Liberty’s Choice: Should Formula 1 be Trying to get to Turkey?

It is undeniable that Istanbul Park would provide, as it has in the past, excellent racing. But the Turkish Grand Prix has never really drummed up a massive local interest, so why did Liberty Media’s Chase Carey meet the very controversial Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan?

On Liberty Media’s plans to extend the F1 calendar, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton subtly suggested that the Turkish Grand Prix wasn’t the best idea. He said,

“We used to go to Turkey and there would be 4,000 people there. I don’t know if there’s less of a love there or if it’s too expensive for those people but I think we need to be in places where there are actual fans where they want to have a race.”

– Lewis Hamilton

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The President of Turkey recently won a referendum by 51%, giving him more autonomy than ever and ensuring that he is in a position to dismiss members of the Turkish parliament at will, and can retain his position of power until 2029 at least.

Is Erdogan dictatorial? Those who openly criticise the powerful leader do find themselves in jail. This includes a 16 year old boy who read a poem criticising the President, along with 50,000 other dissidents. So what are Liberty Media doing there?

With the removal of Bernie Ecclestone from the sport, there was a possibility that the days of Formula One aligning itself (and lining its pockets) from cozying up to shady regimes might have been over. How gullible we were.

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There’s a general belief that we’ve seen on several other publications that echo the notion that “Formula One should either go everywhere, or nowhere” when journalists are considering the fact that most nations can on some point be accused of corruption or projecting a damaging influence on the world stage. The problem with this statement is that it only offers a binary answer in a very complex world, it’s also too easy to say that, borderline lazy.

There’s a stark difference between retaining a Grand Prix amidst political tensions, such as the Bahrain Grand Prix of 2012 in which there were huge political protests, and actively seeking to introduce a Grand Prix into a country that is currently struggling internally.

Is it any sport’s directive to pass criticism onto a host nation of its event? Not really, but those who are shaking hands and making deals will have it on their conscience.

Formula 1 does provide a bizarre neutral medium that ignores real world political tensions. Watching Vladimir Putin talking to the podium drivers in Sochi was quite surreal. Does it show that global sport has the ability to transcend the global narrative? or does it highlight a process that can promote anyone, as long as they can pay, regardless of their track-record?

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At the first Turkish Grand Prix, the race organisers breached the FIA rules by turning the podium ceremony into what would have been quite an obvious political statement to the local following. They put Mehmet Ali Talat on the podium, billed as the President of TRNC, the “Northern Turkish Republic of Cyprus”. This entity is a break-away state in the northern part of the island of Cyprus, which is recognised only by Turkey. So whilst we are actively questioning ourselves on making a political statement out of an article covering the potential politicisation of F1, the evidence that the event has been used as a propaganda tool in the past can’t be denied.