Why is Germany losing its world championship round?

2020 F1 season

Posted on

| Written by

While it remains to be seen exactly how many rounds will be on the 2020 F1 calendar, it seems a certain the German Grand Prix will not feature on the final schedule.

The country that invented the automobile – itself a German term – and every form of viable internal combustion engine, whether two/four-stroke, wankel or diesel, is not expected to feature on a calendar which will include Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and newest addition Vietnam.

This despite F1’s roster including German four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel and his talented, Le Mans 24 Hours-winning compatriot in Nico Hulkenberg. Not to mention the utter hegemony of the omnipotent Mercedes F1 Team: It may operate out of the UK and employ a brace of ‘foreign’ drivers, but Italy’s tifosi would surely sell their grandmothers for the chance of seeing the red team reel off five championship doubles and counting.

Yet in the 2020 F1 season next year German fans will need to travel to the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria or Hungary if they wish to see an F1 car driven in anger in reasonable proximity to home. The mere fact that four surrounding countries, whose combined gross domestic products and total populations amount to half those of Germany, consider F1 to be viable while the home of Mercedes, Porsche and BMW does not, points to something seriously amiss.

It was not always this way. Germany has held more rounds of the world championship than Britain, France or the USA. Only Italy, which boasted two rounds every year for more than two decades, has hosted more points-scoring F1 races.

For a while the same was true of Germany. For over a decade starting in 1995 the sport’s popularity was such that it could enough to sustain two sold-out grands prix in Germany each year. The Hockenheimring hosted the German Grand Prix, while the Nürburgring’s race operated under flags of convenience – titled either the ‘European’ or ‘Luxembourg’ Grands Prix.

Start, Hockenheimring, 2002
Packed stands cheered Schumacher’s glory years
BMW and Mercedes bought into existing teams, German brands sponsored prolifically, and by 2010 German drivers comprised a third of the grid.

Then Germany’s interest in F1 declined almost as rapidly as it had ascended. The two circuits struck a rotating deal, and even that was aborted after Nürburgring plunged into administration, leaving Hockenheim hosting races only during even years. From two packed rounds per championship to a sparsely attended race every other season within five years.

What went so wrong this quickly for Germany to forsake F1 so dramatically?

The question is based on the assumption that Germany truly embraced F1 in the first place. Consider a parallel: tennis. Before Boris Becker reached Wimbledon, tennis was a fringe sport in Germany, without a Grand Slam or major Open tournament. Then came the Becker-inspired ‘Boom’, during which Father Christmas delivered millions of racquets each December.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

After Boris retired, despite the best efforts of Tommy Haas and 1991 Wimbledon champion Michael Stich, German interest in tennis cooled. The country’s premier event was downgraded and relegated to a post-Wimbledon date.

Instead German kids embraced F1, cycling and golf instead, enthralled by the antics of Michael Schumacher, Jan Ulrich and Bernard Langer – each a trailblazer in their respective sports. Karts, bikes and golf clubs started appearing under Christmas trees, but when the stars of these sports retired, so, too, did interest in their genre.

Not even Vettel’s four-titles-on the-trot could reverse F1’s downward spiral. Nico Rosberg was little applauded nationally before, during and after his 2016 title season. Seldom, if ever, do Mercedes now wheel out their compatriot champion despite him comprehensively beating Schumacher during the legend’s brief return.

Germany had but two grand prix winners pre-Schumacher: Wolfgang von Trips, a nobleman with but two grand prix victories to his name before his tragic death, and Jochen Mass (one, foreshortened due to an accident and thus scoring half points).

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Hockenheimring, 2019
Verstappen will have his own home race next year
It’s true that, pre-Schumacher, Germany hosted world championship grands prix every year beginning in 1951 with just one exception in the wake of the 1955 Le Mans horror. But these were simpler days when hosting fees were reasonable.

A combination of mega fees and Schumacher’s retirement spelt the beginning of the end for F1 in Germany. Perhaps the question should not be ‘When did Germany fall out of love with F1?’ but ‘Did Germany ever love with F1 to begin with?’

The evidence was that Germany was in love with Michael Schumacher and, by extension, his sport, just as was once true of Becker and tennis. On that basis the odds of F1 returning to Hockenheim (or any other licensed circuit) seem as slim as the chances of Germany hosting a tennis Grand Slam tournament any time soon.

