Having for a number of years sought to take his F1 circus further and further afield to increasingly exotic and untapped venues, it seems Bernie Ecclestone does have a soft spot for preserving the sport's European history after all – and Bulgaria looks set to be the next addition to the annual calendar.
According to international news agency Reuters
, officials from the south-eastern European country – hit hard by the global credit crunch – will meet the top flight's commercial rights-holder this week to discuss moves to take F1 to a circuit close to the town of Pleven, in the north of Bulgaria. It is understood that grand prix organising committee chief Rumen Petkov has been invited by Ecclestone to this weekend's German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring.
It was first revealed that Bulgaria wishes to join the fray from 2011 onwards back in December, and Bulgarian Motorcycling Federation (BMF) president Bogdan Nikolov is hopeful that an agreement can be reached, with two projects for a potential track. Should a deal indeed be struck, it would add to an increasingly impressive motor racing portfolio for a country that does not possess a great deal of heritage in the sport – off the back of a preliminary contract to host MotoGP from 2012 to 2016, and having been listed on the 2010 World Rally Championship schedule too.
“We've already submitted our plan a few months ago and it was considered by Formula One Management (FOM),” Nikolov revealed. “According to the draft, Bulgaria could sign a contract to host a Formula 1 race between 2011 and 2015, and there's an option for a contract extension until 2020.”
Bulgaria's neighbour Turkey has held a grand prix in its capital Istanbul since 2005, but poor ticket sales of late and an attendance of just 36,000 spectators on race day in 2008 have cast doubt over its future, with its deal due to expire in two years' time.
Despite having contended in his infamous interview with British newspaper The Times
that Europe will be a 'third-world economy' within a decade, Ecclestone has since softened his stance somewhat, recognising that the whole sport has been affected by the economic downturn and suggesting that European races could be coming back into favour again. Presently eight of the 17 grands prix take place outside of Europe – only ten years ago, that figure was just five.
“We have now two races in Spain, and I am sure that we will keep having two races in Germany, at Hockenheim and at the Nürburgring,” the 78-year-old FOM chief executive told German newspaper Bild
. “We are negotiating now with Hockenheim. Everybody is affected [by the credit crunch], but Formula 1 has been going for 60 years; most successful companies will survive.”