Bernie Ecclestone has denied saying that the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit would be one of the first to make way for new F1 venues in developing markets, claiming that he was misquoted in an interview.
FIA president Jean Todt admitted over the weekend that the Belgian Grand Prix venue, which has suffered both political and financial problems over the years, could not be guaranteed a place on the F1 calendar simply because it rated highly with the drivers [see story here
], but Ecclestone insists that he has made no direct threat to the race.
Speaking to Belgium's RTBF
television channel, Ecclestone insisted that an interview with Britain's Guardian
newspaper [see story here
] had twisted his words to make it seem like Spa would be at the top of his hit-list when new venues in Russia and the USA came on stream in future seasons. India is already earmarked to join the schedule in 2011, but is included in an expanded 20-race calendar alongside Belgium.
twisted my words," Ecclestone stressed, "I am sure that in the years to come, we will lose a few races in Europe, it is almost certain. Which ones, I have no idea. But, from our side, we want to keep Spa. There are long discussions about the grand prix there but, if it does go, it will be because of the government, not me."
Although the Spa-Francorchamps circuit rates highly among drivers for the challenge it provides, the event has never enjoyed the securest of positions on the calendar, with political and financial problems having already seen Belgium miss out from time to time. F1's return to the Ardennes in 1985, during its period of alternating with Zolder, had to be rescheduled after the tarmac broke up during practice, while there was no Belgian Grand Prix in 2003 because the country's tobacco advertising laws clashed with those then in operation in F1.
It returned to the schedule in 2004, but missed out again two years later due to development of the facilities. Although it has been on the calendar since, there have been constant threats of financial shortfalls, with organisers even requesting a renegotiation of its contract with FOM after making a £2.6m loss on the 2009 event. FOM chief Bernie Ecclestone has ruled out investing personally in the event, as he has with other circuits, and even suggested that, in the lights of the financial worries, Spa may alternate with another circuit, possibly in Germany, to help alleviate the issue.
The circuit also had its operating licence suspended until 2026 due to noise complaints from local residents in 2007, although that has not stopped the grand prix from being staged since then.