Still, German F1 fans have a choice of four nearby circuits to visit – although the Dutch, who could pack at least three Zandvoorts to the rafters next year, seem more in love with Max Verstappen than they do with F1. Could history repeat itself there in a decade or so?

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2020 F1 season

Browse all 2020 F1 season articles

Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

Posted on Categories 2020 F1 calendar articles, 2020 F1 season articlesTags , ,

Promoted content from around the web | Become a RaceFans Supporter to hide this ad and others

  • 34 comments on “Why is Germany losing its world championship round?”

    1. Still, German F1 fans have a choice of four nearby circuits to visit – although the Dutch, who could pack at least three Zandvoorts to the rafters next year, seem more in love with Max Verstappen than they do with F1.

      There is some truth to this, but it sounds unfair and harsh. Remember back when Zandvoort hosted the Marlboro Masters of Formula 3, there were 50,000 up to 100,000 visitors, even when there weren’t Dutch frontrunners to cheer for. DTM, A1GP were also visited by a large group of fans. You are right that Verstappen sr and jr both caused a steep rise of interest in F1, the sport always had a loyal Dutch fanbase when there was no countryman to cheer for.

      1. So when was the last F1 GP there? Just as a matter of interest?

        1. I am not really sure what you mean. The last F1 GP was obviously in 1985.

          1. Pretty sure Dieter is referring to the fact that it’s much easier to take your family/friends for a day out to something that costs $30 a head instead of $300 a head (fictitiuos numbers, but you get the point).

            It shouldn’t be as much as it is, but that’s the empire that Bernie built.

      2. GtisBetter (@)
        20th August 2019, 16:14

        F1 got so unpopulair in the netherlands that free tv couldn’t get enough viewers to pay for it with commercials and live races weren’t broadcasted. Every country has a lot of dedicated racing fans, but I am sure the ones in the netherlands have seen the huge bandwagon many Dutch people have jumped on. They are rooting cause a Dutch guy is winning.

        Many people who had no interest in F1 now follow it closly. But me and my group of racing fans, who enjoy a bit of broader racing never hear them talk about anything else. Sure, they follow Dutch drivers in F2 and WEC, but that’s it. I don’t mind, but most of these lose interest very fast if there is no chance of a Dutch person winning. Max has a couple of years in him, so Zandvoort should be safe for a while, but then it will most likely follow a decline like germany. Which means we should enjoy it even more while we can!

      3. It’s only my personal experience and Spa is the only race I attend regularly but to my mind it could be renamed to be the Dutch GP such are the number of Dutch spectators and this was true before Max Verstappen joined F1. Spa is a special track though so remains to be seen if Zandvoort can generate the same passion.

    2. Arent we conflating love for motorsport and love for F1 ? It seems to me that Germany loves motorsport (DTM, for instance) but there is no (enough) appeal for F1 in particular …

      1. Manel, it’s funny that you should bring up DTM, because DTM has actually been making moves in recent years to shed some of its German image and is trying to become a more international series because they feel that they cannot rely on the German market for the long term.

        They’ve been operating in a joint partnership with the Japanese Super GT series, with both series using the same chassis, transmission and sharing much of the suspension components, and this year they switched to using the same 2.0 litre engines that Super GT also uses – they’re now so similar in design that there has even been talk of possibly holding joint races between the two series.

        Gerhard Berger, who currently runs the DTM series, has talked about ditching the name “DTM” altogether, precisely because they want the series to be less focussed on the German market and more internationally focussed because they fear that the German motorsport market isn’t going to be able to sustain them for the long term.

        Similarly, Dieter Gass, the head of Audi’s DTM programme, has similarly suggested “I think a championship like [DTM as it is now] in the long term, purely German, will be quite difficult to sustain” and has advocated transforming the DTM into something closer to the International Touring Car Championship from the mid 1990s instead.

        The fact that those involved in the sport are questioning whether they can really continue to rely on support from the German public does suggest that support for motorsport is perhaps more fragile in Germany than you might think.

        1. It really boils down to politics. German car enthusiasts are being squashed out through regulations. They aren’t able to enjoy the sport they love on a personal level. Interest in everything else automotive with go away as well.

