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Possibly 20 races in 2008, but Imola unlikely to return

NEWS STORY
13/05/2007

Bernie Ecclestone appeared to condemn Imola to Formula One history this weekend, when he admitted that it is unlikely that the Italian track will return to the calendar.

Asked if Imola might return to the calendar in the foreseeable future, Ecclestone replied: "I don't think so."

His comment comes at a time when Spain looks certain to host two Grands Prix from next year, one in Barcelona and the other in Valencia.

Previously, as the F1 calendar becomes ever more crowded, Ecclestone had claimed that no European country should have two races. Then again, this comment came at a time when the Schumacher/Ferrari era was clearly coming to a close, with the consequent fall in demand from German and Italian race fans, or more importantly, circuit owners, who found it harder and harder to fill the grandstands, especially as ticket prices had to reflect the increasing demands of FOM.

However, with Fernando Alonso converting Spain to F1 almost single-handed, plus the offer of a friendly politician to provide a 'second Monaco', the F1 supremo had a rare change of heart.

Other than the ongoing controversy regarding the Valencia race, whose future is said to rest on the outcome of the forthcoming elections, the other question one might ask is what will happen when Alonso's reign comes to an end, and his countrymen move back to bikes. If Alonso is to continue racing - and winning - until 2014, then everything will be hunk dory. However, should the Spaniard opt to retire, or simply stop winning, two races in Spain will quickly become unsustainable.

Looking ahead to 2008, with Singapore and Valencia joining the calendar, Ecclestone was asked if this means that the schedule will now feature 20 races, the most in the 57-year history of the Formula One World Championship.

"We'll have to see how it all pans out," he said. "We'll have to see how many races we can sustain where everybody's happy and then take a look from there."

Thing is, with the promoters having signed contracts, it isn't really Ecclestone's concern whether the races are sustainable or not. His part of the deal is done.

Then again, with three Spanish drivers in GP2 this season, including Javier Villa, who started Sunday's race from pole, Borja Garcia starting from fourth and Roldan Rodriguez fifth – that’s all three Spaniards in the top five - Bernie will be well aware that there could be life after Alonso.

That might explain a rare visit to the GP2 grid on Sunday morning, and an obvious photo-opportunity with the pole man.

Or are we being cynical?

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