- The Inside Line
Germany - will we, won't we?Kate Walker January 26, 2015
It could almost be the punchline to a joke - a year after settling in Munich, Bernie Ecclestone casts doubt on the German Grand Prix.
But the sad truth of the matter is that the current situation at the Nurburgring - cause of the current calendar doubt - is a mess that has been years in the making, thanks to financial mismanagement, EU investigations into financial irregularities, and local government scandals, to name but a few of the problems that have besieged the place over the past five years.
February 2012 saw the local government terminate the lease on the Nurburgring thanks to unpaid bills. By the summer of that year, the European Union was investigating what appeared to be €524 million in unauthorised state funding channelled to the Nurburgring. At the end of the 2012 season, there were headlines calling the 2013 race into question. And in May 2013, the 937-acre site was put up for sale, although that year's July race was not affected by the process, with bids open until September.
It is those problems which continue to affect the German Grand Prix, and which Ecclestone summarised so succinctly in comments to Reuters last week. Asked about the location of the 2015 German Grand Prix, the F1 supremo replied: "It's going to be at Hockenheim, we're in the middle of doing something with them. It can't be Nurburgring because there's nobody there."
Of course, in the days since it has become clear that Hockenheim were unprepared for the possibility of a race, an entirely understandable position given that their alternation deal with the Nurburgring was created because neither venue could afford to sustain the German Grand Prix on its own.
Again, it's like 2013 all over again. Late confirmation of the German Grand Prix venue plus speculation over the viability of the race itself is nothing new, and nor are comments by Ecclestone linking a surprised Hockenheim with an extra grand prix. However, the simple fact that it was fixed at the eleventh hour before doesn't necessarily mean that it will happen again.
Last year's German Grand Prix is already better remembered for its poor attendance figures despite a German team (albeit one based in the UK…) and German driver leading the championship than it is for the fact that Nico Rosberg won. There was no disguising the empty grandstands, either in real life or on television. In financial terms alone, Hockenheim cannot afford to see that happening for a second year in a row, and would be understandably reluctant to take on the responsibility of replacing the Nurburgring.
Speaking to Sky Sports News, Ecclestone emphasised his willingness to help stop Germany from slipping off the calendar. "We would do everything to stop them fading away," he said, "but in the end the only reason the race won't happen is because they can't afford to run the race."
There is nothing anyone in F1 can do to rectify the problems at the Nurburgring, or to ensure the race goes ahead there. But given that Hockenheim's issues relate to the cost of hosting the race, FOM could - if it so wishes - waive the 2015 hosting fee to thank the circuit bosses for stepping in to fill a hole on the calendar, meaning all ticket sales could be directed at promoting the event and packing the grandstands, strengthening Hockenheim's financial position for the years to come.