Historic F1 venue fears as reputation of the past ‘won’t last forever’

Thomas Maher
The start of the 2018 German Grand Prix. Hockenheim, July 2018.

Hockenheim remains hopeful of attracting F1 back, but not at any cost...

As the venue that most recently held the German Grand Prix, Hockenheim is hopeful of the return of Formula 1 if the conditions are right.

The disappearance of the German Grand Prix after 2019, following the Nurburgring pulling out of the alternating years agreement with Hockenheim, has been a conspicuous absentee in the scheduling of recent calendars.

German interest has shrank considerably in recent years, due to the retirement of Michael Schumacher and later retirements of Sebastian Vettel and several other prominent German F1 drivers.

Hockenheim: Interest in Germany isn’t just lip service

Jorn Teske, manager of the Hockenheim circuit in Baden-Wurttemberg, has spoken about the trials facing the circuit to try getting back onto the F1 calendar in an extensive interview with Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.

While the F1 calendar has expanded considerably – a 24-race schedule is in place for the 2024 season – Germany remains absent despite having been a historic mainstay for decades with races at Hockenheim and the Nurburgring.

Between 1977 and 2006, Hockenheim was only absent from the calendar once as the Nurburgring played host for the 1985 German Grand Prix.

With several new tracks in the Middle East joining the calendar, and the recent arrival of a street venue in Madrid for the Spanish Grand Prix, Teske was asked whether F1 is currently only interested in maximising profits rather than care for the calendar and historic venues.

“We have already been told that there is a great deal of interest in Germany as a location,” he said.

“I also don’t believe that this is just lip service. Of course, key economic figures also play a role for Formula 1.

“However, it is not entirely clear to me to what extent they are prepared to reduce the maximum achievable entry fees. You often hear the question of why it doesn’t work in Germany.

“Our answer is always the same: In other countries, there is cross-financing from third parties. That hasn’t been the case here so far. If nothing changes or Formula 1 isn’t prepared to make major compromises, it can’t work.”

With Madrid estimated to be paying around €48 million annually for its 10-year deal, and Silverstone reported as spending €35 million annually for its renewed 10-year deal, Teske said no concrete figures have been given for Hockenheim to consider tackling.

Teske admitted the funding dap is in the ‘double-digit millions’ – something that is not possible for the circuit to absorb all by itself as it attempted in the past as it “almost ruined us”.

Without investment from third parties or from the government, the costs are simply too high for Hockenheim to absorb.

“For one thing, we don’t talk on a monthly basis,” he said.

“On the other hand, no concrete figures were mentioned during the last talks. It is well known that the new countries are able to raise different amounts than the traditional routes in Europe. I don’t know to what extent the spiral will continue upwards.

“It is not politically opportune at the moment to support motor racing. Unfortunately, there have been no signals from those who could perhaps really get things moving.

“We have always tried to find our way into politics, both at state and federal level, because such an image project brings benefits for both.

“But unfortunately, our attempts have not been successful. Stefano Domenicali once made an attempt to make this a top priority and bring all parties to the table. But nothing came of that either. We always say that we would like to hold such talks, even if it’s just a matter of clarification.”

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Jorn Teske: German F1 interest is ‘at the bottom’

With F1 once part of the mainstream in Germany, its decline away from prominence hasn’t been helped by the disappearance of the sport from free-to-view television, according to Teske.

“From the Hockenheimring’s point of view, we’ve been at the bottom for some time,” he said.

“In 2018 and 2019, we had a full Motodrom and even put up an additional grandstand. But there were also races before that with 30,000 fewer spectators.

“One issue is, of course, visibility in the media. Formula 1 had almost completely disappeared from free-to-air TV. There is now a small roll backward. We have to inspire younger people in particular. A German driver who, in the best-case scenario, drives at the front and still has character and charisma would obviously also help.”

Teske said he believes Hockenheim can still sell out for a “full house”, but not if ticket prices have to be raised significantly to cover higher hosting fees.

With Mercedes a leading manufacturer in F1, and having helped with the sponsorship of the race in the past, the arrival of Audi is something that Teske hopes will help perk things up as other countries don’t have such representation.

But, even without F1, Teske said things have improved for the Hockenheimring in recent years after falling into dire financial straits.

Such has been the improvement, investment is being poured back into the venue to improve the condition and facilities of the circuit and business infrastructure as well as improve the logistics for its other purpose as a concert and festival venue.

While attracting F1 back is a goal, Hockenheim won’t stretch itself too far in order to make it happen – even if its status as a Grand Prix helped in promoting it for other activities year-round.

“If nothing changes economically, it would certainly be easy for us to say: We’re not interested,” he said.

“However, we see ourselves as a traditional and renowned race track and would like to see the premier class race here again. But not at any price.

“As a Formula 1 circuit, we would be more interesting for other racing series or business customers. We are still living off the reputation of the past and will continue to do so for a while, but that won’t last forever. It would be nice to win Formula 1 back, and not just on a temporary basis, but on a multi-year basis. But only on reasonable terms.”

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