Mark Webber has again spoken out about the excessive cost of tickets for fans to attend the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul – resulting in an atmosphere that he contends 'is often not what it could be' and ostensibly endangering the race's very future on the calendar.
Two years ago, both Red Bull Racing star Webber and Ferrari rival Felipe Massa bemoaned the fact that entry to the Turkish Grand Prix was 'just too expensive' after barely 36,000 three-day passes were sold for the 2009 event – and it is precisely such poor crowd numbers that have ignited speculation that this weekend's outing in Istanbul could be the last [see separate story – click here
The elevated prices are in response to F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone's doubling of the annual race-hosting fee to $26 million – meaning that despite the Istanbul Park Circuit's evident popularity amongst drivers and teams, with locals unable to afford tickets, the situation is becoming increasingly untenable.
“Unfortunately, I think it's a pretty expensive race for locals to attend, which means the atmosphere is often not what it could be,” Webber mused. “It's a bit of a shame, as the drivers look forward to going there – I know I do.
“I like Istanbul Park – there are a lot of undulations, which makes the track a little bit more challenging in places. The circuit includes Turn Eight – a very, very long corner with multiple apexes and very high-speed, which puts added strain on the tyres and the drivers' necks. It's also a corner that rewards accuracy with your racing line if you get it right early.”
Whilst the city's mayor Kadir Topbas has tried to explain away the low attendance figures by arguing that 'Turkish people didn't give the races recognition', McLaren-Mercedes team principal and Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) chairman Martin Whitmarsh has blamed a lack of promotion on the part of organisers, telling reporters: “Go around Istanbul and tell me how many billboards or advertisements you see.”
Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive Ecclestone – who owns the long-term management lease to the circuit – insists he has done his bit to try and help by 'subsidising' the fee since the inaugural Turkish Grand Prix was held back in 2005, and he is confident spectator numbers will be considerably higher in 2011.