8 October 2013
Kate Walker: It’s all about the money
Kate Walker discusses how money shapes the F1 calendar in her latest exclusive column for Crash.net...
Used to keeping her eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama, Kate Walker reflects on the 2014 calendar and why it won't look the same come December...
Motor-racing has never been a sport for paupers.
Long before the FIA and FOM (or various iterations thereof) became involved, money was a necessary factor in motorsport. Germany's dominance of pre-war grand prix racing in the 1930s was the result of sizeable investments from Hitler's government, and early Monaco grands prix were run – and won – by men who had borrowed their Bugattis from rich ladies they had met at the Casino.
Ever since Formula One became the globe-trotting behemoth it is today, money has become an ever more important factor in the sport. There is no longer any room for the gentleman racer or the privateer upstart, as those teams so keen to join the fold in 2010 have since discovered to their chagrin.
But while the role of money is obvious when it comes to the development race, or the profits to be found in the ever-expanding calendar, what is particularly interesting is the way in which the almighty dollar shapes the construction of each year's racing schedules, for venues both old and new.
Much of the talk in the Korean paddock was about the logistic impossibility of 2014's provisional calendar, and it is likely such chatter will carry on into Suzuka and beyond. And while all and sundry agree that the final draft – to be ratified by the WMSC in December – will look very different to the version published at the end of September, there were a number of interesting theories doing the rounds that help explain just why the calendar looks the way it does at present.
And – surprise, surprise – it's all about the money.
Even the most ardent supporters of the race in New Jersey now concede that we are unlikely to see a grand prix on the banks of the Hudson next year. But despite the impossibility of both the scheduled triple-header and getting the site ready on time, New Jersey still had a slot on the draft calendar.
By giving the NJGP a provisional date for 2014, the Formula One Group has held up its end of the contractual bargain. They have been given a race, and it's now up to New Jersey to deliver. Whether or not the venue is ready, the race organisers will have to deliver a cheque to the commercial rights holder or risk facing legal action. Without a date, the lawyers can argue that no provision was ever made for the race to take place, and F1 loses out on the money.
A similar situation is taking place in Korea. While the drivers like the track, no one likes the empty grandstands – least of all the race organisers, who are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the costs of hosting the event. But Formula One simply isn't gaining traction in the country, which is why the contract is in a permanent state of renegotiation.
The race organisers are happy with their October slot, as holding the race every twelve months gives them time to scratch around for the necessary cash, painful though the process might be. By twinning Yeongam with China in April next year, that twelve months becomes six, making it far harder to pay.
No payment means no race, which not only gets rid of an inconvenient event on an overflowing calendar, but no race doesn't mean the commercial rights holder goes home empty handed. Rather, Korea can drop off the calendar without any blame to Formula One and its associated companies, while the race organisers still have to cough up the contracted cash – they will simply have a little more time in which to do so.
Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.
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