Bernie Ecclestone has said that he can see a 20-race calendar becoming possible in Formula One, particularly with the current restrictions imposed on testing.
Although he has long hinted that the schedule could expand beyond the current 17-18 races, the sport's commercial supremo has faced opposition from the teams, concerned with both excessive workloads and rising costs. In the current climate of cost control, however, Ecclestone is more confident than ever that 20 races may be possible, helping him to include the rash of new venues alongside existing hosts.
In particular, the FOM head is keen to keep testing to a minimum, easing the pressure on both spending and time spent away from home, and revisited his own suggestion for allowing the teams development opportunities and the chance to evaluate new talent during the season.
"I always said that [20 races] is possible and, obviously, now there are more and more people falling for that idea," he told the official F1 website on the eve of the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, "Nobody needs testing. It was always, in my opinion, that testing costs money, while racing brings money. Let them test on Monday after the race, when everybody is at the track, the hotels are paid for and that huge logistical effort is eliminated."
BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld put himself among those that Ecclestone believes is coming around to the thought of a longer championship, admitting that he would not be averse to adding races to his schedule should he return to F1 in 2010 [see story here
"I think that the future of Formula One is where the money is, but I hope that there will be a good balance between the old tracks, with lots of history, and the new developments like we see here [in Abu Dhabi]," the German commented, "F1 is a world championship, so it is good going to many different countries and cultures. I would not mind having 20 races a year, now that testing is so limited."
Ecclestone is clearly keen to include new venues on future schedules, with Korea coming in next season and both India and Russia repeatedly linked to races, and not only for variety.
"I am overwhelmed, and I think everybody felt the same when they saw this - it is monumental," he said of the Yas Island development that houses the Abu Dhabi GP circuit, "When I came here in April, a lot was not finished, but I definitely knew that there would be race in the autumn. Look around, look what they've done. It's almost a miracle come true thinking about where we started.
"We've come to a country where people are determined to achieve their goals. It's that simple. I sometimes get criticised for taking F1 to places with little or no motor racing heritage, but look what happens in countries with that much-trumpeted heritage!"