The Value Of A Decent Racing Circuit Is Lost On Ecclestone

The Value Of A Decent Racing Circuit Is Lost On Ecclestone

With a history of producing great Formula One races, and on a circuit that is actually good in most aspects, Suzuka today can stand proud that while their track may be aging, at least they can boast decent toilet facilities. Yes, I’m afraid that once again I most bemoan the changing of the Japanese Grand Prix venue from Honda-owned Suzuka to Toyota-owned Fuji. The reason? The circuit has received a lawsuit from 109 irate spectators from the 2007 event.

Before I begin, I would like to be very clear that I am not knocking Fuji International Speedway circuit in the slightest – we are yet to see if the reprofiled and modernised track can produce a decent race, the 2007 return being held under a deluge of rain. Although I feel Suzuka is generally a better circuit, it is not the tracks that have caused this moan; it is Ecclestone’s decision-making, his savage need for a few extra dollars to line his pockets with that has heated my collar.

The news of the legal action today towards Fuji only highlights that some tracks are good at producing races, both on and off the tarmac, while others flounder at the prospect of looking after the fans as well as the corporate executives who only attend to do deals and get their picture in the papers.

Fuji’s problems stem from spectators, who paid a fair amount of money to attend one of the country’s most prestigious sporting events, not having good enough toilet and convenience facilities. Further to causing discomfort to people having to wait a very long time to relieve themselves, the circuit also had problems with poorly designed grandstands. Many spectators claimed that their view of the track was obstructed, and aside from sitting behind someone with a large haircut, it is something you really shouldn’t expect nor have to deal with.

It has also been reported that some visitors to the track were left stranded in the pouring rain due to transportation issues, although this is something I would consider to be common sense when visiting a race track. In fact, waterproof clothing features quite high on my 10 Things You Need For Going To A Grand Prix post. When I visited Goodwood last July for the Festival Of Speed, the heavens opened on Sunday and while it turned the estate into a mudbath, it served as little distraction from the action thanks to a lightweight pacamac (or Kag In A Bag, apparently).

I’m sure Fuji have already sorted out their problems and this year’s Japanese Grand Prix will be a fine event that deserves a place on the Formula One calendar, but this is not the worrying aspect this issue has risen. Instead, my concern lies with Bernie Ecclestone and his narrow-minded view on what makes a decent circuit, one decent enough to host a grand prix.

Currently, Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia is under threat from losing its chance to host the Australian Grand Prix after 2010, and apparently while the negotiations are ongoing, Ecclestone is demanding a night race and more money, or the race will be dropped/moved. However, it would seem that Ecclestone isn’t thinking about what Australia do for Formula One, its image and its fans.

Traditionally, but not exclusively, Australia holds the first race of the year. Being on the other side of the world to Europe, it is nice to watch the race from a cold and dreary UK and see bright, blue skies and the drivers walking around in T-shirts and shorts. It adds to the international-value of the sport, even in this day and age when the world is so seemingly small. The actual circuit in Victoria isn’t all that bad either; the 2007 race was a belter, although perhaps this was more down to the lack of traction control. But despite this, Albert Park has some nice corners, the lap flows well and the drivers rarely grumble about the place.

Spa Francorchamps is another track on the calendar that Bernie Ecclestone doesn’t seem to mind removing at will. It should be noted that in the recent past it has been removed for financial/sponsorship reasons moreso than Ecclestone getting out of the wrong side of the bed on the morning he does the Belgian Grand Prix deal. However, I do feel more could have been done to ensure the future security of one of Europe’s the world’s finest racing circuits.

And so we return to Japan, and the legal action taken by annoyed fans, the very people who keep the sport going, and the problems faced at Fuji last year. Perhaps it would be wise for the FIA to tighten up on the track inspections, and not just consider the tarmac road but also how their customers, both of the circuit and Formula One, will be cared for. After all, it isn’t just Fuji’s reputation that has been tarnished here, it is Formula One as a whole.


  • just adding a note that the “stranded spectators” problem was a real and serious issue. Fuji Speedway operated a ‘park and ride’ system whereby spectators were bused into the circuit. Unfortunately the heavy rain caused problems with the access roads and the flow of coaches after the race was seriously disrupted to the effect that there were still long queues of people waiting in the rain and dark for transportation to leave the circuit several hours after the race had finished.

  • long queues of people waiting in the rain and dark for transportation to leave the circuit

    That’s a fair point, I suppose. I hadn’t thought of it at the other end of the day when all you want to do (after not seeing the race you paid to see and ‘holding yourself’ for two hours) is go home.

  • Bernie does not care about spectatotrs at all ..

    I have been going to Shanghai race since the first one n 2004 … Beautiful track, great facilities I suppose for … teams and sponsors. Specators ? OK, toilets are there and sort of OK. But try to get out of the track, try to get some decent food … You want to bring anything with you ? Bad luck, the track security searches everything, all outside food and drinks goes to rubbish bin … After being there 4 times I know that the way to survive is to stuff myself full at breakfast and survive till late evening … But I do feel for the newcomers …

    As for Australia – I went there this year for the first time and it was wonderful experience. The organization was awesome. Once you at the track you feel that it is the event organized with the spectator in mind. The only disapointing thing was that although the track is in the city, I felt like the F1 arrived in Melbourne under cover. The F1 atmosphere ends the moment you leave the track, it felt like the city does not really care …

  • Who gets a race and who doesn’t? Maybe it would be interesting to consider the factors and criterion by which Bernie might make his decision…

    It’s a fact that there will always be many more tracks wishing to host a Grand Prix than there are races available in a season. Bernie is therefore in the position to be able to dictate the game in terms of appearance fee, Paddock Club facilities, team and press facilities etc.

