Race Calendar Evolution

14 Jan

The French newspaper ‘Le Figaro’ reported last week that the Paul Ricard circuit in France is set to alternate F1 race-hosting with the Belgian Spa circuit from 2013 onwards.

This latest report has fanned the flames of ongoing concerns that the historic European race tracks are under threat on the F1 calendar. The 2012 calendar features 8 European races (Barcelona, Valencia, Monaco, Silverstone, Spa, Monza, Hungary and Germany, which already alternates its races between Hockenheim and the Nurburgring). Bernie Ecclestone has said himself that he would like to reduce the number of European races to 5 or 6 in order to accommodate more races elsewhere round the globe (Russia, South Africa and Mexico are all being mentioned as possible locations, as well as the already-fixed 2013 New Jersey race). Logistically it is not sensible to have more than 20 races on the calendar each year – something all parties seem to agree on – so something somewhere has got to give.

Eau Rouge - Spa.

If these reports are true, we will only see the much treasured Belgian Grand Prix every other year. When Sky Sports F1 reporter Natalie Pinkham canvassed opinion on twitter earlier in the week, the response was overwhelmingly negative. Mark Webber (he of the sweet move on Alonso through Eau Rouge in 2011) lead this response by describing it as a ‘shit idea’. Arguably France deserves its place back on the F1 calendar – it is after all the home of ‘Grand Prix’, and there are three new French drivers joining the grid in 2012 who should invigorate French interest in the sport once more. Personally I don’t have an issue with them alternating.

It is understandable why the F1 world is concerned about a reduction in European races – F1 is a sport which loves its history, and there is great sentiment about the twists and turns of the tracks which have seen so many incredible racing moments over the decades. Drivers, in particular, love the opportunity to add their names to the legends who have pulled off stunning manoeuvres at infamous corners.

However, as well as its serious nostalgia, F1 is also a sport that is constantly evolving – rules, regulations, races, teams and drivers change from one season to another. The calendar itself is currently evolving from a European focus to a worldwide one. Korea aside, the new races (Singapore and India) have been enthusiastically welcomed by all involved in the sport. Singapore is particularly treasured now as the only night race. While the Abu Dhabi circuit isn’t perfect, the atmosphere is unique and it currently serves as the sole active circuit in the Middle East (I am assuming Bahrain will not be going ahead again).

While the calendar continues to evolve, the key principle at the heart of evolution – ‘adapt or die’ – needs to be taken seriously by the European circuit owners when negotiating with Bernie in future. The best way for them to survive if under threat is to adapt by alternating with another circuit – better to be on the calendar every other year than not at all.

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