Monday, 22 April 2013

Save the Ring

I saw a sticker on the back of a car in Zürich this morning: "Save the Ring". I'm guessing that unlike most residents of the city, I knew what it meant. is a commendable venture, aiming to protect the world's greatest stretch of tarmac from the hands of evil businessmen and councillors.

But I can't help thinking that the campaign isn't really necessary - although it does provide a reason for ring-lovers (I hope that's not a euphemism for anything) a chance to meet up without having to spend their hard-earned €uros on laps of the track. Not that they'd mind that, it's their favourite hobby.


I love the Nürburgring, or more particularly the Nordschleife - a 22km long one-way toll road (as it's officially described) running through beautiful German countryside. I've driven round it in quite a few different cars, and the only reason I haven't scared myself silly is that I'm too much in awe of it. During the first lap I drove, I passed the scenes of two accidents. In each case, a motorcyclist had over-estimated their talent and left the road. Motorcyclists do not combine well with Armco barriers, and an ambulance is usually urgently required on the scene.

The Nürburgring is perceived as being under threat because of the huge financial debts associated with it after the "Nüro-disney" theme park that was built there, but, to be honest, I'm more concerned about Brands Hatch (especially the GP circuit) or Oulton Park. Monza even. These are the sort of circuits that suffer a real threat; wealthy residents have moved close to the tracks long after the circuit was built, and don't like the noise of racing exhausts at peak barbeque time on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Political pressure ensues.

But the Nürburgring doesn't suffer from that. The Eifel forest is an empty area with only a few villages, most of whom either make their living from timber or businesses that generate revenue from people driving round the Nordschleife with great rapidity.

It makes no sense to close the Nordschleife. It is perfectly possible to run a commercial venture that covers the operating costs with income from car manufacturers, race teams and people like me, who just enjoy the opportunity to drive round corners at speeds higher than Her Majesty's Constabulary deem prudent.

The theme park will never recoup it's investment, and it's unclear whether the losers will be local taxpayers, Germans in general, or the people that fund the European Union (there may be a subtle difference between those last two but I doubt it). But nobody will decide to destroy the circuit.

At some stage, someone will decide to separate the toxic part of the business (the leisure park) from the profitable part of the business (the racetracks) and all will be well.

Not ideal perhaps, but well. There may be hikes in charges for using the Nordschleife, but that's appropriate in a commercial business aimed at providing the best return to its shareholders (which should be all businesses). A competent management will balance supply and demand and if they don't, the business will fail, and someone else will buy it and aim to maximise their investment.

In many cases, dying businesses are bought in order to strip them of valuable assets.  In this case, the main asset is a racetrack, built on land that isn't really useful for either industry or housing. So it will continue to make sense to run it as a circuit, it's just a question of determining the price that makes it viable. Obviously, users of any service like that service to be as cheap as possible, but that is determined by competition. And, as there is only one Nürburgring, there is no equivalent, no competition.So the customers will continue to pay the market price to use it.

So do we need to Save the Ring? I'd like to think that it will save itself. Just as long as we love it enough.

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