Uncertainty Over The ‘Ring 24 Hours
The FIA apparently intends to move the Grand Prix of Europe to the weekend previously chosen for the Nürburgring 24 Hours (May 28/29). It appears this decision is "all but official" now.

The sheer number of races that make up the 24 Hours weekend necessitates that practice sessions for the support races begin on Thursday, with qualifying for the main event, and indeed some support races (one last year) happening on Friday. Therefore, weeks that offer a public holiday on Thursday or Friday are the preferred dates. There are only two of these during the 2005 racing season: the weekends of May 7/8, and May 28/29. The latter seemed like the perfect choice (no conflict with Le Mans, and not too early in the year - see below). Formula 1 had originally set an April date for its Grand Prix of Europe, one of two German races on the World Championship calendar, but has apparently now thought better of it, and hijacked the 24 Hours weekend date for its own show.

The FIA's reason given for moving the Grand Prix to a later date is the weather in the Eifel, which in April (and also in early May) is notoriously unpredictable. And herein lies the reason for the 24 Hours organisers' uncertainty whether to go ahead with their race or not: not only is the weather unpredictable at all times, it is also miserably cold during the night hours, with temperatures dropping almost to freezing point. If these conditions are uncomfortable for the spectators, especially those camping out in the woods (which may subsequently decide to stay away in 2005), they are hazardous for the competitors, especially on the Nordschleife.

Disappointing though this development may be, it comes as no surprise that the Nürburgring GmbH would have given in to the FIA's demands. The company which runs this vast motorsports complex is jointly owned by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and the county of Ahrweiler - and for the businesses of the region, as well as the federal and regional tax men, the Formula 1 Grand Prix is still the major cash cow of the year. The 24 Hours, for instance, does not create all that much revenue because a large portion of the approximately 200,000 visitors camp out, and bring their (mainly liquid) provisions with them, instead of renting rooms and dining out. Formula 1 fans spend more money on location, and Michael Schumacher's stranglehold on Formula 1 guarantees continued fan interest in the two German events - in part, it is the reason why there still are two of them on the calendar. These commercial considerations weigh particularly heavily as the Nürburgring GmbH has not done all that well in recent years.

The alternative Grand Prix date of June 3 has officially still not been ruled out; the final decision, on which now seems to depend the fate of the 2005 Nürburgring 24 Hours, will be made at the next FIA meeting on December 10.
Johannes Gauglica

 

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