    3. My point precisely, thank you. And how much were tickets for Marlboro Masters?

      1. Again, not really sure what point you are making. The tickets for Marlboro Masters were free if I recall correctly. Ok, maybe the Dutch fans are more in love with Verstappen than in F1, unfortunately. But can’t this be said about all the GP’s? You mention the German GP decline, but what about the Spanish GP without Alonso? Or the French GP? Or the Italian GP without Ferrari? Even the British GP saw a drop of tickets sold without a local hero (Wikipedia about 2006 British GP: “Ticket sales were rather slow; the race was scheduled far earlier than normal, and local Jenson Button had a rather poor season the previous year.”)

        OK, I think I get your point. But with Verstappen still in his early days, I think the popularity for the Dutch GP isn’t in jeopardy.

        1. @matthijs @dieterrencken

          It is true there has always been a good following among Dutch fans. Obviously, until the mid ’80s the Dutch GP attracted good crowds despite not ever having a local hero winning a GP, let alone championships. After that Zandvoort has always been very well attended during the F3 Masters events, DTM and other sportscars events. Also, the annual F1 demo’s in Rotterdam were always very well attended and the Moto GP at Assen has been a very successful event for decades as well of course. I think in general it’s pretty safe to say that the Netherlands historically has always had a healthy interest in motorized sports (although drawfed by football many times over).

          Jos Verstappen spiked interest massively in the mid and late nineties as he was the first Dutch driver ever that potentially might be able to win something (but that didn’t quite come to fruition of course). After that we’ve seen some moderately successful drivers in the junior categories making it to F1 in Christian Albers, Robert Doornbos and Giedo vd Garde, but none of them captivated the Dutch fans quite like Jos did. That is, until Max popped up the radar.

          I remember going to an event called ‘Italia a Zandvoort’ during Max’ rookie season at Toro Rosso. Apart from many beautiful Italian sportscars and F1 cars from yesteryear, the Verstappen’s were the headline attraction. Max drove a V8 STR and his dad one of his early 00’s V10 Minardi cars. The crowds came in droves and went ballistic. It really was quite something to see father and son ‘racing’ together at Zandvoort in F1 cars.

          Ever since Max’ announcement, F1 in the Netherlands was back on the front pages and it coincided with a bad period for Dutch football too (failing to qualify for the Euro’s and Worldcup consecutively). So, in addition to the relatively small but healthy motor- and autosport loving fanbase now came back a lot of ‘former Jos fans’ and a gigantic crowd of football fans that previously were at best ‘luke-warm’ to F1 (if that) and who were simply desperate for a national sporting hero in general.

          Interestingly, around the same time, something similar happened with Dutch athletics sprinter Daphne Schippers, who became incredibly hyped as she won gold at the world championships. As if the Dutch sports world collectively would have taken anything and anyone just to fill the void of not being at the major tournaments in football. However, athletics simply isn’t as big a sport as F1 (and probably because it was woman’s sprinting and not men’s) so Max quickly became the main focus of the Dutch sports press (despite being born, raised and educated in Belgium and having never even lived in the Netherlands at all. But hey, never let facts ruin a good story, right?)

          At this point, it’s getting pretty nauseating to follow F1 through Dutch media, simply because of the complete lack of objectivism (let alone critique), the constant, blatant and unashamed adoration of the kid and quite frankly disrespectful treatment of his competitors. But I guess it’s good that F1 is this popular and despite football getting somewhat back on track again with Ajax and the National team doing better, Max and F1 continue to be very, very popular.

          Now, I do concur with Dieter that when Max leaves F1, a large part of the current Orange Army will too. However, there will always be that historically interested fanbase that will watch F1 on TV and/or come to races even without a successful Dutch driver. And I’m sure that a good % of Max-indoctrinated kids growing up here today, will eventually mature into genuine F1 fans over time as well. That fanbase will be big enough to sell out a Dutch GP well after Max leaves F1 I have no doubt. Whether it should be at Zandvoort in the first place is a whole different issue altogether, though ;-)

          1. @jeffreyj Sorry I didn’t read your comment earlier. Well formulated comment.

    4. I think you need to look wider into Germany’s sporting culture and evaluate the product versus the price of entry in F1. F1 seems poor value to me when compared to equivalent events in both motorsport, F1 tickets are 10x that of the WEC for instance, or football where they’ve decided they’d rather have full stadiums at cheaper ticket prices than follow the Premier League model.

      There’s no simple answer either as F1’s business model has been built on exorbitant hosting fees and TV rights, both of which are negatively impacting the health of the sport and also preventing the major change Liberty require. I hope in Germany’s case that more exceptions can be made and that a sustainable event can be resuscitated but if an economic downturn is coming it may already be too late.

      1. @alec-glen

        Worth noting that Bundesliga tickets are effectively subsidised by the government. Hard to compete with that.

        1. Also worth noting that F1 hosting used to be as well, maybe still is.

          But it depends on how much, and whether it is diminishing.

          1. It’s easier to keep up with football than F1. You have clubs which history goes beyond 20th century. Of course players come and go but if we think F1 it has “only” been around 70 years and Bernie-era started when football teams have had their 70, 80 or even 90 year anniversaries. Let’s say a club has 10 years of misfortune or doesn’t play in their normal level. There’s a chance that within next ten years or so the club could win at least one cup. When on the other hand Michael’s top era lasted about 5 years and eventhough Vettel won 4 championships there was a phase of uncertanty that a german driver could keep up the momentum. Which could deteriorate intress towards F1. But then there’s Ferrari that has been in F1 long enough that you could say to your grandkids: “When I was a young boy I also cheered for Ferrari and went to watch a race.”

    5. Problem with GP ticket prices lies in the fact that over the years, commercial right holder stripped all trackside advertising and concession income off the track promoter and into the coffers of FOM. The circuit only gets income from sale of tickets, and that’s that. Then again, the people involved just allowed it to happen…

      1. The problem is the promotors only have the regular ticket prices and a % of concessions to generate the income from for the $25M+ fee they have to pay…

        F1 takes a big cut of the concessions, 100% of merchandise and paddock tickets and limits trackside sponsoring to it’s own exclusive sponsor partners… so yeah, devide that 25 million by say 75k ‘regular joe’ tickets and viola: exorbitant prices!

        In football at least you can sell skyboxes and business packages as well as generate income from your own concessions and merchandise.

    6. Germany isn’t even the only example of this. Argentina has huge Motorsport tradition and it too lost the GP. Its clear the Spanish GP is also on danger after Alonso and why about the Swedish GP? After Ronnie Peterson died, they were gone.

      Things like this happen. German fans have many options close to them, unlike the rest of the world.

      1. Yes, but Germany still hosted GP’s without drivers or teams. I’m feeling more what does Germany leaving say of f1?

    7. It would be interesting to see a visual (tabular/line chart) representation of ticket prices for general admission, for different F1 venues over the last 2-3 decades. If we want to get all technical, maybe both list price and inflation-adjusted price.

    8. Hocky 2019 gave us the best F1 race in many many years….

      1. Depends on what you like. If total chaos is your preference, I’d say Baku 2018 and Canada 2011 are right up there too.
        When it comes to rain I prefer more typical ‘racing’ rain affected races like Brazil 2016 and Silverstone 2016 and of course Brazil 2008.

        Personally I prefer races like Austria and Hungary this year over chaotic lotteries though. Brazil and Valencia 2012, COTA 2013 & 2017, Hungary 2015, Bahrain 2014 and 2019 come to mind as races I particularly enjoyed in relatively recent times.

        1. yes maybe I should have said the most dramatic…

    9. The US experienced this as well. Nascar was popular, but went on a meteoric rise with the arrival of Jeff Gordon. Lots of people I knew that had zero interest in racing were suddenly watching the races every weekend. Then came Tony Stewart and Dale Jr. Nascar was scorching hot during the naughties. After their retirements, Nascar is having a difficult time attracting fans.

    10. Could history repeat itself there in a decade or so?

      Oh, we will not have to wait that long.
      Zandvoort will be a fail of epic proportions. Covered in snow.

      1. That would be epic, problem is the weather in May is wet but not freezing expect temps around 15 celsius and cloudy

        1. May I remind you of the WEC 6 hours of Spa this May?

    11. I think it’s disappointing that Germany is not able to sustain a GP. Even if we take the time since Schumacher there have been plenty of German drivers around. They had the WDC in 2010 to 2013 and this driver is still on paper at least, one of the top three drivers in the sport. They had the WDC again in 2016.

