Yesterday the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix organisers put out a press release patting themselves on the back for selling out their first Grand Prix. Several other F1 sites obligingly regurgitated it for them.
Although it’s nice to hear the phrases “F1 race” and “sold out” together for once, I think a little more attention should have been paid to how low the bar was set with just 50,000 tickets available.
If that number of fans turned up for Manchester United’s next football match more than one-third of Old Trafford’s seats would still be empty.
A typical F1 race day crowd is well in six figures – 50,000 is exceptionally modest for an international Grand Prix track.
The British Grand Prix boasted 120,000 fans on race day this year. The total three-day crowd was 310,000, yet Bernie Ecclestone calls this a race F1 can do without.
Singapore managed 100,000 for its first Grand Prix last year, though it has the advantage of holding its race in a city.
I’m not against Abu Dhabi having a Grand Prix and I don’t expect them to match the kind of demand for tickets you see in Britain, at least not right away.
But I do think the pinnacle of international motor sport should be aiming for a bigger audience at one of its 17 races this year than you get at a domestic football match.
This is a dispiriting trend among most of F1’s newest venues. Istanbul had 32,000 fans on race day this year, Sepang had 30,000 – and they only got to see half a race.
High ticket prices are to blame for falling attendance at many circuits. But the root cause of the problem is the huge sums Ecclestone charges race promoters to run Grands Prix.
FOTA president Luca di Montezemolo has drawn attention to the problem before, but the FIA under Max Mosley never bothered to get involved. Will that change under Jean Todt?
2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix