 million to build and despite a well-attended inaugural race in 2005, the event’s authorities earned themselves a whopping $5 million fine from the FIA. The sin? Allowing Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat on the podium and billing him as the President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a region that no other country outside of Turkey actually recognises. Such gestures of propaganda fall well outside the FIA’s guidelines of appropriate conduct, and the organisers stumped up the cash for their troubles.
Since this incident, the Grand Prix has stumbled from one crisis to the next. The promotion of the race was sold off to Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM umbrella group, and politicians are increasingly reluctant to throw their weight behind the cause.
A location miles out of Istanbul is certainly not ideal, and when combining high ticket prices with a population that has little in the way of a motorsport culture, it’s no wonder the fans have stayed away in droves.
Barely 10% of available tickets were sold for last year’s three-day event, and organisers attempted to mask the lack of ticket sales by covering entire grandstands – a gesture that few were fooled by.
And it would seem that Turkish organisers have finally decided to pull the pin after this year’s event, which is the final one on the current contract.
The reason they’re pulling out – they claim – is because Ecclestone wants to double the annual promotional fee to keep the race on the F1 calendar, up to $26 million a year.
For Ecclestone, he needs to have a venue dropped from the 2012 calendar in order to make room for the United States Grand Prix, which makes its return to the championship at the under-construction Circuit of the Americas track at Austin. Doubling the fee might be an easy way to force Turkey’s hand…
Murat Yalçintas, the head of Istanbul’s Chamber of Commerce, confirmed the news via his Twitter account.
“It looks like the Formula One race will not be held in Istanbul next year,” he wrote after a board meeting to discuss the Turkish Grand Prix’s future.
“Because it found this figure very high it looks like it [finance ministry] will not make the payment. That is why the race will not happen.”
Touting a ‘cry poor’ excuse is an easy – although not entirely truthful – excuse that Turkish officials can offer, and it won’t get much criticism from the locals. The plain and simple truth is that the event has been poorly managed from the outset, and in hindsight, should never have gotten off the ground.
If only the circuit could be teleported somewhere that the fans would go to…
[Image via Sutton Images]