Insight: Macau GP risks losing relevance

Paulo Barbosa

It was announced last week that the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) would not be returning to Macau next year. The decision was made by the FIA World Motorsport Council, who met in Doha, Qatar. Coincidentally, the Council awarded the final race of the championship to Qatar (to take place at night, like the Singapore F1 GP) instead of Macau, where the world title was decided so many times.
FIA’s decision is a major setback to the Macau Grand Prix, which now risks losing a part of its competitive relevance. It now seems that it will be very difficult to replace the WTCC with another FIA-sanctioned world championship, capable of attracting a similar audience and media coverage.
The reasons for dropping Macau from the WTCC calendar are still unclear but it seems that the Macau Grand Prix Committee wanted to keep the race here. Days after the last GP, the coordinator of the Committee, João Costa Antunes commented that a decision hadn’t been reached and the issue could take months to clarify.
It didn’t take months but just days before WTCC’s general manager François Ribeiro clarified: “As much as the Macau Grand Prix has helped the WTCC to get a first taste of racing in Asia, we now have a solid broadcast base in the region and a presence in China, Japan and now Thailand,” he said. “We take this opportunity to thank the Macau Grand Prix organizers for having hosted us since 2005. The WTCC has matured over its 10 years of existence and we have therefore decided to look for new alternatives in a new region that can open up new markets, better TV schedules and be closer to our home base allowing the material to return quicker to Europe.”
Commenting on FIA’s World Motorsport Council decision, Mr Costa Antunes said it was “normal” and the GP Committee would look for another race to replace the WTCC. But which race? The only one similar to WTCC that I can think of is the DTM (acronym for Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, or German Touring Car Masters) series, which was supposed to have a China round in 2014 in Guangzhou. But that race was cancelled because “the modifications necessary for erecting the circuit proved to be far more extensive than planned.”
DTM is not a world championship like the WTCC. It is the German championship, but since the German car industry is perhaps the most developed in the world, it is able to challenge a world series in terms of competitiveness. The carmakers that have invested in WTCC with “factory cars” are Honda, Lada and the series newcomer Citroën, which has dominated this year’s season. DTM is a German affair in terms of car manufacturers: BMW, Audi and Mercedes rule. The list of drivers that took part in this year’s season attests to DTM quality, including former Macau F3 GP winners. They are Félix da Costa (from Portugal, winner in 2012), Daniel Juncadella (from Spain, winner in 2011) and Edoardo Mortara (winner in 2009 and 2010).
DTM would be a proper replacement to the WTCC race, but it seems difficult for the 2014 season to have a round here, since the nine-rounds calendar was already announced and it only includes three races outside Germany; namely Austria, Russia and the Netherlands. Besides that, the race that is being hinted to replace the WTCC in Macau (the new TC3 International Series) is clearly a downgrade.
Another issue that needs to be considered by the GP organizers concerns the Formula 3 race. Formula 3 has been losing relevance and it is no longer the major series for drivers who are trying to ascend to Formula 1. There are other categories, such as GP2, GP3 and Formula Renault 3.5 that attract the best young talents. GP2 cars are more sophisticated than F3. I once asked Félix da Costa about the main differences between an F3 and a GP2 car and he told me: “There is a 400 horsepower difference between the cars. GP2 is an anteroom to F1. Racing in GP2, the only way to go forward is F1.”
There may be exceptions (like Max Verstappen, who was 3rd in the FIA European F3 Championship and raced Macau before becoming the youngest F1 driver in history) but F3 is not as competitive as before.
Macau should counter that by hosting a FIA world series again. Since F1 is not to be, because of technical reasons – basically the F1 cars are too fast for the Guia circuit – why not consider an environmentally friendly Formula E, a new FIA championship and the world’s first fully-electric racing series?

Categories Opinion