MARCH 23, 2009

If pigs could fly, we would be going to Bulgaria

There are reports in various places, culled from a Bulgarian newspaper, which suggest that there are plans to build a Formula 1 track in that country. This seems wildly optimistic.

The country is financially more stable than some of its neighbours but its economy has been badly hit by the global downturn, with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development reckoning that the annual six percent growth in recent years will drop to zero or even move into recession this year. The bank will invest $300m in Bulgaria this year.

The country, which joined the European Union in January 2007, has suffered from lack of investor confidence caused by corruption in the public administration, organised crime and a weak judiciary. It boasts a population of only 7.2m - which is slightly less than Greater London - and the average monthly salary is only around $300, so even if a circuit was to be build it is hard to see who would be able to afford tickets to events.

The Varna region, on the Black Sea in the east of the country, generates around 30% of the country's tourist revenues but these are still small and infrastructure is basic. EU money is being invested to upgrade communications and it is estimated that by 2017 the country will be able to attract more than 16m tourists each year. A Grand Prix would help drive that growth but until there is the right infrastructure in place, an F1 race would be achieving nothing.

In all probability if F1 was to lose the Hungarian GP it would move to Russia, rather than Bulgaria as the 140m Russian citizens are a rather more significant market for F1 sponsors and the automobile manufacturers.