Friday, September 05, 2014

Out Of The Pit Lane?: Mallorca Formula One

Just when you thought that a project had been discarded and totally forgotten, the idea for it is suddenly re-ignited. The re-ignition key I am referring to is that which would propel motor racing cars at high velocity around the Llucmajor countryside. The one with his foot on the throttle, albeit tentatively, is Llucmajor's mayor, Joan Jaume Mulet. Yep, the idea for the Formula One racing track has made a comeback.

This is an idea which has been doing the circuit for years and was one which, four years ago, began to look as though it might just be a goer, albeit that the might was a fairly large might. It was at least 90 million euros' worth of might plus all manner of planning permission mights and the not insignificant might of Bernie Ecclestone pressing the green lights. But, might or no might, the Council of Mallorca, then under the control of PSOE, turned the red light on. The idea for the track was stopped in its tracks and limped into the pit lane of rejected projects. The Council deemed a proposal for what would have been more or less a totally new circuit (the current one being inadequate for Formula One or Moto GP) as not having been "in the general interest". Despite funding that would have been 100% private, the plan was turned down because development would have been on rustic land.

However, it is a project that hasn't entirely been abandoned. It would appear that the process was paralysed as opposed to having been scrapped. It is for this reason, plus ongoing interest from developers (according to the mayor), that Llucmajor town hall has once more raised the possibility of Mallorca getting an F1 circuit.

Since this project paralysis in 2011, things have changed. On the positive side, there is the fact that the Council is now run by the Partido Popular, and Jaume is a good PP boy who may well be eyeing up a nice popular initiative a few months in advance of the next elections. Less positive is the fact that he may have left things a bit late; the Council could easily pass to a non-PP administration next spring. Also less positive is the future of the European Grand Prix. There had been ambitions for Llucmajor taking this away from Valencia. As things have turned out, Valencia no longer has the grand prix, which itself is in abeyance until its planned revival in Azerbaijan in 2016.

Jaume has reminded us that he once had a meeting with Ecclestone at which his Bernieness said that he was really interested in staging a grand prix in Mallorca. Which may well have been what Bernie had to say for himself, but then he has had a habit of saying things which shouldn't entirely be taken as gospel. Like another sporting supremo, Sepp Blatter, he can say one thing but think or do totally the opposite. He has also said in the past that he was against there being more than one grand prix per country. This didn't stop Valencia having the European GP, but such an attitude put the kibosh on Rome pressing for a street grand prix. (Italy already has Monza, just as Spain already has Barcelona.)

A further change since 2011 has been the approval of the Balearics' "Ley del Suelo", the first true land law that the islands have had. Its provisions are enormous, as you would expect with any legislation, but they are relatively permissive. Jaume may well feel that the legislation may clear the way for the project to be unparalysed and to be declared as being "in the general interest". This said, a project such as an F1 circuit would have its opponents, and heading the opposition would be the environmental lobby. Even with greater legislative clout, one could foresee any approval ending up going through interminable court appeals. That is how it is in Mallorca, and Bernie, getting on now, might not be around to learn how those appeals go.

A Formula One Grand Prix would be a fabulous event for Mallorca to stage. I say this not as any great fan of F1 (because I'm not) but because It would be an excellent advertisement for the island. The chances of it ever becoming a reality, though, are extremely remote. Environmental objections are only one reason why. Another, perhaps more important one, is why would F1 want a grand prix in Mallorca? Bernie may have said kind words, but Bernie is attracted to places like Azerbaijan because it represents expansion and because it has mega-moolah. Despite some people believing that Mallorca is on the cusp of being transformed into the Dubai of the Mediterranean (which it isn't), and grand though it would be if there were a grand prix, it fails the Bernie test in most ways.

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