How F1 failed in Turkey

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Istanbul Park, 2005

The middle of nowhere: Istanbul Park

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.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Istanbul, 2008

Felipe Massa celebrates his hat-trick in 2008

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.

Start, Turkish Grand Prix, 2005

Kimi Raikkonen won the first Turkish Grand Prix

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

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122 comments on How F1 failed in Turkey

  1. John Edwards said on 1st September 2011, 15:03

    Istanbul Park will become the ultimate white elephant.

    What a waste.

  2. Ferrari was good there until 2009, and Felipe won every race he had done there with Ferrari. In 2009 it was obvious they couldn’t have won due to the F60’s limited potential, but in 2010 and 2011 Massa was still behind.

  3. themagicofspeed (@) said on 1st September 2011, 17:47

    Sigh…Of all the awful new tracks, this was the best. And now its gone.

    What is Bernie doing to this ‘sport’? He’s slowly killing it, and he might think he owns it but in reality nobody owns a sport, if anyone the fans own the sport. But as we all know, the fans are the people he cares the least about.

    Just in the last two months we’ve had the Sky deal, Spa being made to share with France, and now Turkey losing its race. The news that Silverstone is being leased worries me as well – the plan to host the British GP at Donnington was based around the track being leased to a private promoter and look how that turned out. Call me skeptical but i bet he’s in on that one as well..

    We can all breathe a collective sigh of releif in that Bernie is in his 80s now and thus will die soon – which will save F1 from certain death. Its blunt, and a little harsh, but he will never relinquish control while he’s still alive, and while he is in control, he’s screwing over the fans, and being undoubteldy the most selfish man alive at any one time.

  4. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 1st September 2011, 18:52

    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’.

    Loved this bit! “London Luton” is another victim of this. Hell, I don’t even consider Barnet London, but never mind that.

    This is where Valencia is winning and Turkey isn’t. I have no desire to see the European GP, but Valencia looks like a lovely spot for a holiday. Similarly, Turkey’s circuit showed nothing of the fabulous city it was supposedly in.

  5. Mahir C said on 1st September 2011, 19:11

    I wonder if the departure of Turkish GP is rather premature. Who is to say that Bahrain GP will go ahead next year without problems.

    Regarding location of the track, I remember Galatasaray football team having to play champions league matches in Olympic stadium a few years ago. It is as far away or less to city centre as Istanbul Park, with equally bad transportation. The attendance was just as poor, the team and the fans hated it. If it is a problem for football, it surely will be a problem for F1 which is nowhere near as popular.
    Economic recession didn’t help either since 2008, especially since the race saw quite a lot of Greek an Bulgarian fans.

  6. Steven said on 1st September 2011, 20:16

    I’m glad I went and saw the place. But it was never going to be a success. It was so lifeless.
    As said, too far from Istanbul and no Turkish interest in F1.
    Doomed from the start. Valencia next followed by Austin?

  7. Jarv027 said on 1st September 2011, 21:20

    Shame they can’t move the whole track to Valencia!!

  8. stewy33 (@stewy33) said on 1st September 2011, 21:47

    F1 failed in Turkey because the locals around the track couldn’t afford the tickets to go to the track…

  9. Nazlı said on 1st September 2011, 22:23

    I think you shouldnt write something about you dont have knowlegde. The problem is not about the place of track( please just take a look at Korea) or money (Local people are not as poor as paying 30 euoros if they want, but they choosed to pay their money to things that they have more interested) . Only problem is that Turkish goverment didnt interested in F1.

    About transportation, believe me it is over than average of other circuits.

    • Korea is near enough to accommodation that it gets away with being far from airports (and, for the moment, from the sort of 5-star hotels where the sponsors would normally expect to stay). The problem is more getting out of Istanbul (where the accommodation is) than the rest of the route. I can see that the people weren’t so keen on going. Given what Bernie charges, I can’t blame the Turkish government for lacking enthusiasm for F1 either.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 2nd September 2011, 8:30

      The problem is not about the place of track( please just take a look at Korea)

      The one race we’ve seen in South Korea was hardly sufficient to judge whether the event is going to stay on the calendar any longer than Turkey did.

