Six months before the start of the 2013 Formula One season it is anyone's guess where the races will actually take place. A calendar was allegedly released last weekend but this was rendered useless when Pitpass revealed that the promoters of the New Jersey Grand Prix do not have a contract to race despite being tabled in for a date in June next year. We also revealed that New Jersey isn't the only race in this situation.
Reporting in Germany in the Financial Times, Pitpass business editor Chris Sylt says that F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone has not reached agreement to host another round of the German Grand Prix at the financially-troubled Nurburgring circuit despite it being listed for 21 July 2013 on the calendar released last week.
The circuit previously held the Grand Prix in 2011 (the race was won by Lewis Hamilton) as it alternates every year with the Hockenheimring, where Ecclestone says the race is expected to remain.
"We are just looking at Hockenheim every year. We have got no contract with the Nurburgring but we are talking. It would be like starting from scratch," he says. The Nurburgring has not signed a new contract to host the race due to its perilous financial situation.
In July the state government in Rhineland-Palatinate, which majority owns the Nurburgring, announced that the circuit was on the verge of bankruptcy after struggling to make repayments on a £230m loan it took out to fund a major redevelopment in 2009. The money was provided by the Bank Rhineland-Palatinate, the state's central economic development agency and it was used to build projects such as a shopping centre, an amusement park and a hotel in a bid to generate revenue from outside motorsport.
The Nurburgring's new facilities have not been as popular as hoped so, despite not having to pay the estimated £18m F1 race fee every year, the circuit has still suffered severe cash-flow problems. To avoid insolvency it received additional public support, including a rescheduling of interest payments, but then faced a further setback as the European Commission launched an investigation claiming that the assistance was not granted on market terms.
Earlier this year Nurburgring Automotive, the company which directly operates the circuit, released a statement saying that it has "reached agreement with Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone on a project to guarantee the future of Formula 1 racing on the Nurburgring." However, Ecclestone now says "I have no idea if the Nurburgring is going to stick around. If it is not supported by the region it is going to be difficult at the minute."
The final deadline is rapidly approaching as the 2013 calendar will be finalised on Friday by the FIA's World Motor Sport Council. One wonders what the management of Hockenheim makes of being forced into the position of having to host the German GP every year. The reason the plan to alternate was introduced was not just to save Nurburgring from collapse but also to prevent the same thing happening at Hockenheim.
Digressing slightly, Ecclestone says that the recent success of the Olympics in London has encouraged him to consider holding special F1 races which also take place every few years. F1 is the world's most-watched annual sport with 515m viewers last year but this pales in comparison to the Olympics opening ceremony and the men's 100 metre sprint race. They attract an estimated 900m and 2bn viewers respectively and Ecclestone believes that this is because of their rarity.
"There will be athletics again in London and the same athletes will participate but it won't have the hype. The newspapers gave the Olympics massive hype and I watched a lot of it on TV. I will never again watch the pole vault and the long jump and all that but because it was the Olympics I watched it. It's hype. Formula One doesn't have the hype. Maybe if we only had a race every four years it would be the same sort of hype. I was thinking of doing five one-off races like the grand-slam in tennis." It isn't clear whether this plan will ever be put into action but it could be just the solution to the Nurburgring's problems.