Istanbul Park potential

‘You should come’, says marketing manager Miss Aylin, ‘on the 8th of May. It could be the last Formula 1 race in Istanbul Park’. But the general manager of the racing circuit, Mr. Bülent, is rather confident that the contract with the Formula 1 management will be renewed after the current contract expires later this year, and that there will be Formula 1 races at ‘his’ circuit in 2012 too, and for many years after that. Bülent: ‘Istanbul Park has a lot of potential in this part of the world.’

Istanbul Park is Istanbul’s racing circuit, opened in 2005. I was there with an Indonesian TV crew that is in Turkey for two weeks, and I have been arranging all the items they shoot in Istanbul. Aya Sofya, for example, and Topkapi Palace, an item about soccer club Galatasaray. And a piece on Istanbul Park.

Unfortunately there were no real racing cars available. But of course we were also very okay with being driven around the circuit at high speed in normal cars. Several times: with a camera taped to the dashboard, with two cars next to each other with one cameraman hanging out the window to catch the presenter in the other car, with a cameraman on the sideline filming the car while it passed by the pit stop area. And an interview with Mr. Bülent was recorded, walking in the sun on the circuit.

What Turkey needs, said Mr. Bülent, is a successful Turkish racing driver. Such a hero would give the sport in Turkey a total boost. The circuit and the big international races help to develop an atmosphere in which a Turkish hero can stand up, but it takes years, many years to develop. The circuit and the big international races help speed it up a bit.

And the reverse is also true, of course: the more popular the sport gets in Turkey and surrounding countries, the bigger the chance that Formula 1 races will be granted to Istanbul Park. That process has been started, says Mr. Bülent, and he counts on it to continue.

The decision will be made after May 8, but exactly when is unclear. And the outcome is also unclear, even though Mr. Bülent sounds confident. The support of the Turkish government is assured: both governing party AKP and opposition party CHP support Formula 1 races at Istanbul Park. Of course: it’s a great promotion for the country, such an event is broadcast in around 150 countries all over the world and attracts so many visitors – Istanbul Park can host 140,000.

But the Formula 1 management? Will they support Istanbul Park too? Over a bid from a Russian circuit, and several others? Do they feel that Istanbul Park has potential enough? I’m not going to take the risk: I’ve often heard that it’s really an experience to see Formula 1 even if you’re not into car sports at all (like me, of course), so I’m going to the Formula 1 races in May!

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