The Magic of Monza

Elisha Chauhan asks Monza how it plans to reinvigorate the venue’s magic following Bernie Ecclestone’s threat to drop the historic track.

The Autodromo Nazionale Monza is one of the oldest Formula One circuits – hosting the Italian grand prix every season since the inaugural 1950 world championship, with only the exception of 1980, when Monza was closed for renovations and the race moved to the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari (Imola) circuit.

But despite its heritage, Formula One commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone said last month he did not foresee an extension of Monza’s hosting contract beyond 2016.

“It’s not good,” he told Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport. “I don’t think we’ll do another contract as the old one has been disastrous for us from a commercial point of view. So it’s bye-bye after 2016.”

Monza reportedly pays a significantly lower hosting fee than other European races due to its links with the Italian Ferrari racing team that previously attracted a huge following. However, the team has only managed to win one Italian grand prix – with Fernando Alonso in 2010 – following driver Michael Schumacher’s dominance of the world championship with Ferrari between 2000 and 2006.

It’s this underperformance that Ecclestone, partly, attributes Monza’s commercial struggles, with the 83-year-old stating that Italy’s TV viewership is lower than other regions: “If Ferrari started to end up first and second in qualifying and races…TV ratings would improve everywhere. Ferrari is a worldwide passion.”

The [Monza contract] has
been disastrous for us
from a commercial point
of view. So it's bye-bye
after 2016

In response to Ecclestone’s comments, Monza’s head of Formula One operations, Federico Bendinelli, says that the hosting deals venues have to sign are far less favourable for the circuits, commercially, than in the past. Monza signed its current six-year hosting contract extension in 2010.

“We are in discussions with Bernie Ecclestone regarding renewal after 2016, but at the moment we are not moving forward very fast with that,” Bendinelli told SportBusiness International. “In the past, the contracts were more favourable for circuits like Monza, and not like the new circuit deals. It’s a very old contract and that’s why Bernie made those comments.”

Monza has a capacity of around 115,000, but in the last decade raceday attendances are understood to have dropped below 95,000 at times. Asked if Ferrari’s decreasing dominance in Formula One is affecting attendance at the Italian grand prix, Bendinelli admits that it is something his team is fearful of, “but we hope that is not the case”.

“Like all the other grands prix, we also have some worries about low attendance because of the economic situation around the world,” he adds.

In a bid to keep its hosting rights, the circuit will undergo five years of renovations beginning this year. Meanwhile, a potential extension will be discussed with Ecclestone at this year’s race weekend in Monza at the beginning of September.

“There is a renovation project for the track and everything around the circuit that we are planning to take further. We plan to upgrade one area – covering the grandstands, track and facilities – each year,” Bendinelli says.

“At the moment it’s not easy to say how much we will spend, because it would come from public money as the circuit is not privately owned, however the investment will be at least €10 million.”

Although the terms of the agreement will be handled by a new board, following venue operator ACM (Automobile Club Milano)’s board election on July 22, Bendinelli says he would like to see an extension until 2020, which is the year that the Concorde Agreement between Ecclestone and the race teams also comes to an end.

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