• GP Week

Ain't never gonna happen

Kate Walker
June 5, 2012

What do Thailand, Rome, France, Czech Republic, Qatar, Indonesia, Bulgaria, Venezuela, Mexico, Majorca, South Africa, Argentina, Croatia, and Greece have in common? Asks Kate Walker…

The Mexican Grand Prix was last held in 1992 © Sutton Images
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Since 2010, each of the 14 places listed above has stated its intention to play host to a Formula One World Championship race in the not-too-distant future. And, for a host of reasons, each has failed to do so. Yet.

We're at an inglorious moment in F1 history, one that sees the brand devalued as it is bandied around to attract positive publicity - usually to an unheard of region in a popular tourist destination - for those who have no serious intention of engaging with motorsport. But while that itself has long been the case, these days the chatter gains added credibility thanks to Bernie Ecclestone's well-known desire to expand the F1 calendar on a seemingly exponential basis.

Some races are announced with great fanfare even though it is clearly obvious to all and sundry that they're never going to happen. Other races - Korea, Austin, Sochi, we're looking at you - are dogged with accusations of failure even as the cars are lining up for the formation lap at the maiden grand prix. Still more races make perfect logistical sense, but fail at the final hurdle. Salut, France - we'll miss you.

This March, the big news was that Formula One would be heading off to Argentina, possibly as early as 2013, to take part in a race on Mar del Plata that would be twinned with the Brazilian Grand Prix at the end of the season, affording members of the F1 circus excellent holidaying opportunities in early December.

Argentine president and Eva Peron wannabe Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced that contract negotiations were well underway, and that the grand prix was essentially a done deal. The announcement was originally derided by F1 insiders as a popularist move with no credibility, but on-going silence from FOM and the ever-turning paddock rumour mill gave the story legs.

"I was brought the proposal to stage Formula One in Argentina and we're reaching agreement," Kirchner told Argentine newspaper La Nacion in March. "God willing, we'll have Formula One in Argentina."

The president was later quoted as saying "we are closing [the deal]. For three years, in 2013, 2014 and 2015 in the city of Mar del Plata. For us it will be very important because after football, racing is the second favourite sport for Argentineans. Getting Formula One back to Argentina is something we deserve in order to be able to show the things we have."

The Argentine Grand Prix has not returned to the Formula One calendar since 1998 © Sutton Images
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But over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, Bernie Ecclestone denied that talks were underway with Argentina, telling Argentine news site DPA: "I have not seen any contract. There is nothing signed. I have no idea."

Argentina is but one of a long list of countries that has shouted loud and delivered little. In May 2011, Evangelos Floratos, former mayor of the Greek town of Patras, announced plans to build an F1-spec circuit in the area, with a view to hosting grands prix. His timing was impeccable - Floratos made his announcement on the same day that Athens played host to violent demonstrations against austerity measures imposed by the government in an attempt to alleviate the financial crisis that has only worsened since.

"It has taken many years to reach this point," Floratos said at the time. "The project is estimated to cost 94 million euros and is to be partly subsidized by the Greek state. The completion date is estimated at three years."

Given Greece's current financial predicament, it's safe to say that the F1 circus is unlikely to be booking hotel rooms in Patra for at least a decade, if ever.

Another great idea that burned brightly for a time was the prospect of a street race in Rome. The concept was appealing to the tabloids, but bordering on impossible in the practicality stakes, not least because the grand prix would have had to alternate with the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, an idea which is anathema to any Italian Formula One fan.

Of course, some of these proposed races should be taken more seriously than others. The prospect of a Mexican Grand Prix is very much on the table, with a proposal currently being put together for Bernie Ecclestone's approval.

It is difficult to see how a Mexican race will fail to pass muster. First and foremost is the question of time zones - Formula One needs more races in the Americas if it wants to increase global viewing figures, and a GP in Mexico will be ideal for fans in North, South, and Central America. Depending on the race's position in the calendar, wellheeled fans and members of the F1 circus can extend the race weekend with a holiday in one of the region's tourist destinations.

Then there's the matter of local interest, both fan and corporate. The country is heavily involved in the sport, primarily through Sauber's roster of Mexican sponsors: Telmex, Jose Cuervo, and Visit Mexico, to name but a few. Add to that the presence on the grid of Mexican racer Sergio Perez and the up-and-coming Esteban Gutierrez, and there are some very credible reasons for FOM to support a Mexican Grand Prix.

Kyalami hosted 20 grands prix that were part of the world championship © Sutton Images
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Rumours surrounding a new race in South Africa circulate more often than the winter flu. Ever since Formula One left Kyalami in 1993, there has been talk of going back, either to that famed yet emasculated track, or to one of a number of proposed new circuits that are unlikely to ever be built.

Africa is the only major continent now without a race - Pirelli haven't cracked the ice-spec tyres for the proposed Antarctica Grand Prix yet - and Formula One's lack of a presence there is one of the sport's great failings. Growing economies on the subcontinent are leading to emerging middle classes with a disposable income, and a brand new market F1 is failing to tap into.

But South Africa remains the only logical African country in which to hold a race - for now - and internal politics there are currently concerned with other matters, not least the schism that appears to be forming within the ANC. A grand prix is far down the list of priorities in a country which (having recently had a convenient international image boost via the football World Cup in 2010) is still addressing its citizens basic needs in terms of education and employment opportunities.

While a race in Africa makes sense, even if an ideal location is yet to be found, September 2011 saw a circuit announcement that was bordering on the ridiculous: Iran. "The directors of TSI Group and their iLand resort, a 1,700 hectare resort city currently under construction in Parand city on the outskirts of the Iranian capital city of Tehran, are pleased to announce their plans for the exciting new iLand Race Resort development," the announcement read.

"The iLand Race Resort will comprise a 5.0km race circuit built in the style of the classic 'naturally contoured' circuits such as Spa-Francorchamps, the Nürburgring Nordschleife, and Donington Park. It is to be built on a parcel of land of 75 hectares that is 1,100m above sea level, with a natural topography range of 22m. … Initial groundworks have commenced for construction and Phase 1, the West circuit, is scheduled for completion in 2012, with full construction and operation anticipated in 2013."

The Iranian project aimed to secure a Grade 2 FIA license for the circuit upon completion, allowing the country to host WTCC and GT racing, with plans to expand and secure a Grade 1 license at an unspecified later date - the Ain't Never Gonna Happen Grand Prix of Tehran…

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