- The Inside Line
Put your money where your mouth isKate Walker August 19, 2013
At some point over the next week you will see a news headline or six bemoaning the financial instability of the Belgian Grand Prix. It's that time of year again, after all and the Belgian Grand Prix is always financially unstable.
While the Spa-Francorchamps Circuit is seen by many as the real jewel in the Formula One crown, a race track that challenges drivers and thrills fans in equal measure, it is not a circuit that sees many people through the gates.
The forested hills that mean Spa is so good for racing also mean that it's pretty remote. Fans can drive to the circuit with ease from several surrounding countries, but once they arrive there are few places to stay (and even fewer cheap places). Then there's the weather, which traditionally sees hardcore fans spending up to four days getting soggier by the minute - Spa doesn't offer much in the way of covered grandstands.
Even those willing to camp and endure likely bad weather must then pay fairly handsomely for the privilege, with general admission costing £117 for the weekend (or £430 for covered seating at Eau Rouge).
It is unfortunate that the burden of saving Spa appears to have fallen largely on the shoulders of the fans. Really, the circuit should be granted historical protected status.
Because Monaco is so important to Formula One, it gets a free race. But while Monaco matters to sponsors and show-offs (two very important groups in the sport), Spa is more important still. It's been a long time since Monaco played host to a race so thrilling it birthed a new generation of Formula One fans.
But Spa? Spa does it every single year.
Without circuits like Spa, Suzuka, Montreal, and Monza, real racers' circuits that show off Formula One to its greatest advantage, there wouldn't be any sponsors to do their big bucks deals in Monaco. Sponsors are attracted by eyeballs, and eyeballs are attracted by good racing.
Spa needs to remain on the F1 calendar, even if the commercial rights holder finds that more money can be made elsewhere. Luckily, however, there's a relatively well-off group of people ideally positioned to ensure that the Spa-Francorchamps Circuit has enough money to ensure that Formula One keeps returning to the Ardennes for many decades to come: the drivers.
Every year in the Thursday press conference at Spa I hear the assembled drivers wax lyrical about the place - it's their favourite circuit, the ultimate drivers' track, the last of the sport's classic challenges… You've heard the quotes so often you could probably write them yourself.
Later on in the press conference, we hear the drivers express their concerns over Spa's long-term future, over whether the race organisers will find a way to keep it on the calendar. They wring their hands over its potential loss, and conclude by saying it's a shame they don't get to decide which circuits stay and which circuits go.
But they could! While the back of the grid drivers aren't exactly raking in millions, at the front of the pack lie a number of seven- and eight-figure earners. If each of them took but one month's salary and invested in Spa, they could keep the circuit going for longer than they're likely to keep racing.
Just a thought…