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2012-03-09 10:29

DROPPING IN POPULARITY: Not even Spain's double World champion Fernando Alonso can boost the sport's declining popularity in a country with financial woes.


Madrid, Spain - Nearly 130 000 people attended the Spanish Formula 1 GP in Barcelona in 2007. In 2012, however, the F1 bubble has burst in Spain as the country reels with financial problems.

Spain is a country with serious financial problems and a public sector in dire need of saving every euro in a scenario of empty treasuries. The current crisis and past excesses are taking their toll.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso had high hopes in May 2007, the day Valencia was confirmed as an F1 host. "It will be good to have another GP," he said, "to see how F1 is developing in Spain where a few years ago there wasn't even TV coverage."

Valencia featured an urban circuit through the port that had been restored to host the 2007 Americas Cup. When France lost its race in 2008, Spain became the only country with two grands prix, emulating Germany's golden era with Michael Schumacher, Hockenheim and Nuerburgring. It was a milestone on a calendar turning increasingly towards Asia.


In 2012 the port city of Barcelona, traditional home of the Spanish GP since 1991, and Valencia are working on a deal to alternate race to cut costs. F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone said there would be one race in Spain from 2013. "The next year we'll alternate between the two."
In 2012 Barcelona will host the Spanish GP on May 13 and Valencia the European GP on June 24.

Valencia, under financial pressure, appears to be willing to share a GP with Barcelona, an option it rejected in 2011. Germa Gordo, a Catalan government official, said: "The new Valencian government is willing to evaluate a proposal."

Alberto Fabra, head of the Valencia regional government, said: "F1 is not what we are most worried about."

Indeed, Fabra's cabinet is being suffocated by debt and it is trying to renegotiate the R199-million a year it has to pay Ecclestone. Sources in the Valencian government said: "The economy is not the same now as it was a year ago. We have already said publicly that the policy for major events is being reviewed; alternating would be a good proposal for F1."

The financial crisis shaking Spain is leading to drastic cuts at all levels of government. Official estimates saay the country's GDP will drop by 1.7% through 2012 and its unemployment rate is 22.85%, the highest in the European Union.


Gordo said: "We are in economic crisis. Organising F1 has major costs and the fact that we can share them between two countries is better for everybody from a budgetary and treasury point of view."

Gerard Lopez, chairman of Lotus team, said having one race and alternating it between Barcelona and Valencia "is better than having none, which would be a pity".

Spanish driver Pedro de la Rosa also agrees that alternating would be the "normal" thing to do. "Having two is not normal. Turning to a normal scenario means following Germany and Italy."

Alonso has not won the F1 World championship since 2006 and interest has waned in a sport whose TV performance was only beaten in 2008 by the Olympic Games. Even football's European championship, which Spain won, fell short of projected figures which explains why private TV channel La Sexta paid an estimated R1.9-billion for the TV rights to F1 in Spain over five years starting in 2009.

However, three seasons later, La Sexta can no longer pay up. The right to broadcast F1 is to go in 2012 and 2013 to another channel, Antena 3, which will seek to make viable what is clearly a shrinking business.


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