Istanbul to host Formula 1 as fans, tourism sector rejoice

Formula 1 will return to Istanbul this year following the cancellation of the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal due to travel restrictions related to COVID-19, a move which has excited Turkish fans and the ailing tourism industry.

Formula 1 officials announced last week that the event, scheduled between June 11 and 13, will be moved to the Intercity Istanbul Park racecourse, located in the Tuzla district, on the Asian side of Turkey’s biggest city.

“We had missed the sound of the races. The enthusiasm of the Formula 1 Grand Prix is returning to Istanbul,” Ali Yerlikaya, the governor of the city, wrote on social media.

The Istanbul race was part of the Formula 1 World Championship between 2005 and 2011 before it was dropped from the calendar over financial disagreements.

In a surprise and last-ditch move, Istanbul was included in last year’s calendar following schedule changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton became the first champion at Istanbul Park in a race held without spectators because of coronavirus prevention measures.

The city is seeking to be permanently included in the World Championship, and this year’s organization is important in that respect to host the top-flight motorsports event in the years to come.

“Our goal is to sign a long-term contract and permanently join the calendar,” Vural Ak, the chairperson of Intercity, told public broadcaster TRT.

“We hope to sign a 10-year-long contract and bring the Grand Prix back to Istanbul for good not simply for a single-shot, and thus satisfy Formula 1 fans and all the race community in Turkey,” he said.

The event would be a significant foreign visitor hotspot that would boost Turkey’s vital tourism industry, which is reeling from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Formula 1 fans are special visitors and help to upgrade the host nation’s image. In the past, Turkey used the Grand Prix efficiently and attracted thousands of fans from the world, generating serious revenues,” Serkan Kaya, a tourism professional from Istanbul, told Xinhua.

“At a time when Turkey is trying to attract visitors to a sector crippled by travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders, the Istanbul Grand Prix has a role to play in efforts to restore the industry’s credibility,” he noted.

“This will be an important tourism activity as Turkey is launching the summer season. Thousands of race professionals and workers will arrive in Istanbul,” Vural Ak also remarked.

Istanbul Park has a capacity of 25,000 spectators. The circuit’s length is 5.338 kilometers, and the total race distance is 309.396 km over 58 laps.

Cem Birsel, a 54-year-old business executive from Istanbul, began following the sport in his teenage years.

“This is major news. I am very excited for this year’s race and the prospect of a long-term stay of the Formula 1 in Turkey,” the die-hard fan told Xinhua.

“In my family, contrary to most Turkish people who love football, our main sports topic is Formula 1. We follow it on the news, on television,” said Birsel, who has also traveled abroad to watch Grands Prix in other countries.

The Turkish Grand Prix will be held three weeks after the end of a 17-day lockdown, which began on April 29 to curb the spread of rising daily coronavirus infections.

It is unsure yet if the 2021 edition will accept spectators. But Birsel wants to be among them with his teenage son, also a Formula 1 aficionado, so they can watch their favorite drivers in full action.