Portimão’s Algarve International Racetrack has been officially confirmed as the venue for the ‘F1 Heineken Grand Prix Portugal’, which will take place between Friday, October 23 and Sunday, October 25, and is expected to generate “at least €30 million” for the local economy and play out in front of at least 5,000 spectators.
The confirmation has been widely celebrated as the kind of good news the region has been desperately waiting to hear.
Portimão Mayor Isilda Gomes said at a press conference last week to officially announce the long-awaited return of Formula 1 racing to Portugal after a 24-year absence that the event could be a life-saver for the regional economy.
Estimates about how much money the event will generate have varied. At least €30 million seems to be the ‘worst-case scenario’, although some believe revenue could top €100 million.
Spectator numbers are still being decided, but at least 5,000 people are expected to be in the stands, with the possibility of the number increasing to 50,000 (around half of the racetrack’s capacity).
Tickets are already available on the racetrack’s website (https://autodromodoalgarve.com), with prices starting at €100.
What’s certain is that the announcement has brought a ray of hope to a region which has been bombarded by the negative effects of the pandemic, which have only been made worse by the British government’s insistence on keeping Portugal off its ‘travel corridor’.
Indeed, local leaders are stressing that Portimão (and the Algarve) would not have been chosen as the venue for such a huge sports event if it weren’t a safe destination. They believe the event will actually play a huge role in convincing foreigners to come here.
“We are expecting this month of October to compare to the month of July in 2019,” Isilda Gomes told reporters.
“We are a tourism destination of excellence, which is why we have to show the world our potential. The Formula 1 race will give us unparalleled international exposure.
“I am certain we will host a great race in Portimão because the Algarve has known how to control the pandemic. That is why we are here today receiving this medal of honour, which is restoring self-esteem to the Portuguese and especially the people of the Algarve during these terrible times,” she said.
But the dream doesn’t end in 2020. The mayor wants Portimão to become a regular venue for F1 racing.
“We will work to keep this dream going and have this become an impactful event for those who visit us,” she said.
The mayor also praised the role of the racetrack’s CEO Paulo Pinheiro, who she said worked tirelessly to bring this major event to the Algarve, and stressed that the region’s racetrack is finally receiving the recognition it deserves.
“We were asked many times if the racetrack was leaving us in debt. But nothing could be further from the truth. Portimão Council doesn’t put any money into the racetrack, and we are thinking of providing only €200,000 to support this event. Millions of euros aren’t ‘poured’ into the autodrome, unlike what many people say,” the mayor told reporters.
Meantime, the racetrack’s CEO said that the goal of bringing an F1 race to the Algarve was a “life-long dream” which has come true.
“The racetrack was built with the goal of hosting an F1 race, which happened during the most unthinkable year,” said Paulo Pinheiro.
He also stressed how the racetrack was able to impose its own conditions.
“We chose the date, the conditions we wanted, everything. It would have been easier to host a race with no spectators on a date that wouldn’t be ideal. But that wasn’t our goal.
“We felt we needed to use our arguments that Portugal is in a better sanitary situation than most of Europe, that we have a better racetrack than others, that the Algarve has unmatchable conditions,” Pinheiro said.
Meanwhile, the Algarve’s tourism boss has celebrated the news as a “well-deserved prize for the region”.
“We are clearly satisfied and proud of this decision. Bringing an international event of this size to the Algarve was something we have wanted for a long time,” João Fernandes, president of the Algarve tourism board (RTA) and tourism association (ATA), said this week.
The work has been put in by local and national authorities for years, he explained, and it has finally paid off.
“As a result of this collaboration, we were able to turn a crisis into an opportunity. We were able to show that this is a safe destination, with a wealth of great quality infrastructures and a diverse tourism sector that meets the high demands of an event considered the pinnacle of motor racing,” said Fernandes.
“This is, without a doubt, a very positive sign of confidence for the region.”
Fernandes is also confident that the race could keep many companies from going under, explaining that the impact it will have could represent “one week of August in October”.
President Marcelo delighted
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa celebrated the long-awaited return of Formula 1 racing to Portugal on Sunday (July 26) and stressed the “international attention” that the event will generate for the country and the Algarve.
He also commented on how the decision to bring an F1 race to the Algarve proves that the region is considered safe enough to host such a huge event.
“Nobody makes a decision like this lightly,” he said.
Portugal’s Secretary of State for Youth and Sports has also highlighted how popular the sport is and how the event will promote Portugal’s image among millions of people around the world.
“We have received a lot of good news relating to sports. We will be hosting the Champions League, and now we will be hosting an F1 Grand Prix in Portugal. I would say it is a sign of the recognition of our sports sector and the good work we have carried out fighting this global pandemic,” João Paulo Rebelo said.
“We wouldn’t be hosting this event if we hadn’t handled the pandemic well.”
By MICHAEL BRUXO