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An Open Letter to Bernie Ecclestone…

Perhaps hidden in the new year rush, both the city and Bernie Ecclestone thought such an announcement would go relatively unnoticed, however the news that the Barcelona City Council are to halve their funding for the Spanish Grand Prix from 4 to 2 million Euros from 2016 did not escape many eagle eyed F1 fans. In case you hadn't yet heard, according to Crash.net, F1 is not a priority for the city of Barcelona and the 2016 cuts are the beginning of the end for a funded Spanish Grand Prix. Funding from the city will be eased out over the next few years of Circuit de Catalunya's contract with the FOM allowing promoters to come up with a viability plan to ensure the Spanish Grand Prix becomes self sufficient. Given that the Spanish Grand Prix has seen a drastic fall in attendance from 140,000 in 2007 (the height of the Alonso era) to 91,000 in 2014 and an even meeker 86,000 in 2015, F1 fans have a right to be worried about the future of yet another historic European race which has been a mainstay (bar a few years) on the F1 calendar since 1968.  

Dear Mr Ecclestone 

I’m sure I speak for the vast majority of F1 fans worldwide when I say please, stop ripping Formula One from it’s European heartland. So much of F1’s history is embedded in the tarmac of historic European race circuits that with every track that gets replaced with a new Herman Tilke monstrosity, a little piece of F1 history dies with it. 

We’ve already seen the loss of the French Grand Prix from Magny Cours, the San Marino Grand Prix from Imola, and now despite their best efforts, the German Grand Prix may be heading the same way. Replacing these historic traditional race circuits with events held in places such as Sochi only serve as further reminder that F1 seems to have forgotten its humble roots. We’re all aware that F1 is a business Bernie, at I’m sure the majority of fans understand, but isn’t it time you started sacrificing some of your profits in return for conserving the sport you claim to love? You’ve done many great things for F1 in your time at the helm, but to avoid being remembered as the leader who destroyed F1’s heritage and fan base, action needs to be taken, races need to stop being added and our historic favourites need to be conserved. 

The last ten years constantly been a case of one step forward, two steps back. Great commercial and racing decisions have been made, only for them to be reversed one or two seasons later when the money has dried up due to the extortionate fees. Replacing the Indian Grand Prix with Sochi was a fantastic example of step in the right direction, only for two steps to be taken back three seasons later. The Budh International Circuit was a track drivers claimed to love, the atmosphere was a sight to behold, and a race in one of F1’s most popular countries was surely a victory for all parties? As one of the few F1 races not subsidised by the Government, and still managing to afford the $40m hosting fees, surely the FOM could have stepped in to help try and solve the circuit’s tax issues, instead of jumping ship to a poorly attended and uninspiring Russian Grand Prix?

The introduction of the European Grand Prix in Baku is another instance which only serves to weaken the FOM’s position in the eyes of  the fans. Is taking millions from a country with a questionable human rights record really the right way to market F1 to a wider audience? With Russia and Bahrain already seen as highly suspicious, is it ethical business to continue to market F1 in countries which seem willing to ignore the rights of their citizens, but perfectly happy in shell out the millions required to host a Grand Prix to increase their exposure on the world stage?  I suspect deep down everyone at the FOM, from Bernie at the top down to the newest recruit knows the answer to that question. Chumming up to dictators and corrupt Governments whilst traditional circuits such as Hockenheim and the Nurbugring struggle to stay afloat really isn’t the right way to show you care about Formula One….

Don’t get me wrong, there have been major successes in the last ten years too. Singapore for example, has quickly turned into one of the highlights of the season, and along with Abu Dhabi, night racing brings a great theatrical element to F1 which has been appreciated by many. However what happens when the Singapore Government, like so many before it decide to pull their funding for the race? When they feel like they have gained enough from their exposure on the world stage. Will you step in and subsidise the race to ensure that one of your great successes remains on the calendar? I think not. 

Returns to Austria, The US and Mexico have also been greatly welcomed by fans worldwide and for that Bernie, I thank you. However, given your current track record of heartlessly pulling events when they cannot afford the hosting fees, the jury is out on how long they will remain on the calendar. Already, the COTA, one of the few new designed circuits which is even worth talking about is a doubt for 2016 and beyond. Is it really worth pulling the USGP for a second time? Leave the US at your will Bernie, after all F1 is your sport, but in doing so, don’t be surprised when you realise that you’ve been left with a serious amount of egg on your face. 

I recently read a comment by “Marauder” on Crash.net, under the Spanish GP story I mentioned at the head of this post, and it struck a chord. ” You know F1 is in trouble when its currently dominant team is thinking about impairing itself in order to liven things up”. In case no-one at the FOM was not already aware, Maurader isn’t the only F1 fan who shares that view. 

You’ve made your billions Bernie, and in doing so you have done a number of good things for our sport, however in doing so a lot of harm as been done too. Is it not time to give something back to circuits, fans and teams who give so much of their time and money to be part of the F1 roadshow? Some of us, myself included have to save for an extremely long time to attend a Grand Prix (Silverstone here in the UK being one of the most expensive), and its all well and good hopping from country to country in search of the next big paycheck, but when countries such as Russia and Bahrain lose interest in F1, its the fans in the sport’s heartlands which will keep it alive. ……

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