Time to talk Turkey.
How do you like it? Hot from the oven that is Istanbul in the summer? Or cold shoulder, as appears to be the attitude of the folk who live in, and around, this city that straddles the frontier between East and West?
The problem is that Turkey is a football country where other sports are virtually ignored, merely a matter of curiosity. They went to have a look at Formula 1 in the first year but ever since they have largely stayed away. At least there is a drivers’ football match at the Ali Sami Yen stadium, home of Galatasaray, so that may be some compensation for those who cannot face the madness of the traffic jams between the city and the Istanbul Park Raceway.
All this is a great shame because the circuit has some spectacular and challenging sections, which are a real test of both car and driver. For me, this is the best of Hermann Tilke’s new breed of Grand Prix tracks, far and away more exciting than Malaysia, China or Bahrain. But, like the aforementioned three, the Istanbul ‘raceway’ looks worryingly empty on race day.
And this is not good news for the global television coverage. Major sporting events need spectators. Mr Ecclestone makes precious few mistakes but this race may just be one of them. Even Petrol Ofisi, Turkey’s leading distributor of fuels, withdrew its support – replaced by ING.
It would help, of course, if there was a Turkish driver waiting in the wings. Judging by the chaotic, not to say scary, antics on the roads this is unlikely to be the case for a very long time. An apparent lack of imagination, combined with a lack of skill, does not a great driver make.
MotoGP gave up on Istanbul. When you saw the crowds at Mugello last weekend you can understand why. This is a sport that sets a lot of store by its atmosphere, the involvement of a huge crowd, and of course the racing is almost unbearably exciting. So, if the Turks weren’t turned on, there were other places for MotoGP to go. This season the battle for the championship deserves capacity crowds – who will it be, Rossi, Stoner or Lorenzo? It’s far too close to call. Roll on Catalunya.
You will, therefore, probably be in the vast majority if you’re staying at home and watching this weekend’s Grand Prix on television. The form books say the winner will be somebody in a Brawn GP car. But the team must be due some kind of problem. When Mr Brawn was in charge at Ferrari, however, Mr Schumacher forgot what it was like to have the car let him down. The 2009 season becomes more extraordinary the more you think about it.
Next week we’re off to Le Mans. There will be plenty of people there, especially the Brits. Unless they’ve all been scared off by the rate of exchange between the euro and the pound, preferring instead to take a holiday in Turkey, which remains outside the euro zone. The race tracks may be empty but the beaches are crammed. Funny old world.