      Local people are not as poor as paying 30 euoros if they want, but they choosed to pay their money to things that they have more interested

      I think if you take a more realistic view of the total cost, as this commenter has, you can see why it was a problem.

      About transportation, believe me it is over than average of other circuits.

      Such as? Because I can tell you it is the most difficult journey I’ve had to any circuit by a considerable margin.

      • it depends where you are staying Mr. Collantine. İstanbul is a great city (in terms of surface area) and has to sides: European and Asian. And because the circuits is located on the Asian side, people must consider accomodation nearby. If you stay at European side of the city, off course it’s so far away to circuit. but there are lots of nice hotels around circuit, you just have to research and find a good one close. i live in city centre on Asian side and it’s just 15 minute drive to circuit… so it’s not difficult, it’s just finding a nearby hotel that counts…

      • John Edwards said on 2nd September 2011, 17:13

        I can’t for the life of me see why this journey to the circuit is such a big deal in many peoples eyes.

        I was there this year and no problem getting there. If your prepared to pay for one of the better shuttle buses there isn’t an issue.

        The crowd when I was there seemed very international, lots of Russians, dutch, Fins, a few Brits but hardly any locals it seemed.

        Turkey had the cheapest tickets in f1 by about £100 on a Grade 2 seat, £150 instead of £250!

        The thing that killed it was ultinately the lack of interest in Turkey and the fact the govermnet would not subsidise that loss as in the Middle and Far east.

      • Nazlı said on 2nd September 2011, 23:53

        I know the realities of Turkey. The point i am talking about is; even if its 200 euros, if you really want to go then you collect it from somewhere. Its about desire, if they were interested in F1, money wont be a problem or an excuse.

        I was staying in the Europen side and one of the furthest place to the circuit. And it didnt took more than 1 hour 30 minutes since 5 years! So maybe you had choosen the place as far as possible from circuit, and tried to make it hard for youself:)

      • Chris Yu Rhee (@chris-yu-rhee) said on 21st September 2011, 6:53

        I have been waiting for a comparison of Korea and Turkey. The similarity lies not in the difficulty in getting to the Korean track, but the time it takes to get there and the difficulty in lodging, etc. As at Turkey, the other 51 weeks of the year have been unused, bar minor 1-day events.
        The Turkish track was at least a great track, whereas the Korean track is so so, but not as boring as Valencia. In the end it all comes down to money.

        Unfortunately, the Korean track has become, like many other major projects in Korea, a looming white elephant. Mismanagement, both on the construction side and the marketing side, have cast a huge shadow over the location. I have seen so little activity in Korea regarding the race that I’m a little puzzled. A recent article in an English paper here discussed the costs of these large projects;

        We have to admit that most of the 26 events lacked proper planning and due process of organization. Fourteen of them failed to attract enough foreign visitors, virtually ending up local, not international, ones. Critics call on the authorities to allocate more budgets for education and welfare, instead of such events.

        One typical case is South Jeolla Province’s hosting of the Formula One Korean Grand Prix which started last year and continues until 2016. The province vowed to make the race turn a profit. However, it is expected to suffer a 485.5 billion won ($422+ million dollars U.S.) loss over the whole period.

        http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2011/08/137_91942.html

        On would think that a greater effort would have been made to promote this event considering the fiscal fiasco it has been (and continues to be).

        One of the biggest problems has been discussed in this forum-the local residents often do not have the discretionary income to afford to attend a race. It has also been discussed in the media here as well. This has resulted in Korea’s last minute attempt to fill the stands by giving away tickets, much to the dismay of paying fans that may be sitting right next to one the lucky thousands who got free tickets.

        It would not surprise me (I’ve lived here a loooong time)if the locals are waiting to see if there are going to be any free ticket giveaways instead of buying tickets.

