The Nürburgring, Germany's legendary Formula One racing circuit, faces the prospect of bankruptcy and possible closure next week, because the private operating company which runs it has failed to meet debts estimated to be €500m (£390m).
The 25km (15.5m) circuit, which opened in 1927, rates as one of the world's most famous. Every two years it hosts tens of thousands of spectators who descend on the motorsports complex in the village of Nürburg near Koblenz to watch Formula One. But last week the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, which owns the complex, announced that it would ask the operating company, Nürburgring GmbH, to file for insolvency. Bankruptcy proceedings could begin next week.
Kurt Beck, the state's prime minister, has blamed the European Commission for the impending insolvency, claiming that its failure to approve a €13m state-aid package in time for a payment deadline at the end of July has put the future of the 'Ring in jeopardy. He said that "insufficient liquidity" meant that insolvency was "highly probable".
The circuit has operated at a loss for years. But its most serious problems began in 2004 when it started building an amusement park and hotel complex; both have failed to attract sufficient visitors. A new track was built in 1984 to accommodate Formula One racing, which has alternated between Nürburg and the nearby Hockenheimring since 2007.
Media reports suggest that Nürburgring has debts of €496m and that the company is no longer able to pay interest on a €330m loan provided by a state-owned bank. The EU has already backed the provision of millions in funding in an attempt to salvage the track, and officials have recently signalled their reluctance to approve further payments. Last-minute approval of the €13m package could still save the Nürburgring from insolvency.