• The Inside Line

A new approach from Bernie?

Kate Walker July 3, 2014
No Monza in the future or just Bernie being Bernie? © Getty Images

Bernie Ecclestone is well-known - in motor-racing circles - for his 'look! Over there!' approach to dealing with the media, race promoters, and other F1 stakeholders. When Bernie says A, often he doesn't mean it at all. Instead, he is trying to deliver result B.

When Ecclestone this week told Italy's premier sporting newspaper that Monza was for the chopping block come 2016, the presumption was that the F1 supremo was putting the pressure on the race organisers at the legendary track, trying to impress upon them the importance of coming to his terms less they lose a race that has been theirs for almost as long as motor-racing has been around.

Usually that means some form of costly improvement work, of the sort seen most recently at Silverstone and soon to be started in Interlagos. But as anyone who has been to Monza will tell you, there is not a lot that can be done to fix the few problems inherent to the track. The pit and paddock facilities are of a perfectly acceptable standard, and Ecclestone has never troubled himself with such minor details as the shoddy and overpriced internet offered to the media.

Monza's biggest problem from a practical point of view is access to the historic park, and that's something that can't be changed. Access to both paddock and parking comes via a narrow road under the track, and on Sunday evenings the circuit is gridlocked as teams try to bring their transporters in just as everyone else is trying to get out. It's a pain, but it's part and parcel of the Italian Grand Prix. It's also not something that has ever caused sleepless nights for anyone at Prince's Gate.

The other reason to ramp up the pressure from the point of view of the commercial rights holder is to increase the race hosting fee. Italy is one of a long list of European countries without much in the way of disposable income at the moment, both on a state and private level.

The impact of the financial crisis on Italy was evident at last year's grand prix, when empty seats could be seen in the main grandstand on Sunday afternoon. Given that your average tifoso would go without food for a month in order to cheer on the prancing horses it was confirmation that the average Italian is not currently in rude financial health.

But in order for the commercial rights holder to ramp up the cost of hosting a race, the promoter needs to be in a position to pay whatever increase has been decided upon. And in order to do that, the promoter needs to get bums on seats.

What better way to prompt a surge of ticket sales for the Italian Grand Prix than to terrify the average Italian Formula One fan with the prospect of losing their legendary race? Speaking directly to Guiseppe Publico through the pages of the Gazzetta dello Sport was Bernie's attempt to place responsibility for Monza's future directly in the hands of those who choose to buy (or not to buy) tickets for the race.

It's a new spin on a very old approach.