Tight security for Formula 1 race

ISTANBUL – Sniffer dogs will scour the stands. The new circuit will be ringed by some 2,000 paramilitary police, backed up by undercover officers and security guards. Vehicles will be searched, and fans will pass through metal detectors. Turkey’s first Formula 1 race is on Sunday, but the event threatens to be overshadowed by tight security following a string of terrorist attacks. «Terrorism is a problem for the rest of the world too, not just for Turkey,» said Mumtaz Tahincioglu, the head of the Turkish Motorsports Federation. «Measures we’re taking here for security purposes have been doubled.» Joining Bahrain and China as F1’s newest venues, Turkey ushers in its Formula 1 era at the Istanbul Park circuit. The Turkish Grand Prix comes as autonomy seeking Kurdish rebels have escalated attacks in recent months. Just three weeks ago, a bomb planted in a rubbish bin in an Istanbul suburb close to the track killed two people. In mid-July, a bomb on a minibus in the Aegean resort town of Kusadasi killed five people, including a British woman and an Irish teenager. Last week, police detained a suspected Al Qaeda militant they believe planned to slam an explosives-packed speedboat into Israeli cruise ships visiting Turkey. In 2003, Istanbul was the target of an Al Qaeda suicide attack that killed some 60 people. The 135,000-seat circuit is 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Bosporus – the waterway that bisects Istanbul – on the Asian side of the city and falls under the jurisdiction of a paramilitary force that polices rural areas of Turkey. In the run up to the race, paramilitary police conducted a security check on residents living near the track, and reports say they have built a police station overlooking the track. Although officials tested the circuit last month, workers were still putting on the finishing touches days before the race. Graders could be seen scraping away earth, workers were planting trees, and the parking area was being paved, with guard railings going up along a road leading to the circuit. «Basically the track is ready,» Tahincioglu said from the rooftop of the main grandstand. «What you see here are the final touches – mostly cleaning and painting.» Tahincioglu said landscaping at the complex would be left until next season. «It’s hot at the moment,» he said. «The landscaping is not going to be absolutely perfect.» Like most of Europe, Turkey has a ban on tobacco advertising. If teams have tobacco sponsors, cars will run in the colors of the cigarette companies without the brand names. Speculation has been widespread that organizers paid extra to Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone to run the tobacco-free event. «That’s confidential,» Guclu said when asked how much Ecclestone was paid. The final cost of the track, funded mostly by the Turkish and Istanbul chambers of commerce, reached $150 million (122 million euros) – far above the initial estimate of $60 million (49 million euros). The government hopes the race will give Turkey a boost following four successive unsuccessful bids to host the Olympics. Officials also hope F1 will boost tourism and Turkey’s automotive industry. Murat Yalcintas, the head of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, said the event could bring up to $120 mln (97 mln euros) in tourism revenue. «With such an event you don’t count the money you paid, you count the benefits to Turkey’s promotion,» Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after visiting the track, responding to critics who say the circuit is a luxury the country can’t afford. Istanbul in August is hot, putting extra strain on drivers. Traffic congestion is chronic and there are concerns about possible delays for teams based in hotels on the European side of the city. The circuit itself is a challenge. Designed by Germany’s Hermann Tilke – who also created the Shanghai and Bahrain tracks – the 5.378-kilometer (3.34-mile) circuit is built on hilly land and features steep inclines and several corners that allow overtaking. It is also one of the few tracks that runs counter-clockwise. «It’s a lot like a roller-coaster and at more than 300 kms (186 miles) an hour, it can get a little hairy,» Guclu said.