The extortionate ticket prices for fans attending Formula 1 races have come under fire from the top flight's leading drivers and team principals, after a meagre crowd of just 36,000 spectators for the Turkish Grand Prix last weekend left the event with 'no atmosphere'.
The Hermann Tilke-designed Istanbul Park Circuit close to the Bosphorous has proven immensely popular amongst competitors since it first appeared on the annual schedule back in 2005, for its undulating, anti-clockwise nature, overtaking opportunities and physically demanding and technically challenging layout – leading to the general standpoint that it is the best 'modern' track on the calendar.
However, due to overpriced tickets, attendance figures for the 2009 edition were poor, with a raft of visibly empty grandstands – some even covered by asphalt-coloured tarpaulins – prompting Red Bull Racing star Mark Webber to suggest that rather than having vacant seats, fans should instead have been let in for free, as is reputed to have happened in China earlier this year.
The Australian has been outspoken in his view that the departure of F1 from traditional venues such as Silverstone, Magny-Cours and Imola in favour of venturing into hitherto untapped markets in the Middle and Far East risks taking the sport away from its core European base of supporters and into areas where there is in fact little interest.
“There was no atmosphere in Turkey,” the New South Wales native – runner-up on Sunday – is quoted as having opined by ITV
. “I think there were a lot of people that tried to come in, but obviously it's not that cheap and things like that, so we should have let them in for free at the end. It would have been nice for the show to let people in.
“I'm sure there are a lot of people that would want to come to the Turkish Grand Prix but can't afford to because it's very expensive. Jenson [Button] and I spoke about this on the parade lap, that maybe we should have made an announcement the day before or even race day morning to get some more people in to let them experience our sport. It's a shame that didn't happen.”
“I think when you come here and you go into the city and see there are massive [amounts of] fans around and then you come [to the circuit] and have nobody, it means that it is too expensive,” concurred Ferrari ace Felipe Massa. “That means that we need to make it cheaper. We prefer to race at a circuit with cheaper tickets and a lot of people inside, because I'm sure that if you put down the price of tickets it would be full.
“That's one of the issues that we have – it's too expensive. If you go as a normal family and need to spend €1,000 for you and your two kids, you think about what to do. You say, 'no, I prefer to watch on the television', so for me it's clear.”
The drivers' arguments received support within the paddock from Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali and Toyota Motorsport President John Howett, both of whom admitted that against the backdrop of the bigger picture of the fractious FIA-FOTA budget cap war, other important topics have been overlooked and forgotten – and it is time, they insist, that such issues are addressed for the sake of F1's health.