The government of Wallonia, the predominantly French-speaking southern part of Belgium, says that it is willing to talk about a possible sale of the Spa-Francorchamps racing circuit to private investors. The circuit used to be made up of public roads, which were closed for the big races, but in 2006 it became a permanent facility when the Route du Circuit, which snakes through the forests to the east of the track was finally completed and traffic no longer needed to use the circuit itself. The aim of becoming a permanent facility was to enable the circuit operating company to generate more revenues and to reduce the expenditure needed to convert the circuit for each event. The loss of tobacco sponsorship hurt the circuit badly and then demands for new facilities caused additional problems. This led to the race being cancelled in 2006. A new deal was struck with the race getting a new deal from 2007 to 2012 but it is already clear that once that deal comes to an end Belgium needs a rethink about its Grand Prix. There is talk of alternating the event with a French Grand Prix from 2013, which gives the track F1 status at half the cost, but it does not really help to make the circuit sustainable as a business. Paying the fees needed for F1 is simply not workable and so government money is needed. There is the potential to develop the track but the efforts across the hills at the Nurburgring have been rather frightening, with the operating company in deep debt after building its theme park/convention centre and so on. Spa is a little less remote than the Nurburgring but still have little sensible public transportation, although unlike the Ring there is at least the path of the old railway that passes right by the circuit, and used to link Spa to Francorchamps and Stavelot. That was abandoned in 1966 at a time when railways were decidedly un-chic. Putting in a light railway in the hope of boosting tourism might be an option, but there would need to be suitable investment in new attractions to make such an idea viable and no-one seems to have that kind of money.
It is fair to say that whatever happens the local government will end up paying for races and so the thing that they wish to avoid is to have to pay for the running costs of the circuit as well. The important question, however, is not whether someone will buy it, but rather whether a profit can be made from it. Spa is not like a Paul Ricard, where there can be testing all year round. In the winter the areas is covered in snow. There is, of course, potential for museums and driving schools and such things as Spa is a strong brand, but getting people to visit and pay is a different matter.
Jean-Claude Marcourt, Wallonia’s Vice-Minister-President and its minister of Economy says that the government would certainly listen to potential buyers, although he says that at the moment the question is merely hypothetical. The only suggestion thus far is that Gerard Lopez might buy Spa, but as he is still to pay for the Renault F1 team, which he bought 18 months ago, it is rather academic as he is unlikely to have the money.