        China was written about last year;

        Formula One served up a thriller in China at the weekend but the lack of fans indicated the sport must do more to sell itself to new audiences, according to McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh.
        “Formula One is used to going to venues that know and understand Formula One and want us,” Whitmarsh told reporters. “I’m not blaming anyone because we’re all part of it, but we’re not good at promoting our sport in new territories and I think [there’s] evidence of that not just in China.”

        http://koreajoongangdaily.joinsmsn.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=2934996

        So the question is now going to be, “How many years is it going to take the respective organizers of these ‘turkey’ venues (pun intended) to tell Uncle Bernie that they’re not going to fork over another $25 million dollars?”

        I hope I’m wrong…

  10. As a Turkish citizen and a commentator on local TV about F1, i could say that ‘the track is in the middle of nowhere’ opinion is not true. as Zoran tells it’s not so hard to get to the track either. but as James says the GDP rate is so low according to other European countries, so you can a ticket about 25 Euros this year on open areas but food is extremely expensive inside the circuit facilities. so free bus servise don’t make any sense when you have to pay 15 Euros to a hotdog and a coke! a quick calculation shows us that a family with 2 children and 2 parents have to pay at least 60- 70 Euros for food (and i’m talking about 1 hotdog per person!). when you add ticket price to this it gets 170- 180, about 200 Euros. and because 1 Euro is 2.5 Turkish Lira it means that people has to pay at least 500 TL for just one day. This is extremely expensive for our country, people don’t earn so much money to spent 500 TL for just one day. some people has spend this money for whole month! so it’s not the location or something, it’s just about the money, the problem… and some say motor racing culture. you can not create culture within 7 years, it takes ages… don’t compare the culturel situation of Turkey with other European countries, it’s so much complicated in here…

    • TED BELL said on 2nd September 2011, 7:40

      Sorry about my comment earlier, I am afraid that I am guilty of having a strong opinion of your country and I actually know little about it. The Grand Prix track was great , seemed well respected by most drivers but the atmosphere of the area always made me think why such a track at this place? Compared to Monaco or Spa or Monza the appeal to travel there creates little interest. I am also curious about how the new Austin venue will be viewed by those considering to attend or not. Like Turkey the track holds potential but the area around it doesn’t. COTA is already ramping up all that will be the USGP and I hope they get it right. As for your loss of the GP we in America have lost Watkins Glen, Long Beach, Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix and Indy, many not so good but some were excellent. Maybe the event in Austin will have all of the parts of the puzzle called success.Maybe it will have permanent home.

    • John Edwards said on 2nd September 2011, 17:15

      Food is expensive at every Grand Prix.

      Take your own!!!

      Job done!

  11. MagillaGorilla (@magillagorilla) said on 2nd September 2011, 12:02

    I wish I had some of you guys to chat with me on other Forums, because I tend to say the same thing about Tilke tracks. How his tracks are the best flat roads you’ll ever see with a artificial elevation change once in a while. People seem to defend Tilke (which is fine) but ignore the fact that older venues have some realism to them. The older tracks seem to be cut out of a mountain pass, and strung about in a track formation but with real life elevations and speed changes. Not this made on a computer and 2 dimensional feel stuff.

  12. I really like watching a race there from TV. It’s a very interesting circuit. But i visited the first Grand Prix in 2005, and indeed it was quite a long way to get there from Const. Then we had to cross a field of dirt to go to our grandstand (which was the one at the end of the long straight just before the final S) and we had a really miserable monitor in front of us to know what was going on. It didn’t work. It was really cheap going there(i lived on an island back then near the coast of Turkey. We took a boat to the other side and then a bus all the way up to Const.) and quite cheap grandstand tickets, but i didn’t enjoy it much. And one more thing. The only people speaking Turkish were the staff. I could hear only Greek, Spanish and a few Italian, German and French…

  13. Our Nige said on 2nd September 2011, 17:18

    Has F1 failed in Turkey?
    In the end Bernie got a new track built by Tilke, which he gets a big fat cheque for, it ran its contract and paid up in full. Now bernie gets to move onto somewhere else who will build a new circuit with Tilk, getting paid another even bigger cheque for the privilege, and will run their GP for 6-7 years before they get thwown on the scrapheap and the cycle starts again!!
    MONEY MONEY MONEY

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