Despite having repeatedly been an advocate of taking the sport to new, exciting and increasingly far-flung destinations, F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone has warned that the 20 races scheduled for 2011 is 'plenty' – and that to add any more would result in 'mayhem'.
The F1 2011 calendar was released earlier this month [see separate story – click here
], with the advent of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix pushing the number of races up to an all-time high – and Ecclestone has previously asserted that as many as 25 outings could potentially feature in years to come.
However, Mercedes Grand Prix team principal Ross Brawn has cautioned that the expanding schedule is in danger of stretching to breaking-point the members of F1's travelling circus, who already spend much of the year abroad and away from their families [see separate story – click here
], and notwithstanding mooted future grands prix in Texas, Rome, Russia, South Africa, Bulgaria, Paris and New York, it seems Ecclestone now tends to agree.
“We really should be at 16, to be honest,” the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive told The Times of India
, not uncharacteristically backtracking on his previous comments. “Twenty is plenty – that's the limit, no more. I've been able to squeeze in 20, but I wouldn't want to increase it – there'll be mayhem otherwise.
“America is a country that should have an F1 race. We have a race in India, and soon we'll have one in the US. It's great.”
Indeed, the F1 landscape is changing dramatically, with traditional venues coming under threat – and some, like Magny-Cours, even suffering the axe altogether – and others such as Montreal and Spa-Francorchamps finding themselves 'rested' in favour of rival tracks able to offer more money for the privilege of welcoming the world's most glamorous and fast-paced sport. Imola has bitten the dust, whilst Hockenheim and the Nürburgring are now forced to share the German Grand Prix.
Over the past decade or so, Malaysia, Bahrain, China, Turkey, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Korea have all joined the fray – and if that trend continues, then it is not rocket science to discern that some of the old European favourites and classics will necessarily have to make way.
Ecclestone has already proclaimed that no existing circuit – the likes of Monaco and Monza included – is safe as he increasingly breaks down barriers in new markets, most prominently the Middle and Far East, and Silverstone has been far more out-of-favour than in of late. It has been noted that the majority of the European stalwarts on the calendar are out-of-contract by 2016.
Other venues that might need to look over their shoulder are Melbourne – which has posted persistent losses that have led to anger at just how much money the local Victoria government has had to invest in the race, at a cost of some $50 million AUD to Australian taxpayers – and Suzuka, with the departure from the top flight of Honda, Toyota and Bridgestone in recent years all making Japan's slot on the schedule increasingly tenuous, for all that the circuit is one of drivers' favourites and the fans some of the sport's most enthusiastic.
One other option that has been mooted is to rotate races, for example with street circuits in Rome, Paris and New York alternating from one year to the next, or to have a European Grand Prix that functions in a similar manner – meaning less outings around the unpopular streets of Valencia, which would likely not be too greatly missed. And a race once every two, three or four years is surely preferable to no race at all..?
Either way, 2008 F1 World Champion and current title challenger Lewis Hamilton agrees that adding extra grands prix to the calendar is not
“A season of 19 races is too demanding in terms of sponsors,” stressed the McLaren-Mercedes star. “We have promotional events, training, testing and upgrades – so this is an additional pressure to manage time more effectively.”