Sometimes it’s hard to think of Formula 1 as one of the premier sports on the planet
In contrast, F1 bumbles along as though it were a Carry On movie, or worse, Only Fools and Horses run by Del Boy, a former second-hand car dealer only intent on the next deal to be had by fleecing a circuit of some cash rather than worrying about the business as a whole.
Because after Bernie failed to find a solution with the Nurburgring’s owners to stage the German GP*, that’s what F1 looks like. At the height of the grand prix season this summer there will be… no races, because the circuits can no longer afford to pay the fees that Ecclestone demands. Valencia has given up (and by all accounts a lot of the infrastructure has already disappeared), France - the spiritual home of grand prix racing - cannot make it pay, Turkey - with the best circuit in the world, providing a feast of overtaking with or without DRS - cannot afford it, and now Germany - with a German World Champion along with several competitors and a German team can’t get the finances to work.
*This was written on Wednesday after Bernie revealed on Monday that negotiations with the circuit were over and there would not be a race at the Nurburgring. Then, on Thursday - presumably after the movers and shakers in German motorsport realised that he wouldn’t back down - a deal has been done. However the feature stands - this is no way to run a sport.
With no German GP officially on the calendar and with Bernie unable to find a race for his July 21st (TBA) date, after Silverstone on June 30th there is no confirmed race until a month later on the 28th of July in Hungary. And then there is no race until Spa on August 25th (and even that race is financially precarious and dependent on Belgian regional funding).
So for two months, there could be just one race, the Hungarian GP. And when it comes to that race in Budapest sometimes it’s a belter, and sometimes the paint just dries.
So in the summer there’s a TV drought and then at the end of the season we get flooded - the TV schedules get saturated with double-headers for Korea and Japan, for India and Abu Dhabi and the USA and Brazil.
Added to that area of uncertainty there is the ongoing stand-off between the FIA and F1’s commercial rights holder, CVC, for whom Bernie speaks. The Concorde agreement which is the document that governs the sport is yet to be agreed between Jean Todt and Bernie.
One of the reasons put forward about the delay is that the FIA may well be waiting to see what unfolds in the various court cases that Bernie is facing over the course of 2013. There are many people contending that when Bernie helped acquire the commercial rights for CVC from what was the Kirch empire, that he got them on the cheap. And now they want financial retribution.
That is nothing like the deal with which Bernie first obtained the commercial rights of F1 for 100 years from the FIA for £100m - that was the deal of the century. He got those rights from Max Mosley and it’s hard to think that anyone else was up against him in that bidding process.
In the light of the several legal cases that Bernie is having to face, could it be that the FIA are biding their time and hoping to re-open the financial arrangements that saw them sell off their prize asset for a fraction of what it was worth. Should Bernie lose one or more cases then it might become open season on trying to get money back.
Most of this is water under the bridge and the stuff of court rooms. What F1 can still do is take a reality pill and realise that it is the TV fans around the world that support the high-rolling F1 industry. Their eyeballs on screens are what the sponsors want. The sponsors bankroll the teams. And if sponsors want to lever their multi-million dollar investment, it becomes difficult when the product disappears off our screens for weeks on end.
TV executives say the one thing that is a killer to building an audience is a programme moving timeslots. F1 not only does that already, now it’s doing a disappearing act. Ecclestone should get on his knees and beg the Turks to have their brilliant circuit back on the calendar and sod the race hosting fee.
When Luca Montezemolo says there should be changes at the top - you have to say it’s an idea whose time has come. Actually, weren’t CVC headhunting for a Bernie replacement…?