      It seems odd as other countries have been able to sustain interest even without a competitive driver. There have been spells in the U.K. when there was no one really competing for the WDC. Italy has not had a competitive challenger for years although they do have Ferrari of course. Brazil no longer has any drivers in F1 but it still survives. There are no drivers in F1 from the U.S.

      It seems Spain is heading the same way now that Alonso has gone. Sainz does just not seem to generate the same level of interest but maybe this would be different if he was in a team that could regularly challenge for podiums.

      It seems the rise and fall of races in different countries may just be due to national characteristics and perceptions of how important it is to have a regular winner. I don’t think it can be due to money alone.

      1. @phil-f1-21, it seems that most average Germans really did not relate to Nico Rosberg all that much – he’s spent most of his life living a life of relative luxury in Monaco, whereas Michael Schumacher came from a much more modest background (being the son of a bricklayer).

        To some extent, there have been some Germans who don’t even think of Nico as being all that German to begin with – he is officially a Finnish-German dual national and started his career with a Finnish racing licence, with the switch to a German licence being mainly motivated by the potential for more sponsorship than any real affinity with Germany. In fact, I believe that, earlier in his career, Nico suggested that he probably had more of an affinity with Finnish culture than German culture, so it is perhaps not surprising that he never captured the imagination in the way that Michael did.

        Similarly, Vettel was had a little bit more success in Germany, but it seems that the German public are also somewhat lukewarm towards him too – perhaps because they thought that he didn’t really face much adversity either, with Red Bull having funded much of his early career.

        In the case of Michael, it felt like a case of the local boy made good, as he came from the sort of background that the average person in the street could relate to and at a time when the country was searching for a sense of identity and somebody who could act as a figurehead for the nation. Since then, however, there hasn’t really been somebody who fitted that same mould, and these days it feels less likely that there would be that sort of figure who the public would want to rally around.

    12. Whilst everything in the article is true it is obviously not the reason for Germany leaving the wch. Germany held races even without drivers or teams, as f1 was a goid product. The reason is that f1 is not a viable sport, not economically nor as a sport, it is a show, lot to like still but not viable. Losing Germany highlights that f1 is no longer f1.

    13. It’s a sore subject, but Eco-friendly education in Germany did its part. Racing, the long pilgrimage to distant racetracks and flying thousands of people around the globe is wholly antithetical to any kind of reasonable, sustainable or climate friendly behavior.
      Then there is the language barrier, which is basically insurmountable! F1 is an English speaking sport, non English speakers always feel one-step removed, press conferences, graphics, team radio. Smaller countries are much more open towards the British/US culture, whereas Germany still dubs all movies for instance. Take the bad German synchronization of “Drive to Survive” for instance: It makes the embedded style of show completely unappealing.
      The causes are definitely structural, TV and commercial interruptions became seriously uncool. Publicly funded German TV (similar to the BBC) always looked down on commercial stations like RTL, which have been broadcasting F1 races for decades. Unlike the BBC German publicly funded TV never aired Formula 1 only spoiling the race results in the news regularly.
      F1 has a bit of a bad rep, which is completely deserved.

    14. This is exactly what it is! Germany never loved F1, they loved Schumi! RTL also played a great role in that. Not only did the public broadcast of every race in Germany coincide with Schumachers debut, they made an effort to portray F1 not as the Sport that it is but rather the “Michael Schumacher Show”. As much as I am a Fan of Michael, there is no wonder that this was unsustainable.
      I fear what happens when Vettel will eventually retire. Unless Mick proves to be competent F1 material, I think F1 will fall completely into obscurity in Germany.
      That being said I can’t really blame RTL for that. F1 is an extremely complicated sport in itself. Image how hard that is to sell F1 to people in a country who do not natively speak English and where every movie and tv show gets dubbed, therefore English proficiency is not to bad but also not as incredible as it is in some surrounding countries. They do use every opportunity the get a german speaking guy in front of the camera, like Günther Steiner and especially Andreas Seidl.

      Another point to add is that Germany is a soccer loving country through and through. The ticket prices are also A LOT cheaper compared to premiere league. Germans are not used to the kind of ticket prices that F1 demands.

    Comments are closed.