Written by Ilona Datchary, Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina
There have been many failed Formula One tracks over the years, mainly due to financial issues. From Vietnam to Greece, all of them unfortunately did not materialize. However, there is one track that seems to have slipped people's minds often, and that is the Bulgarian Formula One track.
Bernie Ecclestone, the Chief Executive of Formula One for 43 years until 2017 had been very keen on putting more Eastern European countries in the F1 calendar during the early 2010s. In fact, around 2009, he even went to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, and handed the contract to the BMF (Bulgarian Motorcycling Federation). Ecclestone’s idea had been a five-year deal from 2011 to 2015.
The chief of BMF at the time, Bogdan Nikolov, was previously a motorcyclist and has competed at a professional level. Nikolov really liked the idea because it would have really helped the economy of Bulgaria since the economy is known as one of the poorest in the European Union.
The new F1 track was planned to be built at the former Dobroslavtsi military airport, which was north of the capital city. This location was specifically chosen as other places required a lot more money to be fixed and wouldn’t have been well placed .
The former military airport was suitable and strategic, not only being right by Sofia, it was 5 km long, so it wasn’t complicated to form, it would fit 100,000 spectators so people from neighboring countries could come and this would have been a great boost for the economy. It would have also been perfect for the track to have heating of the asphalt layer.
That heating had been the innovation Nikolov wanted to bring. He knew it couldn’t just be any ordinary track since there could only be one track in Eastern Europe, and there was already the Hungaroring in Hungary and the Intercity Istanbul Park in Turkey.
That’s why Bogdan Nikolov came up with the idea of the track having heating in the asphalt layer. This was very innovative, because it also meant that tyre companies could use the track as a testing site to see how the tires would react to different temperatures. Bernie Ecclestone loved the idea and was ready to have the Bulgarian track as the Eastern European Grand Prix.
An issue Bogdan Nikolov had been facing was the funding for this grand project. Sadly, the government refused to provide necessary funds to help this and only gave them the land needed. An Arabic group named EABG (Emirates Associated Business Group) was interested in investing in the track.
For the track alone, they would need 50 million euros. However, the BMF also wanted to create an entire city with homes, entertainment places, and companies, similar to Istanbul Park. For all that, the Bulgarian federation would need around one billion euros.
In the beginning, everything had been going well with talks with the investors. However, two Bulgarians who had been living in Chicago decided as a joke to send threats to EABG. Of course, no one found it funny and that caused a delay in the project.
That had been a huge issue because the track had been scheduled to be in the 2011 season, but the track had not even started being built around mid-July 2009. Therefore, it was postponed with the track joining in 2012. Unfortunately, in the end, the Arab group decided to not invest in the project and claimed that the Bulgarian officials had been very unprofessional and warned other Arabs to not invest in them.
Despite this devastating news, Bogdan Nikolov decided to proceed with the project even though it is implied that he had no investors and no funding from the government. Bogdan took up loans and even sold his personal items to ensure the project could continue.
However, after BMF decided to suspend the whole project, Nikolov had to halt all operations because he had too many loans and had to pay them back, without receiving any support to do this. He also stated that in the near future, it looks like there will be no Formula 1 tracks in Bulgaria.
This is another sad tale about a country that could have really gained from having an F1 track but due to the economic crisis, it wasn’t possible. With this, Bulgaria continues to suffer with their financial challenges and the wonder of how Formula 1 would change the economy and life in Bulgaria.