Reading this on December 11th? Just opened the daily window on the advent calendar and pulled out a hazelnut triangle? Put that back in its pocket, seal the window back up and wait for another week, because there's been a schedule change at the last minute.
Imagine that feeling, but on a larger, more stressful scale. That's life as of late for the organisers of the German Grand Prix at Sachsenring. The 2013 race looks set for a second change of date, reverting to the originally planned July 14th weekend via a brief rescheduling for the 7th of the same month. And it's all to do with the whim of F1.
The MotoGP calendar is always released in a provisional version that really is provisional until the Formula 1 calendar is announced, in an effort to avoid any clashes that might take away spectators and broadcasters generally accepted to prefer four wheels to two. What the organisers have been juggling in this case are two events inside the same country, as the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Hockenheim has been moved around to accommodate an extra F1 event on July 21st. Despite Dorna and the German ADAC (who run the Sachsenring round) having dotted the umlauts and crossed the upper case T's, it is they who are expected to take a reactionary change at the last minute.
Tickets have already been sold, even if the fans won't have put the towels over the sun loungers at the hillside grandstand just yet. A modification in date is not the end of the world, although it means changing advertising and more rebooking than one might think. Yes, it probably wouldn't be a wise move for Dorna to stand firm and compete head-to-head in the same country on the same weekend, but the irony is that this is one of the few battles that it would have a good chance of winning.
The German GP is one of the best attended MotoGP rounds in Europe, aided by a Hungarian and Czech influx crossing into the easterly area of the country. Here's the number of spectators for the 2012 round, which was comparatively poorly attended in a general trend for sporting events in the economic downturn: 195,685 over the three days, with 81,360 on race day. One of the practice days, the Friday, was wet.
That is comfortably more than the 62,000 turnout for the F1 race at Hockenheim, in what was generally regarded as being a fantastic season for the series, with German World Champion Sebastian Vettel on course for a third title, legend Michael Schumacher on his farewell tour and Mercedes increasing its presence on track. Almost 20,000 fewer spectators than for the MotoGP round and way down on the 110,000 of its 2005 heyday. Food for thought.
Could MotoGP take on F1 and win? I think it would perform favourably, although it is a conflict that Dorna in particular is keen to avoid (Bernie Ecclestone seems less bothered, it has to be said). The "gentleman's agreement" appears to be more a case of "be a gentleman and move according to my plans" and as recently as this year race start times have been adjusted so as to complete MotoGP races before the lights go out in F1. Going against the juggernaut and winning would be a truly pyrrhic victory: Bernie is capable of playing hardball to offset any prestige won by getting more bodies through the turnstiles, and he's not afraid to flex his political muscles at MotoGP's expense.
One such example that sticks in my mind was his extraordinary turn at the 2007 Turkish MotoGP race. He turned up unexpectedly, but Mr. Ecclestone had every right to be there; He did, after all, own the Istanbul Circuit. After telling the photographers in the press room to get their feet off his tables and giving a riotously rambunctious press conference, he decided to make a price change for use of the track for post-race testing. Instead of the entire MotoGP field putting in laps on the Monday, all the teams went home after baulking at a reportedly threefold increase. MotoGP never went back to Istanbul.
F1 might, on July 21st, hence the moving of Hockenheim. Whilst you'd love MotoGP to stick up for itself and show some teeth for a change, it seems unlikely to make the bold move to go head-to-head in the German market. More's the pity, but self preservation takes precedence.