F1 heading back to Turkey?


Istanbul track operator claims there is an agreement in principle for F1 to return to Turkey.

Joining the calendar in 2005, the Istanbul Park Circuit quickly became a favourite of fans and drivers alike, the challenging nature of the track, particularly the notorious T8, nicknamed Diabolica, a welcome change to the usual Tilke tracks and street circuits. Indeed, taking part in our latest Podcast yesterday, editor Balfe admitted that the Istanbul track was a great loss to the sport.

However, while popular with drivers and fans - those watching on their TVs - the event failed to attract fans to the actual track, with locals clearly uninterested.

When Bernie Ecclestone announced that he wanted to increase the hosting fee in early 2011 the race was put in doubt however it remained on the calendar.

The dispute rolled over into 2012 and with Ecclestone unwilling to lower his demands and the government equally unwilling to approve a new deal, the race was dropped.

In 2015, it was reported that the track had been turned into a "used car lot", but the reality is that the track continued despite the loss of F1.

Retaining its FIA Grade 1 licence and therefore still able to host future F1 races, Istanbul, now managed by Intercity, a car rental company owned by local businessman Vural Ak, continued to host FIA events, indeed it became one of the most diverse of tracks hosting everything from Moto GP, WTCC, DTM, ELMS, Superbikes and Truck Racing.

This and other events, such as its own Driver Academy and a Porsche Driving Centre meant that by 2016 the track was looking to be active for more than 300 days a year.

Yesterday, Ak met with F1 boss Chase Carey, as well as Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Serkan Yazici, chief of Turkey's motorsport governing body, Akif Cagatay Kilic the minister of youth and sports and Ibrahim Kalin, deputy secretary general and spokesperson of the presidency.

"We had a meeting in Ankara earlier today with the President and Chase Carey from Liberty Media, whom I previously invited to Turkey personally before," said Ak, according to Motorsport.com. "All I can say at this point is that the meetings went really well and we agreed in principle. Although the contract hasn't been signed yet."

The possibility of Turkey returning to the calendar however raises many issues.

Firstly, while we already knew that France returns to the calendar in 2018, and that Malaysia was in doubt, Carey's recent admission that Germany will return next year means that the schedule, as in 2016, will feature 21 races. The addition of Turkey would raise this to 22, the most races ever on the F1 schedule and a move that would not be popular with the teams.

Furthermore, with Liberty Media having promised a return to 'traditional' venues, one wonders whether this applies to Turkey, especially as many were expecting an additional event in the United States to be announced.

Finally, at a time of increasing global tension, Turkey is at the heart of it, and in the last couple of years has become increasingly unstable what with the attempted coup last July and the ongoing crisis in neighbouring Syria which has led to at least one terrorist incident in Istanbul involving the so-called Islamic State.

While the Istanbul Park Circuit was a great track, there will be raised eyebrows in the paddock, and beyond, should Liberty Media confirm Turkey's return to the schedule at this time.

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Published: 12/04/2017
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