When Formula 1 was plunged into crisis during the spring of 2020, few could have imagined what the newly updated calendar would look like.
With only nine of the original 22 venues remaining on the calendar, Formula 1 quickly recalled Nurburgring and Imola back to the calendar after a lengthy hiatus, whilst Mugello and Portimao would finally get their long-awaited Formula 1 debuts, with the former hosting Ferrari’s 1000th Grand Prix.
The fifth and final replacement venue to welcome the sport in 2020 was Istanbul Park, nine years after hosting their seemingly last Turkish Grand Prix.
Designed by Hermann Tilke, Istanbul Park had previously held six Turkish Grand Prixs, and although it had been a hit with the drivers, attendances had dwindled since the first race in 2005, causing the race to fall off the calendar at the end of 2011.
But with time being of the essence and there being limited venues to choose from, Istanbul greeted a very different looking Formula 1 with a newly resurfaced track that caused chaos for the drivers who struggled to find any grip on it.
As 2020 left and 2021 arrived, three of the five replacement venues were given a second chance to host the sport. First up was Imola in mid-April with a thrilling Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna with Portimao next to welcome the circus in the first week of May.
With Montreal unable to host the Canadian Grand Prix for the second year running, Turkey stepped up to the plate, taking up the circuit's original weekend slot, but after the country was added to the UK’s red list, the race was postponed until the first week of October before being pushed back a week as the calendar continued to evolve.
Before the event, Turkey's minister of sports and youth Mehmet Kasapoğlu boasted that the World knew how good Turkey was at hosting massive organisations.
But was Kasapoğlu’s claim correct?
To find out whether Turkey was actually up to the task of hosting future Grand Prixs, I went to Istanbul as a paying fan, where I would try and to see whether the country was ready to welcome the sport permanently.
Things started badly when I arrived at the circuit for the opening day of Practice; as it seemed not many of the stewards had a clue on how to get fans into the circuit, with cars sent down a bypass before being turned around to go back to where they started but on the opposite side of the road, with very few signs able to guide fans to their gate as locals and visitors alike were sent on a wild goose chase.
After escaping the chaos, I was driven up to the ticket inspectors so that they could scan the barcode on my ticket, but bizarrely the inspector's phone failed to work, causing a delay, as the hapless ticket inspector was moved aside for one of his colleagues whose phone was working.
Once inside the grounds, fans were required to present a code from the Hayat Eve Sigar health app with a result of RISKLESS required to get in; however, this simple task proved to be difficult for non-Turkish speaking fans as a reading of RISKLESS wasn't enough for the stewards to let me in.
Even if I had proof that I was double jabbed, the stewards seemed hellbent in denying me entry; however, I managed to get in after some swift explaining from my Turkish contact.
The Silver 8 stand, which overlooked the final three corners of the track, was an excellent spot to watch the action, but the view was slightly obstructed by the catch fencing and the pit entry sign making it almost impossible to see the podium.
To add insult to injury, the big screens were also far away, causing the spectators to not fully know the situation on track or how many laps were left to go unless they purchased a pair of binoculars.
Despite the circuit’s limitations, the fan zone, which took place just behind the main stand, was well organised and full of fans who were as keen as mustard to join in on the activities, which included seeing the World Championship trophy, the new 2022 car and posing for a picture on a replica of a Formula 1 podium.
In spite of having a three-day ticket, I wasn't allowed to sit in the other stands and watch the action due to a mountain of security at the entrance. However, I improvised and walked up to a tiny albeit unglamorous spot next to a block of toilets that had excellent views of Turns 5-6 as well as the entry of Turn 7.
For anyone unfortunate enough to be sent on a scenic route after waiting for hours in the car park, you were greeted by a mixture of rubbish, stray dogs and awful roads that made the drive back to Istanbul slow, painful and above all, terrifying.
With some fans arriving midway through the Grand Prix due to traffic, it’s fair to say that Kasapoğlu’s boast before the race had backfired spectacularly, and Turkey’s first attempt at organising a Grand Prix with fans for just over ten years hadn’t gone well.
The organisers, despite having plenty of police and stewards around the circuit, had clearly briefed none of them on how to get fans and Formula 1 personnel out of the track and onto the highway in a smooth manner, with the queues for the shuttle buses back to metro stations a clear sign, that they had underestimated how many fans would enter the gates.
If Turkey had secured a date for 2022, it’s fair to say that the traffic problems that had dogged the 2021 edition of the race would need to be urgently ironed out in order to cope with the influx of fans arriving from abroad, as the best way of losing all goodwill with your paying customers is by keeping them waiting in traffic long after the lights have gone out.