Barely a day goes past in which a new country doesn't commit
itself to hosting a grand prix in the next few years - France,
Mexico, Thailand and even Greece have recently expressed interest.
Formula One is a sport in demand, but the current twenty-race
calendar quite simply does not lend itself to aggressive expansion.
In the past we've looked at mandatory race sharing as a way of
bringing races to new countries, but inevitably one leading figure
has different ideas.
Ultimately, Bernie Ecclestone holds the only opinion which
matters. It is he alone who paves our future path, and although he
concedes that there are no plans for the calendar to expand to
twenty-three races "at the moment", it is the eighty-one year old's
long held ambition to have as many races as physically possible.
This obsession may soon become something of a necessity, as the
growing number of would-be hosts far outstrips the historic venues
which are gradually slipping off the calendar.
This year the Formula One circus will make twenty stops, a
record-breaking schedule which severely punishes teams and
personnel. With the gap between the end of the season and the start
of pre-season testing now a mere two months, it is argued that it
would be almost inhumane to add further dates to an already bloated
line-up. And yet, if the sport is to satisfy a growing list of
hopeful suitors, it will have to do just that. So how can we
achieve such growth without paying a human cost?
The irony is that the competitive Formula One season is only eight
months long, making it one of the shorter campaigns in sport.
Domestic football typically runs for nine months, even excluding
international tournaments. The professional tennis tour takes up
eleven hectic months of the year. The unique difference is that
this sport requires meticulous mechanical preparation, and must be
shipped painstakingly around the world between fixtures. If we want
a longer season, we have to look at reducing those
How do we do that? Firstly, we scrap the constantly evolving
rulebook. It has now reached the point where regulations are
changed between races, let alone seasons. In the past, the rules
would change very little over a period of several years, and this
had two distinct advantages. Firstly, stable development patterns
saw the pack close up and the racing become much more competitive.
But perhaps more importantly, every year the teams entered the
season without having to start from scratch - in fact, ten years
ago it was far from unusual to bring the previous year's car to the
opening races. By simply developing rather than constantly
revolutionising, the need for pre-season testing was vastly
Imagine that there are no rule changes for next year. If the teams
had to build a car to the very same specifications as this year, do
you think they would need to spend the entirety of February in
Spain working out whether the concept was actually viable?
Absolutely not. They would bring an impressive host of updates, and
at most require five days to assess what worked and what didn't.
The car itself would be sound from day one. In the six weeks that
we usually spend painting flow-viz onto every conceivable surface,
we could easily fit in an additional three races without any change
to the schedules of mechanics. And the racing would be close.
That's just one idea. There are
other options. Why are neighbouring tracks at opposite ends of the
calendar? It makes sense to visit each venue in some sort of
geographical order. It does not take a genius to realise that
shorter distances equate to shorter travelling time. When leaving
Bahrain, we could quite easily call in at Abu Dhabi - a mere 250
miles away. And yet, we don't go there until seven months later.
Another example is the 7000 mile round trip from Monaco to Montreal
and then immediately back to nearby Valencia. Given that we happen
to be going to Texas later in a year, it would seem silly not to
put the two North American races together. Maybe then we could have
more back-to-back events, and fit in more events full stop.
At first this appears to be a difficult problem to overcome, and
so far our only solution has been to axe circuits with real
character. Hopefully the powers that be will soon realise that a
little common sense means fans, personnel and circuits can benefit
from a calendar that is not dictated by needless technical changes
and senseless globetrotting.