WWith Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix, the final race of the spring, Formula One is about to enter its proper European leg. But the very popularity of the sport may now be putting some of those classic races at risk in what used to be considered the heart of F1.
Following the money as always, F1 is signing more expensive and longer deals with circuits. But since there are a finite number of slots available on the calendar, something has to give.
Last week F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali traveled to meet the organizers of a proposed South African Grand Prix at the Kyalami circuit. No official statement has been made but there is a clear expectation that South Africa will be added to the calendar in 2023. It will be a welcome return as F1 has not held a meeting in Africa since Kyalami staged its last GP in 1993 and with pilots. including Lewis Hamilton expressing his firm belief that the sport should have a presence in Africa.
On Thursday, F1 said it had signed a new deal for the Australian GP to be held in Melbourne until 2035, a 10-year extension of its current contract to 2025. It is the second-longest deal after F1’s recent deal. with Bahrain running until 2036 and indicative of the kind of deal F1 is now concluding.
A contract with Saudi Arabia is worth £50m per meeting over more than a decade. Qatar will start his 10-year contract next season, having paid similar money. At the end of last year, Abu Dhabi renewed his contract until the end of the decade, while Miami’s debut this year was the first in a 10-year deal.
The increased interest in F1 is welcomed by the sport’s owners, but it comes at a cost. The maximum number of games that can be held under the commercial agreement with the teams is 25 and next year is already shaping up to exceed it. With 22 races this season, and Las Vegas, Qatar, South Africa and a return to China, Covid regulations allowing, all set for next year, at least one race has to end. Clearly F1 will not consider abandoning those big long-term deals.
Monaco, France and now even the Belgian GP at Spa are vulnerable. Rotation racing will be used, a circuit that hosts a grand prix every two years.
The Belgian GP, which has stood out in the 66 years of the F1 world championship since it began in 1950, may now have to accept that it cannot compete with the financial demands of the sport. There are also concerns about the facilities and infrastructure at Spa, as demonstrated last year when heavy rain ruined the race leaving fans stranded with their cars stuck in the muddy terrain surrounding the circuit.
Monaco has been optimistic it will remain a permanent feature on the calendar, but even that race cannot consider its position sacrosanct. With F1’s owner Liberty Media expanding the sport, particularly in North America, Monaco’s place as a glamorous gathering that sells the sport is no longer of great importance and discussions with organizers continue, far away. of the preferential treatment of the race. received under the Bernie Ecclestone regime.
By contrast, the French GP at Paul Ricard is believed to be open to becoming a biennial event and Spa and France are understood to be racing to drop out next year. That they can become rotating meetings is indicative of the clear ambition of this booming sport.
Just a year ago, some team managers expressed a desire to set the season at 20 races, fearing the cost to their staff, especially with an incessant series of double and triple races. After Canada, there are 13 races left and all are doubles or triples.
There has also been concern that the sheer volume of racing was diluting its impact and value. High-level figures have expressed concern that it’s hard to sell a grand prize as a special when they arrive fast and dense.
Last year, McLaren CEO Zak Brown advocated a core of 15 races, with a further 10 rotating on and off the calendar; five one year, five the next, in a 20-race season. His plan seems hopelessly out of step with F1’s goal. While Domenicali has argued that 23 races is optimal, indications of what is planned for next year are that F1 is heading towards a 24 or 25-race season.
Race organization fees are one of the three biggest sources of income, along with television rights and marketing, and with the global economy in a precarious position, flat fees are a stable source of income that the sport wants to embrace. . It is possible that many of Europe’s venues will retain their place on the calendar, but only as part of what is set to be a huge and grueling season.