Spain, Belgium waiting on race share decisions
11 January 2012
Two of F1's traditional schedule stops remain in the grip of uncertainty as financial pressures begin to take their toll on race organisers, with the Spanish and Belgium grand prix organisers hoping to resolve their problems before too long.
Both events have been the subject of suggestions that they may have to alternate between venues - the Belgian race facing a possible 'date share' with a resurrected French GP - but, as yet, nothing has been set in stone.
With Fernando Alonso's fanatical fans feeling the financial pinch as much as anyone, Spain no longer appears to be able to sustain the two dates it was given to build on the double world champion's popularity, but Barcelona and Valencia have yet to reach an agreement on moving forward together. While F1 purists would be opposed to the Spanish round taking place on the fiddly street circuit surrounding Valencia's America's Cup port, the price of hosting an annual race at the Circuit de Catalunya appears to be too high for organisers in Barcelona.
Andreu Mas-Colell, economics minister for Catalonia, has revealed that the Barcelona race was facing a similar situation to its more southerly counterpart, which has already petitioned Bernie Ecclestone about a reduction in its annual hosting fee.
“In the present conditions, we have to look line by line at how we are spending money," Mas-Colell told the RAC1 radio station, "We have spent a lot on F1 and, at the moment, it's unclear what we can afford. There are contracts that are more expensive to maintain than to break.”
Valencia, however, appeared reluctant to give up its annual date, even if sharing with Barcelona ensured that Spain maintained a regular slot on the calendar. Another Catalonia government minister, Francesco Homs, told the daily Marca sports newspaper that the idea of alternating the Spanish Grand Prix with Valencia, which had been raised by Ecclestone as long ago as last April, had been rejected out of hand by the newer venue.
Belgian GP organisers, meanwhile, is hoping to learn the fate of their race in the next few weeks, following a period of silence from potential partners in France.
Again, alternating dates between Spa-Francorchamps and, if reports are to be believed, Paul Ricard have been mooted, but it is only in the past few days that the French end of the story has shown any sign of life.
“On 1 January, there was nothing,” Jean-Claude Marcourt, the Walloon government's economics minister, told RTL Sport Belgium, “Now the French seem to be catching up. In four or five weeks, we have to clarify everything. I do not want things drawing out so that we get to the end of [Spa's current] contract not knowing what is going to happen. We are awaiting the response from France."
In a bid to reduce the cost of being an F1 host, the Walloon government had been receptive to suggestions that the Belgian GP alternate with another event, with the push for a return of the French GP providing an ideal opportunity to include both on future calendars. However, a 'non-binding' agreement between the two parties had required an answer from the French by the end of 2011, leading to Marcourt's concern.
No venue has been confirmed for the France's return to the schedule, with various suggestions having been put forward, including Ricard and Magny-Cours, but the Mediterranean venue appears to be making a push to become the leading candidate, despite its status as testing venue posing problems when it comes to accommodating spectators.
With French prime minister Francois Fillon apparently poised to approve a deal to return to country to the schedule, Ricard circuit director Stephane Clair told AFP of plans to install 50,000 temporary seats at the venue, with another 20,000-30,000 spectators being allowed to watch from areas in the surrounding hills.
“It would be a great event to unify people with attractive prices thanks to funding provided by public and private partners,” Clair admitted.