    In recent years the deals to host the race have been done at Government level (Malaysia, Bahrain, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Turkey) with officials throwing $millions at F1 and bending over backwards to get in on the action. It was therefore inevitable that some of the more traditionally run ‘classic’ circuits would get left behind as Formula One moves itself onwards and upwards.

    Fear of losing the race is the tool that Bernie uses to bully the circuits into re-investing in new pit garages, press facilities and Paddock Club facilities. Silverstone and Spa are prime examples of this.
    (although quite how Sao Paulo escapes this treatment is anybody’s guess!) This in itself is a good thing as the teams and press benefit from the improved working facilities (unfortunately spectator facilities and convenience are quite a way down the list of priorities). Of course a more impressive Paddock Club brings in more $$$.

    What other factors might affect Bernie’s choice?

    Developing markets and future potential; India is an example along with Abu Dhabi and Dubai??

    Spectator$$$; here the example might be Valencia as the deal for this race would have been made at the height of Alonso-mania, a 2nd race in Spain would cash-in the same way a 2nd race in Germany did for the Schumacher period.

    Television scheduling; here Singapore is the experiment to see if a shift to night racing (and hence a more audience friendly broadcast time in Europe) could actually work. The Singapore government accepted this as a condition to gaining a race, but once one circuit has successfully run a night race then others will have to follow.

    Political moves; here I will go out on a limb to say that I suspect that the race deal for Fuji Speedway (owned by Toyota) was struck as part of the package for Toyota entering F1 in the same way that Circuit Paul Ricard (owned by Bernie) became Toyota’s European test track. The value of having a major manufacturer such as Toyota join F1 being the deciding factor.

    I believe there are many different factors that might determine where F1 races.
    Unfortunately neither the on-track action or a circuit’s racing heritage appear to count.

  • The only disapointing thing was that although the track is in the city, I felt like the F1 arrived in Melbourne under cover. The F1 atmosphere ends the moment you leave the track, it felt like the city does not really care …

    That’s really interesting, especially when you compare it to the atmosphere in Canada – from your photos I’d say Montreal very much cares about Formula One, even if the circuit operators don’t (in reference to the surface breaking up).

    Unfortunately neither the on-track action or a circuit’s racing heritage appear to count.

    Sadly I would have to agree with you here; it’s all about the dollars, political influence and future direction of the sport.

  • That is a good question, how does Sao Paulo keep avoiding the axe? I personally love the race, especially living in Canada it makes for a rare chance to sleep in on race day, but from all I hear the facilities are well, to put it nicely: poor. I remember a race a few years back when a sponsor sign actually fell and shattered on one of the cars screaming by. I can’t see places like Silverstone or Spa having those problems!

    And even though this article doesn’t full out say it, Suzuka is WORLDS better than Fuji! Fan accomodation aside, Suzuka was also one of the worlds greatest tracks! It always made for good races, and was the type of track where the driver made a big difference. If this is the top form of motorsport in the world, shouldn’t we be challenging the drivers with the best tracks?

  • F1Wolf – glad you enjoyed the OZGP. I go every year – being fortunate enough to live just 6kms from the track – and it is an absolute blast every year. It’s not just the racing I go for, it’s the atmosphere, the support categories and the whole event is just so enjoyable. Not to mention, I know where to hang out to meet all the drivers, which always adds a little something to the experience !

    But you are right that Melbourne is a little lukewarm on the GP – always has been, sadly. But if you are looking for F1 action off the track you should head to Carlton – especially if Ferrari win – ‘cos that’s where the party will be ! Just so you know for next time.

    It’s hard to compare, as the only other GP I have been to is Monaco. But in terms of action, value for money, and spectator enjoyment I think Melbourne is hard to beat. I’ll be going to Singapore in September, and I’ll let you know what that is like too.

    On another note – still no word here if the Victorian Government has reached an agreement with Bernie to keep the OZGP. I am on tenterhooks waiting !

  • Melbourne is in my plans again next year … Australia is a great place to visit and it simply was the best organized race I have been to so far

    Montreal definitelly lives F1. The atmosphere there is awesome. There is no escaping it. And they call Hamilton Amilton and Heidfeld Eidfeld there 🙂 The only draw back for me is that it really far far away from Hong Kong for me 🙂

    @ Pink Peril – hey, I will be in Singpaore too, Turn 1 🙂

  • the computer is playing tricks with me, choosing different name for me … sorry for confusing you guys, some mess in the cache probably after installing both new Firefox and Opera

  • Milos – we are sitting on the back straight facing the Marina – where the track actually goes under the grandstand. I can’t remember what it’s called now though.

    Wasn’t it you who snuck into the paddock at Monaco? You must tell me how you did that……

  • Pink, I’ll be at the smaller Marina grandstand. Are you at the bigger one, with the car going under you?

    Wolf, you go to Australia, China, AND Singapore? You must be stinking rich! Hahaha!

  • Journeyer – yep – we got seats as close as we possibly could to the actual bit where the cars go under the grandstand.

    Can’t wait !

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