Italian Grand Prix*: the asterisk we missed

Motor Racing – Formula One World Championship – Italian Grand Prix – Race Day – Monza, Italy

The issue of a renewed agreement between FOM and ACI (Automobile Club d’Italia) for the Italian GP at Monza was grabbing a lot of attention recently. A few factors are relevant here, let’s take a glance.

It was long-awaited news, both by new fans and old insiders. The Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix is, in fact, scheduled for September 3rd at Monza in the new Formula 1 2017 calendar, without the slightest need for confirmation. But what are the “other” facts?

A brief summary

Despite the negotiations for the renewal being underway for a long time, there was still no progress until the last days before the Italian GP of 2016. The gap between the economic demands of the FOM and the thickness of Monza’s wallet seemed quite excessive and unbridgeable. Then a series of meetings between Bernie Ecclestone and the Automobile Club d’Italia were arranged, and somehow it all came down to a public date to sign the papers saying that this Italian deal was going to be made after all.

There was a climate of general enthusiasm at the press conference for the announcement of the deal organised in Monza, a few days before the 2016 Formula 1 race weekend. But then everyone realised that the wildly-photographed-and-filmed handshake wasn’t followed by the signing of the contract.

Among all the reasons for not signing the document that were declared in the media during those next few days, there was “the preference of FOM to sign the papers on English grounds” (probably referring to contractual clauses related to cases of legal disputes) and “the search for solutions with respect to some aspects of the contract still not fully satisfactory”. The latter aspects mostly mean FOM aiming to use certain infrastructures of the circuit for their specific business opportunities and hospitality needs, and that the SIAS – the management company of Monza – was not going to give in.

But, perhaps, the primary reason for the failure to sign would be attributed to legal administrative actions, initiated at the Administrative Court of Lazio by the Formula Imola company, which manages the historic Italian racetrack (Enzo e Dino Ferrari Circuit), home of challenges and events etched into memory of the Formula 1 fans.

But then everyone realised that the wildly-photographed-and-filmed handshake wasn’t followed by the signing of the contract…

Formula Imola is against the decision of the ACI to support Monza – especially economically, with “state aid” – as the host of the Italian Grand Prix, because this prohibits the Imola company to use the “GP of Italy” designation (only the ACI may grant such permission). At the moment Formula Imola and FOM have a deal signed that has no consent of the ACI, and right now this deal actually looks pretty bad, having in mind the extreme uncertainty of the Grand Prix followed by a snowstorm of conflicts surrounding Monza. It’s probably much more understandable now why FOM didn’t sign the contract, isn’t it?

The values at stake

The 2016 edition of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza was attended, at the racetrack, by more than 140,000 people from Thursday to Sunday. The increase in attendance, compared to the 2015 edition, was about 4%. Results were truly positive, especially when compared to many other GPs included in the Formula 1 calendar.

We must also mention the increase of 9% in the use of public transport for reaching the circuit and the total economic impact generated in the territory, including tourism, catering and transports, which was overall estimated at around €28.5 million.

A giant number of people are watching the GP in Italy, which, added to those 50 other broadcasters who show the race, make up a panel approximately estimated at almost one billion viewers! In comparison, Repucom tells us that a total of 1.5 billion viewers watched at least one Formula 1 race in 2015, so it would be great to believe that almost two thirds of those people tuned in for the Monza GP in 2016.

The contract between FOM and ACI for the renewal of the Monza GP for another three years will have a value of more than €60 million.

Economic numbers have nothing to do with the excitement and romance tied to the history of the circuit, however the statistics influence the whole story heavily, also allowing motorsport fans to better understand the scenario and the interests in these affairs.

The turning point

A few more meetings resulted in Formula Imola and ACI wisely burying the hatchet by giving precedence to logic and not to legal disputes. The situation allowed the Administrative Court to postpone any decision in anticipation of a formal agreement between the parties. A decision that would allow Monza to host the next three editions of the Italian Grand Prix despite the Enzo and Dino Ferrari Circuit in Imola being deemed as “suitable” for the Formula 1 race.

Several hours after the decision, Uberto Selvatico Estense, Chairman of Formula Imola, stated: “To clear the table of all polemics, we would like to announce that, in view of our shared demands, we are discussing with the ACI – National Sporting Authority, for the recognition of Imola as the location of a number of alternative international events. This opening, in addition that recognition of the adequacy of our track, represents a new positive path in dealing with ACI, which we hope can generate satisfaction for both parties, in respect of the great Italian motoring tradition. Open wheels cars remain, always, in our DNA and we hope they come back soon to whiz along the banks of Santerno. Therefore, we remain at the disposal of the National and International Sports Authority”.

Repucom tells us that a total of 1.5 billion viewers watched at least one Formula 1 race in 2015, so it would be great to believe that almost two thirds of those people tuned in for the Monza GP in 2016.

A very satisfied Angelo Sticchi Damiani (President of ACI), also a candidate for re-election for the presidency, noted: “Having overcome the big misunderstandings that have characterised the relations between ACI and Formula Imola, I think it right that, as National Sporting Authority, everything must be done to bring international motorsport events back to Imola. This, of course, in recognition of the long history of the Imola Circuit, which for years has also hosted the highest formula of international motorsport event”.

Adam Cooper wrote for “One possible scenario could be an alternating deal, in the same way that Hockenheim and the Nurburgring shared the German GP, although Imola – which hosted the Italian GP on one previous occasion in 1980 – is also happy to go it alone”.

The right things

The important decision made together by Formula Imola and ACI to open a constructive dialogue has returned, no doubt, a certain serenity. But the action that has allowed the return to a more balanced situation, was the publication of the Formula 1 Championship Calendar 2017 by the international federation, without the asterisk “To Be Confirmed” in reference to the Italian GP.

A simple character, a palindromic number (ASCII Code 0101010), but of great value and benefit to the entire system. Something like Butterfly Effect related to Chaos Theory. Maybe it’s a fulsome example, but it fits very well. The discussion in the Administrative Court has not yet come to an end, but the basis for its conclusion is there, as well as for the final signature of FOM. The hope is that this state of balance and openness to dialogue remains. One of the elements that will ensure continuity and stability would, in my opinion, be the re-election of Angelo Sticchi Damiani as president of ACI.

After the signing, the investments in Monza circuit must begin, looking for new partnerships, for an overall improvement of infrastructures and services. Because Monza will have won the challenge for the GP to stay for more three years, it will reach the 90th edition, however it is very likely that in the future the situation will be different and it might get even more complex, with aggressive, persistent and thoroughly prepared competitors.

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