Sebastian Vettel, the German Formula 1 world champion, loves Mallorca. At least, that’s what the 24-year-old Red Bull driver claimed during his appearance last June in the middle of the quiz show “Wetten dass ..” (“I bet that…”), which was recorded in Palma’s bullring and seen by more than 10 million television viewers. Local politicians and tourism managers would like to attract the fastest driver in the world – along with his asphalt-rivals Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton – and watch these magnificent men do battle with each other, at top speeds exceeding 300 km/h (186 mph).
The idea of building a Formula 1 circuit in Mallorca is no longer a dream. A year ago, a business consortium presented plans to build the world´s most modern high-speed track about ten miles outside of Palma, on the southeast side of the highway connecting Arenal with Llucmajor. On a 50-acre property, a more than five-kilometre circular track is planned. Its main grandstand will be covered by a huge, glass pergola with climbing plants and curved steel beams. To make consumption of resources at the circuit as low as possible, man-made lakes to catch the rainwater are to be installed – combined with solar, wind and geothermal energy power plants.
In addition to hosting top-class motor sport events like Formula 1, MotoGP and GP2, the circuit will be used as a test track for racing teams, tyre manufacturers and other companies in the industry. In addition, the construction of an international school for young racing drivers and a development centre for the automotive industry, are components of the project. Its initiator is the architect Gabriel Palmer, based in Palma, who designed the plans for the Formula 1 circuit. “The Balearic Islands are the only region in Spain where there is no such facility,” says Palmer. He won assistance for the implementation of his dream, in Marranello, Italy, the home base of the Ferrari group. Their experts revised the drawings of the architect – who lacks experience in the construction features of racetracks. “The Italians have adapted my design to the specifications of the International Motor Sports Association FIA,” says Palmer. Public institutions on the island gave their okay. Both the municipal council of Llucmajor and the Balearic regional government were enthusiastic about the project. They made way for the necessary building permit from the Island Council after fulfilling all required environmental and safety regulations.
In fact, the chances that Vettel, Hamilton & Co. could soon be racing on the island, are currently not bad.
Decisions on when and where in the world a Formula 1 race is held, are made by the company “Formula One Management” (FOM), which owns the entire commercial F1 commercial rights, such as for broadcasting and sponsorship worldwide. CEO of FOM is the 80-year-old Englishman Bernie Ecclestone, who owns about 25 per cent of the shares. He said in August this year that he could easily imagine a “Grand Prix” in Mallorca. Background: The harbour circuit of Valencia – for four years home of the “Grand Prix of Europe”, seems too small and unamusing for Ecclestone and his demanding, numerous, Formula-1-entourage, consisting of sponsors, celebrities and stars. Besides, officials of the city of Valencia have announced that they’ll withdraw as a Formula 1 venue at the end of next year, for cost reasons. “Mallorca has everything you need for the Formula 1 circus: Excellent flight connections, high security, international flair and expensive hotels,” Ecclestone’s representative Philippe Gurdjian said after a recent visit to the island. Gurdjian is an insider. Within the past few years, the Frenchman has been involved in the construction and commercialization of three Formula 1 circuits. In 2009 he raised the Bahrain International Circuit from the desert floor within just six months. Gurdijan declared himself ready to promote the high-speed circuit in Llucmajor and to make the Grand Prix of Mallorca one of the top three events in the Formula 1 calendar.
For Mallorca, the hosting of Formula 1 races would prove to be lucrative. Around €300 million is the FIA estimated average revenue generated by a Formula 1 race in the region in which it is organized. Just the construction of the track is expected to create about 6,000 jobs, Palmer firmly believes. More than 1,000 other jobs will be created by the year-round running of the facility. But to make the money flow, Palmer and his partners need start-up capital.
The architect estimates the investment needed to build the track as around €200 million.
But even initially- interested companies, such as the large Spanish banking group Santander, have stopped further negotiations because of the ongoing global economic recession. Inquiries from England, Germany and Saudi Arabia are still quite informal.
Critics say the Formula1 plans for Mallorca are completely unrealistic: The ambitious building is not viable, the initiators lack the experience necessary to implement such a project and the FIA (International Automobile Federation) isn’t at all interested in a racetrack in Mallorca . . .
“Without the assurance that Formula 1 will actually go to Mallorca, nobody will get involved in the project,” says Antonio Cases, manager of the Catalan Formula 1 course in Montmeló. But he might be wrong. On a number of occasions, the automobile sports officials have seemingly rejected the presentation of new Grand Prix projects. The latest example was the recently inaugurated Grand Prix in Delhi, India. Initially, low security standards and an environment of poverty were largely criticized by the demanding motor racing circus. In the end though, the racing facilities were built. Mallorca still has the trump card in its hands. All that’s missing are the famous words: “Start your engines, gentlemen!”