Where to next for Formula 1? Right from the start, Liberty Media has shown interest in expanding the F1 calendar to as many as 25 races. You can look at this two ways.
Adding at least five more Grands Prix will push the already stretched teams into thoughts of increasing staff and introducing rotation patterns, much as NASCAR does in order to cope with 36 events, more or less on a weekly basis – and that’s just within one admittedly vast country. Rotating is easier said than done, particularly with engineers for whom the driver relationship is extremely important.
The cost implications are obvious for a sport that is allegedly trying to reduce rather than expand budgets that are already extreme. The thought of travelling to even more countries around the world will be anathema to the small teams struggling to cope with the 20 (a record 21 next year) we’ve already got.
On the other hand, if an expansion of the calendar means increasing revenue and giving Liberty Media flexibility to help the financially hard-pressed classics such as the British, French and German Grands Prix, then it must be worthy of consideration.
Having dedicated themselves to this policy, however, Liberty would need to stick with the programme, given the necessary commitment by the teams to meet it. There would be benefits from fixing a number of races and sticking with it, thus increasing the scarcity value and upping the ante for would-be promoters, provided their proposed circuits are entirely suitable.
Without trying to second-guess new venues under consideration, it’s worth looking at existing tracks physically capable (with the necessary safety adjustments) of hosting a Grand Prix. Where would you choose?
It’s a personal thing, isn’t it? Near the top of my list would be Istanbul Park, one of the best Hermann Tilke designs among many average works by F1’s favoured architect. The 5.3 kilometre track uses natural gradients (and a few man-made ones) to generate the challenging and character-forming elevation changes lacking on so many of the modern additions. Everyone loved this track except, sadly, the spectators who stayed away (after the initial flush of curious enthusiasm in 2005) in enough numbers to make the race financially unrealistic after seven years.
An absence of motor sport heritage would be a continuing problem (both in Turkey and elsewhere) although Liberty appears ready to embrace promotion and education, a thought far removed from the money-grabbing ethos of the sport’s previous majority owner. Everything else is in place at Istanbul Park, including on-track facilities, a good airport 15 minutes away and pleasant places to stay on the coast. And as for the mega Turn 8 and that long back straight with an ideal overtaking place at the end of it…
While we’re at it, let’s have Imola back. A huge amount of work would need to be done on a narrow paddock geographically restricted by the same river that prevented necessary work on the benighted Tamburello. Even allowing for the terrible resonance of history, Imola and its beautiful surroundings has class and colour – and it is in Italy.
Both Imola and Istanbul Park have the required licence for F1, a restriction that, on paper, rules out some potentially great venues. Being an American company, Liberty might like to investigate Road Atlanta and Watkins Glen, two classic racetracks on which the necessary upgrades would surely provide worthwhile payback.
Believing that less is more, some fans are not in favour of 25 races (for me, 16 or 17 would be the preferred maximum). But if the calendar included the above-mentioned quartet (and perhaps the excellent long circuit on the Buenos Aires Autodrome), might you be persuaded?