Team bosses have said that they will not read too much into the draft F1 calendar issued on the eve of the Italian Grand Prix, amid doubts that the schedule will stretch beyond 20 races.
The outline calendar – since denied by F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone [ see separate story
] - contains 21 stops, with the addition of Russia, Austria and Mexico, but not New Jersey, which seems to have been in doubt almost since the idea of racing on the banks of the Hudson River was first mooted in 2011.
Ecclestone has suggested that the F1 season could stretch to as many as 22 races, but the teams appear keen to cap it at 20. This year's calendar was anticipated to contain 20 rounds but the postponement of New Jersey ultimately brought it back to 19, complete with some unsightly gaps between races.
“I think 21 [races] is tough,” McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh admitted, “Will those 21 all happen? There's lots of rumours and speculation in the paddock about whether they'll all make it.
“Ultimately, I think Bernie's job is to go out there and put the calendar together. I think he sometimes has to speculate as to the viability, or how realistic some of them are. It's easy for us to jump and complain about the calendar, [but] he's got to put it together and I think we should be grateful that, in the last few years, from pretty difficult and challenging times, not only has he maintained a calendar but he's been able to bring some new venues into the sport.”
While Whitmarsh, and the majority of his rivals, have long campaigned for more races in the United States, one of the teams at the opposite end of the grid has special reason to hope that the proposed Russian Grand Prix comes off in 2014.
“Certain venues are
more attractive,” Marussia's Graeme Lowdon agreed, “Sochi is a venue that is of particular interest to us because we obviously have a large following in the Russian market place, but I think in general it's important for us to be consistent in what we ask for.
“We've always made it very, very clear that we're here, in F1, to compete and that means a level playing field. If that means that if there's 21 races, then we race at 21 races. If it's 20, then, of course, the cost goes down, but that's not really how we have to look at it. We can't pick and choose what we would like about this sport. We can't ask for a level playing field and then try and look at something like that.
“As Martin has quite rightly pointed out, Bernie puts the races on. The negotiations with the promoters from the outside seem to be tortuous, to say the least, [and] in some cases, they are difficult to predict, some of the twists and turns. There are announcements that that race is happening and sometimes they don't….”
The Korean Grand Prix, widely expected to be dropped from the schedule, remains provisional in an early season slot, while Mexico's return is dependent on the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez being updated to F1 standards.
Promoters of the New Jersey race, meanwhile, insist that they remain confident of returning when the final calendar is produced at the end of the year. Work on the street circuit's infrastructure is ongoing, but the event is continually overshadowed by concerns about its viability. Late last month, Ecclestone told CNN
that he had called time on the race, only to backtrack on that claim 24 hours later, admitting that, if the event got its financial act together, F1 would be happy to go there.
“New Jersey, of course, would be fantastic in my opinion - it would be great for the sport, [but] who would you lose?” Whitmarsh commented, “We've all got our personal favourites and our least favourites, but I think it would be very disrespectful to use this platform to voice those personal opinions. I think Bernie's just got to work hard to make sure we've got a good calendar. He generally succeeds one way or another and I suspect he will next year.”