Where have all the German Formula One fans gone?
The glamour sport was asking itself that question after tens of thousands stayed away from a home grand prix that should have been box office gold in the land of Mercedes but instead left plenty of empty seats on Sunday.
Some pointed the finger at the country’s reigning quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel, struggling for form at a below-par Red Bull this season and unhappy with the new rules and engine format.
Others blamed World Cup fatigue, Germany’s strict tax rules on corporate hospitality or the absence of Michael Schumacher — the most successful driver of all time who retired in 2012 and is still in hospital after a near-fatal ski accident.
Whatever the reason, the facts on Sunday were stark. The dominant Mercedes team, with championship leader Nico Rosberg triumphant, had just won their home grand prix with a German driver for the first time since the 1930s.
Such a result had looked on the cards for months – Mercedes have now won nine of 10 races so far – and yet instead of queues of cars on the autobahns and crowds thronging through the turnstiles, the race at Hockenheim drew an attendance of just 52,000 on Sunday.
Katja Heim, the circuit adviser who was involved in the race promotion, said the crowd was better than the 45,000 at the Nuerburgring last year, but Hockenheim was always more popular.
She blamed Vettel, who told reporters early in the season that the new V6 turbo hybrid engines, which are much quieter than the old V8s, sounded ‘shit’. He was not the only one of that opinion, but his words had resonance.
“It certainly didn’t really help that Vettel in his frustration about the new Formula One and his car gave loads of interviews about how bad Formula One is now and that it’s not worth going there,” said Heim.
High ticket prices, with a category one weekend pass costing €515 euros, were also seen as a factor – particularly with Austria offering a cheaper alternative as well as novelty value in the same German-speaking catchment area.
Austria was a sellout attraction, with tickets limited to 225,000 over the three days. An estimated 80,000 turned out on race day.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2014.
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