July 26th, 2012 (F1plus / James Parker).- So the German Grand Prix has been and gone, it provided a thrilling race with much controversy up and down the grid, the feature of which will rage on long into the summer break, however this did not detract from the ever saddening news that was publicised just before the Grand Prix weekend.
It is this news that I will be exploring in this article, and is sure to get any one of the “purists” of Formula 1 extremely angry over the current situation with modern day rulings of the sport.
Leading up to the Hockenheim weekend many fans came to witness a truly disturbing story, causing
a consequence that put simply; should not be allowed in the world of Formula 1. Last week news was shed that indeed the owners of the Nurburgring filed for bankruptcy amidst the many years of troubles it has encountered after it’s redevelopment in 2009, unable to pay back the debt. With the European Union rejecting a bid for its assistance by the owners - Rhineland-Palatinate, it left the Eiffel circuit with no other choice but to file for it’s cruel bankruptcy.
This was then compounded by the news that the Hockenheimring, was not sure whether indeed they would be able to hold a sole German GP every year on the Formula 1 calendar, unless stringent financial rules were brought into place that could be adhered to by the circuit. This of course would need to be adjusted based on the current share deal they currently enjoyed with the Nurburgring in order to keep costs down to a minimum.
So once the news had settled and been taken in by F1 fans, where exactly does this leave us? Well for the first time in the history of Formula 1, we are possibly faced with the prospect of no German Grand Prix at all in future years unless terms can be reached, a country that has been etched in Formula 1 history as one of the major influencers in the sport, a country that has given us so much.
We are faced with the prospect of losing two of the most historic racing circuits, I focussed on the “old Hockenheim” being lost forever in my previous article, but to make matters worse, with no Germany on the Grand Prix calendar we will lose probably the most feared and iconic circuit in the entire world “The Green Hell”. 147 corners of pure driving that requires the upmost commitment and bravery, Jackie Stewart famously stating that “Drivers experience more in the 147 corners of the Nurburgring, than some people experience in their entire lives”.
Now although the F1 circus does not continue to run on this iconic circuit the GP circuit still contains some of that heritage and passion that has been passed on from the “Green Hell” – that same heritage that made the circuit feared by many through the reputation it had earned – famously nearly taking the legendary Niki Lauda’s life.
Although Germany has not produced the most number of World Champions – that accolade going to no other than Great Britain, it has given us the most successful and arguably greatest F1 driver to ever have lived Michael Schumacher, the youngest WDC and Double WDC Sebastian Vettel, and possibly the greatest talent alongside Stirling Moss to never win a WDC – Wolfgang von Trips who was fatally killed in the 1961 Italian Grand Prix on the eve of his crowning.
So based on all I have stated above, how could it be this historic country that has given Formula 1 so much, in return faces the prospect of being taken off the calendar for good?
A classic view of the Hockenehim stands
Well it all boils down to the current climate Formula 1 is being drawn in to by none other than superemo - Bernie Eccelstone. At the turn of the century in the early 2000’s I was establishing myself as one of the “Hardcore” Formula 1 fans, never missing a race rain or shine, after the memorable battles I witnessed the great Michael Schumacher going up against his most feared opponent – the flying Finn Mika Hakkinen, the early turn of the century culminated in the 2003 season, McLaren, Ferrari and Williams going head to head in their V10 monsters with Schumacher pitting himself against Mika’s protégé Kimi Raikonnen and the flamboyant and hugely talent Juan Pablo.
It was these early years that I noticed the changes in Formula 1 starting to take shape, and if you look at the current F1 calendar and setup it would hugely unrecognisable to that of 9 years ago. It was this turn of the century that sparked Bernie’s vision for making Formula 1 a truly global business that it had quite never experienced before, it was one vision that planned to take the F1 circus to countries that had never witnessed the sport in its history and would based on the “highest bidder wins”. This commercialisation of course brings new investment into Formula 1, new fans and a whole new global image, with huge powers in the middle east such as Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and India all vying for the status of hosting a Grand Prix Bernie has given them that wish in exchange for huge sums of money.
Now of course this new system has great advantages for the long term future of Formula 1 through continued investment from these large and powerful countries, however the new system has been taken to the extreme and it is now starting to face a backlash, in my view the first being the Nurburgring and Hockenheim crisis.
In this current day and age of commercialisation with new circuits being built in Korea and India, it is extremely easy to forget the heritage and history that Formula 1 has enjoyed over these past 60 odd years, given us some of the most memorable moments in the history of Motorsport, and a huge factor of this is the circuits the 24 best drivers in the world look to master. A1 Ring, Imola, Magny Cours and the old Hockenheim circuit are all iconic circuits that have produced some of the best racing in F1 history, yet were not considered up to the ever growing standards by Bernie to host a Grand Prix. With featureless race tracks with no character and charisma being more and more the norm on the F1 calendar, is it that Formula 1 has lost its way somewhat?
As the bigger countries look to search for a spot in F1 such as Russia – who are willing to pay extortionate amounts in order to stage a Grand Prix, it means the much more historic circuits are having to pay large sums of money to firstly upgrade their facilities and then again for license fees. It is these demands from Bernie that in my mind has forced the current crisis we are currently witnessing in Germany and one in my mind is totally wrong. 15 years ago Nurburgring and Hockenheim were considered certainties on any F1 calendar for the racing and heritage they possessed to give fans year after year, now for Germany to follow Imola and France as rejections is in my mind a travesty. Let’s not forget here for a second that, Nurburgring already had to design the arena section of the circuit in order to abide by Bernie’s demands, to then upgrade the facilities in 2009 has seemingly sealed its fate, and this is all in the name of keeping up with circuits such as Abu Dhabi, which has brought nothing to the table in Formula 1 other than huge sums of money.
In the coming weeks we will know more of the current situation at Hockenheim and if they can indeed afford a reasonable deal to host a Grand Prix year on year, if not that prospect f having no German GP will be all the more convincing come 2013.
The current system in my view does need to change, with license fees only looking to grow as more and more interest is heeded from these super powers of the middle east, we could possibly be faced with the prospect of having any of the “original” historic circuits (that make Formula 1 so great) left. With Germany gone, could we therefore start to see Italy and Great Britain under threat? It is something we have already seen Belgium struggle with in keeping the famous Spa Francorchamps on the calendar and losing that to the history books too would be the final straw. The future of Formula 1 looks secure, but if it aims to maintain the circuits that made it so great year on year through the decades then changes must be made – If they will is another story however.