FRANKFURT (Reuters) - The owner of Germany’s Nuerburgring motor racing track has said the popular Formula One venue could still host the German Grand Prix next year despite uncertainty linked to the track’s insolvency.
The current operator NAG, which has leased the facilities from the owner, is in talks with F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone to secure the race and keep him from awarding the July event to Hockenheim - which alternates each year with its rival.
“If the issue over whether there will be a Formula One race at Nuerburgring in 2013 is sorted out by year-end, that would still be early enough,” Thomas Schmidt, the managing director of track owner Nuerburgring GmbH, told Reuters.
Nuerburgring GmbH - 90 percent owned by the German regional state where the track is based - ran into financial trouble amid a dispute with operator NAG over leasing fees.
The German state of Rhineland-Palatinate has sought to restructure the company with the help of a bridge financing package but EU competition regulators in August stepped up their investigation into state aid.
The state is under pressure to make the track pay after pouring millions of euros into a racing-themed amusement park there.
Nuerburgring, located in a rural area about 120 km northwest of Frankfurt, is adjacent to the famous Nordschleife circuit.
That track, dubbed “the Green Hell”, holds allure for F1 drivers and viewers alike and it was the scene of the 1976 fiery crash of then reigning world champion Niki Lauda, which almost killed the Austrian.
It is also used by automakers including BMW and Toyota to test cars and amateur racers pay to take their sports cars on laps around the dangerous but exhilarating circuit.
Nuerburgring managing director Schmidt, who runs the company with an insolvency administrator, said he had met with Ecclestone in London, “but only to get to know one another”.
NAG, owned by hotelier Joerg Lindner and real estate investor Kai Richter, for now remains at the negotiation table with the F1 supremo.
Even though Schmidt is relying on NAG’s fortune to secure the race, he is fighting for NAG’s lease to expire by year-end.
Apart from the spat over the lease payments, he is keen for NAG to cede the operating license because NAG itself plans to bid for the track when it is put up for auction in February or March and that could be seen as an unfair advantage in the bidding.
“We have to sell the Ring in a pan-European, transparent and discrimination-free auction. Otherwise the buyer could face EU demands for repayment of subsidies,” Schmidt said.
But the two quarrelling parties will put their differences aside when it comes to persuading Ecclestone.
“We have agreed with NAG to plan for 2013 regardless of our dispute. Next year is shaping up to be a good year for the Nuerburgring,” Schmidt said.
Germany’s Formula world champion Sebastian Vettel has yet to win his home grand prix and was stripped of second place at Hockenheim this year for an overtaking infringement.
Writing by Ludwig Burger, editing by Mark Meadows