The axe was out for Estoril this time last month, but it has now been temporarily placed back in its case after the Portuguese round of the MotoGP World Championship received a respite from the series organisers. Meeting the contract deadline was touch-and-go for the Autódromo, plunged into doubt after the continued decline of Portugal's economy.
It's not just Portugal which has been feeling the pinch, though: three other rounds on the 2012 calendar are either facing an uncertain future or have only just made it to the start line for this year.
Jerez is frequently visited by the MotoGP circus for testing, but has been walking a tightrope for a number of years with a 'mañana' attitude to payments. The Spanish circuit holds a contract with Dorna through to 2016, but the same updates to facilities which have made it one of the most modern venues in Europe have also left the organisers some 45 million euros in debt. Ticket sales for the Spanish Grand Prix were put on hold until the New Year and the local government took over the running of the circuit as of October.
Also contracted as a venue until 2016 is the Barcelona track which hosts the Catalan GP. The Formula One race appears to be the event in more immediate danger, but attendance has been on the decline for a number of years in MotoGP as well. The circuit owners acknowledge that costs are not being met by income from tickets —a trend that cannot continue indefinitely.
Dorna has far closer ties to the Circuit de Catalunya than Bernie Ecclestone, of course; CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta was one of the driving forces behind the construction of the track, Dorna operates out of Barcelona and employs a predominantly Catalan workforce big on Catalan identity. Managing Director Manel Arroyo told regional radio recently that he considers Montmeló to be good to see out the current contract. There is a very strong desire for that to be so.
Sachsenring was initially struck off the calendar due to problems between Dorna and circuit owners ADAC, but allowed back on for 2012 upon resolution of the difficulties. Expect more of that as the year goes on, because there are tracks that will have to make way for the Texan and Argentinian GPs, respectively.
Essentially a European series with some cameo appearances from some staple countries at the turn of the century, MotoGP now has some rearrangement to do. Don't expect four Spanish Grands Prix with the country in a precarious financial state and new economic powers knocking at the door. Dorna have never been afraid to chase the short term dollar and need the prestige of international expansion to penetrate new markets, so it is only natural that they should remove themselves from a market currently over-catered-for in order to free up the calendar.
I have a few races which I would remove from the World Championship through personal preference, basing the series around the GPs which simply have to be there and some of the more exciting tracks for action. You need Mugello, Assen, Phillip Island and Motegi on the list for historic and political reasons, Qatar for the showcase of the night race (despite the annual absence of spectators) and the big investment that the country makes to MotoGP, an American round to continue that long-running battle to increase exposure stateside, add in India and Argentina for the expansion project and then take your pick from some of the better European circuits.
Estoril is one of those better circuits, so I urge you to book your tickets for the Portuguese GP if you get the opportunity. It might be your last chance for a while.