DECEMBER 29, 2008

A Grand Prix in Rome?

Maurizio Flammini was a winning Formula 2 driver in his day, finishing sixth in the European Formula 2 Championship in 1975 and 1976. He even drove a Formula 1 car for Frank Williams, although he crashed heavily in practice for the Race of Champions and was not seen again. He then turned his attention to promoting sporting events and since 1990 has been the leading architect of the success of the FIM World Superbike Championship.

Flammini is now saying that he would like to see a Formula 1 street race in Rome. It is not a new idea but the idea that Monza will be dropped from the F1 calendar is pretty unlikely, given the continued popularity of the event, the investment that has been made at the track by the local government, and the historic traditions of the venue, which go back to 1921.

Flammini says that the current F1 trend towards street races, taking the races to the people rather than vice versa, would make Rome an ideal location for a race.

Behind the remarks there is sound commercial sense. Although Italy remains the fifth most visited country in the world, with an estimated 43.7m tourists a year, it is underperforming dramatically in comparison to France (82m) and even Spain (60m).

Forbes Magazine estimates that the Vatican and the Colosseum now each attract around four million tourists a year. This is dwarfed by the big draws such as New York's Times Square (35m), and even by European destinations such as London's Trafalgar Square (15m) and Notre Dame de Paris (12m). More importantly, Rome attracts only six million of Italy's 43.7m tourists and lags way behind London, Europe's leading city, which boasts 15m visitors a year.

The Italian National Union of Chambers of Commerce (Unioncamere) reported last summer that in 1980 Italy was the top tourist destination in Europe with an impressive 9% of the total market. That has now fallen to around five percent. Tourists are discouraged from visiting Italy because of street crime, poor hotels and high prices.

The Italian government is talking of boosting the industry in an effort to push up revenues by improving infrastructure and services.