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A Grand Prix in Rome...seriously?

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A Grand Prix in Rome...seriously?
Jan 28, 2009, 2:03 PM

Two thousand five hundred years after the Romans got their kicks from Chariot racing, there is a plan to bring their modern counterparts back to ra...

Two thousand five hundred years after the Romans got their kicks from Chariot racing, there is a plan to bring their modern counterparts back to race there.

Plans are afoot for a second Grand Prix in Italy, on a street circuit in Rome. The man behind it is Maurizio Flammini, the founder of the World Superbike series.

Flammini showed the plans to Bernie Ecclestone at the recent Ferrari event in Madonna di Campiglio and Ecclestone seemed interested, according to the Roman entrepreneur. "We reflected on how street races offer an opportunity to grow F1, as happened last year in Valencia and Singapore," he said in Gazzetta dello Sport today.

Well, up to a point...Luca di Montezemolo, the Ferrari and FOTA president has said the exact opposite, criticising the new street tracks for their lack of overtaking opportunities.

The idea of F1 cars blasting past the Colosseum is appealing and having been to Rome a few times, some of the roads are very wide. But Montezemolo has a point, the cars need to be seen to race each other, however sexy the backdrop of a city centre location may be. F1 needs a few such city venues alongside Monaco, but it's always at its best on wide tracks with plenty of passing opportunities, especially now that adjustable front wings and so on are encouraging the drivers to dice with each other. We need to give them the space to do so, as the charioteers had at Circus Maximus, the racing stadium which used to hold 250,000 people.

These days it would take that level of ticket sales to pay for it and Flammini estimates the budget at between €100 million and €150 million. He rather optimistically says that none of this would be government money, it would all come from "foreign investors".

According to Gazzetta, Flammini almost got a race in Rome off the ground in 1984 but it fell apart at the planning stage. This time around he's more optimistic because he has a strong relationship with the current mayor of Rome, although the mayor is reported to have winked when asked by reporters if this was really going to happen. However, his office has ordered preliminary studies into the commercial return for the city and into the infrastructure requirements.

"We could be ready in 2011," Flammini adds. India is due to come onto the calendar then and I've heard that the South Koreans are going to be ready soon. LG, which recently did a deal with FOM for sponsorship, is a Korean firm.

There is no question of the Rome event replacing Monza, one of only two sacred cows in F1, as I see it, along with Monaco. However 2011 is the date when the current Italian GP contract is due to expire, so we would go back to having two races in Italy. Imola, one of my favourite tracks for atmosphere and colour, is now ready again after extensive refurbishment work, but can't seem to get back on the calendar.

This could be another of those stories which works for Bernie and works for the other party as it generates useful publicity and makes everyone look busy and entrepreneurial. The London street race story was a bit like that. We will see.

Last word on this in the Gazzetta story goes to an Italian minister who says, "Monza is for F1 cars, Rome is for chariot racing!"

Modern day charioteers? Well Robert Kubica definitely has the Roman nose....
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