Report: Bernie threatening to pull F1 from Turkey unless fees double

This story is based on a lot of second-hand sources, but it also is one of those that totally has the ring of truth.

According to Today’s Zaman, which is an English-language paper based on Turkey of recent vintage but fair repute, Bernie Ecclestone is threatening to pull Formula 1 out of Turkey unless the race track organizers agree to double their fee, which now is $13.5 million. Bernie wants $26 million.

Here are some details:

Today’s Zaman has learned that Ecclestone spoke with State Minister for Sports Faruk Nafiz Özak and Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek last Saturday, during the İstanbul Grand Prix.

Ecclestone stayed firm on his demand for $26 million per year and said: “I leave it up to you. India and Arab countries are all ready to take your place.” Özak’s response was to say: “This is İstanbul, one of the world’s most beautiful places. So is this racecourse.”

Youth and Sports Director (GSGM) Yunus Akgül, who was present at the meeting, said Ecclestone was adamant in his demand. After these talks, both sides understand the positions of all involved, and the process will be concluded within two months, Akgül noted to Today’s Zaman. “Turkey is definitely fond of hosting these races, and all this haggling is taking place for this. However, paying $26 million for this organization every year is a big burden. The figure is very high. We’ve approached the deal from a different angle. Our last offer was that he relinquish the operating rights to İstanbul Park, and we guaranteed that the track would be reserved for the organization for three weeks before and during the races. In return, we wanted him to come up with a new offer,” Akgül said. He admitted that if Ecclestone insists on a high annual fee for the races, Turkey would have to end its Formula One adventure.

Would it come as a shock if it appeared the government might have to step in?

GSGM has officially asked the Ä°stanbul Chamber of Trade (Ä°TO), the owner of Ä°stanbul Park, for permission to take over the operating rights of the course, he stated.

The İstanbul Park course is idle for almost the entire year, except for a few small-scale events, and has been ever since it was constructed, Akgül noted, because the operating company asked for extremely high fees for use of the course. “If GSGM undertakes the operation of the course, it will open it up for events by the automobile and motorcycle federations, along with a number of auto races including the MotoGP.”

It certainly would figure if Herman Tilke’s best track was the one to fall off the Formula 1 calendar.

I’m sure it’s too early to tell if this is anything other than Bernie’s normal negotiating tactics — which you’d think would start to lose its effectiveness as everyone learned how he operates — or whether Bernie really would be OK with losing the track.

One thing is certain: With a U.S. Grand Prix on the schedule for 2012 and India and Russia waiting in the wings, some races are going to have to go.

And good track or not, Turkey seems a fair bet to be the one to leave.

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