If Donington Park isn’t up to scratch by 2010, there won’t be a British Grand Prix.
That’s Bernie Ecclestone’s insistence – and it is complete and utter folly. At a time when F1 spectator figures are taking a hammering, the last thing F1 should be doing is turning its back on one of the best-attended races on the calendar.
The effect of the recession on ticket sales is clear when you look at crowd figures for the Spanish Grand Prix.
Yes, part of the drop-off in ticket sales will be down to the fact that Fernando Alonso is not in a winning car. That said, going into this year’s Spanish Grand Prix he had won two of the last eight races, so I think that is part of the explanation but not the whole reason.
While previously popular European races are seeing a decline in attendance, some of F1’s newer venues have embarrassingly small crowds:
So poor was the size of the crowd at the Turkish Grand Prix that even the drivers commented on it:
I think when you come here and you see in the city that there are massive fans around, and you come here and see that there is nobody then you know that it is just too expensive. So we have to make it cheaper. We prefer to race at a track with cheaper tickets but a lot of people inside, because if they put down the price of the tickets it would be full.
Inevitably lower ticket prices might mean more sales but it might not improve the track owners’ profit margins – and they have Bernie Ecclestone’s hefty fees to pay. As Ecclestone’s income from the races is not linked to how many people show up, he can charge sky-high prices and leave it to the track owners to worry about whether anyone will actually show up.
Of course, it is terrible for F1’s image for the racing to take place in front of near-empty stadia. That isn’t a problem at Silverstone:
Silverstone was a sell-out last year despite having recently added an extra 2,500-seat grandstand. More than twice as many people watched Friday practice at Silverstone last year than say the race at Istanbul this year.
I have nothing against Simon Gillett’s plans for a British Grand Prix at Donington Park. But we have to be realistic and admit that in a recession there are difficulties to financing such a large construction project and paying Ecclestone’s fees.
If Donington Park can’t hold the race next year, Silverstone should be offered the opportunity. For more than half of F1 teams it is a race right on their doorstep, and hence is the most cost-effective to attend. It packs in the crowds, and has never been off the world championship calendar.
Leaving the British Grand Prix off the 2010 F1 calendar would be madness.