Eight years ago this month the Turkish Automobile and Motor Sports Federation (TOSFED) confirmed it had secured a place on the F1 calendar for 2005.
Within the space of those eight years, Turkey’s F1 involvement has come and gone. Its disappearance from the F1 schedule was confirmed by the publication of the 2012 F1 calendar yesterday.
How has F1 so conspicuously failed to establish itself in Turkey?
The race has not remained on the calendar beyond the duration of that original seven-year contract signed in 2003. It has clearly suffered from a lack of local interest.
At recent races, Formula One Management’s cameras have been aimed away from the deserted spectator areas. Some grandstands were covered over to hide the absence of spectators.
The location of the track, chosen by the promoters in consultation with Bernie Ecclestone, has been a key weakness. It might be called “Istanbul Park”, but it may well have been named by the same people who thought an airport just outside Bishop’s Stortford deserved the name ‘London Stansted’.
A coach ride from the city to the track takes in the region of two hours. And that’s assuming the driver doesn’t get lost on the way, as mine did when I visited in 2006.
Turkey’s race seems to have fallen victim to the short-sightedness of both the race promoters and FOM. It’s true the circuit offered some of F1′s cheapest ticket prices, but the country’s gross domestic product per capita is also among the lowest:
Turkey also showed the difficulty of importing F1 into a country with a limited motor racing culture. A glance at the circuit’s official website reveals little to nothing taking place at the venue on the 51 weekends when F1 isn’t in town.
Within three years of the track opening Moto GP, the World Touring Car Championship, German Touring Car Championship, Formula Renault 3.5 and various GT series all held races and then cut their ties with the venue.
The loss of the track will not just be felt by Felipe Massa, who scored three of his 11 career wins there. Drivers and fans alike will be disappointed by the loss of one of Hermann Tilke’s better – perhaps best – efforts at an F1 track.
Turn eight (was there ever a strip of track more worthy of a better name?) is surely the best corner built on any new F1 circuit in the last decade.
Istanbul Park proved a great venue for racing – even in dry conditions without DRS. No-one who has seen Lewis Hamilton’s storming drive through the field in the GP2 sprint race in 2006 will forget it.
Last year, a tense duel for the lead between the Red Bull drivers exploded as the pair tangled at high speed. Pity so few were there to see it.
If F1 is to make a success of new venues in India, America and Russia, it cannot repeat the mistakes it made in Turkey. It should not need pointing out that putting on a race in the middle of nowhere with little promotion, priced beyond the means of its potential audience, is not going to succeed.
Ultimately, someone has to take responsibility for ensuring F1′s new races succeed.
F1 Teams’ Association chairman Martin Whitmarsh showed the teams understand the problem when speaking at June’s Fans’ Forum: “I think what’s a worry is that we’re not doing enough.
“We talk about China, India, I think those are exciting markets, they’re markets [where] again, we can’t just have a race and come home. We’ve got to try harder.”
But it should not be the teams’ responsibility to promote the sport. It’s FOM and the race promoters who have fallen short and failed to gain a foothold for F1 in Turkey.
F1′s seven Turkish Grands Prix
2011 Turkish Grand Prix Vettel cruises to victory as the rest fight between themselves
2010 Turkish Grand Prix – McLaren take one-two as Red Bull hit self-destruct
2009 Turkish Grand Prix – Vettel’s mistake lets Button in for another win
2008 Turkish Grand Prix – Massa wins third consecutive race at Istanbul
2007 Turkish Grand Prix – Massa first as puncture stymies Hamilton
2006 Turkish Grand Prix – Maiden win for Massa
2005 Turkish Grand Prix – Raikkonen wins but Alonso limits damage
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Images © Tilke Gmbh, Ferrari spa, McLaren