What is the perfect form of Formula One? There are no easy answers, but the sport’s authorities hope the plan they’ll present to teams today will be convincing enough to settle the long-running battle for the championship’s soul.
It’s been almost four weeks since Formula fans were last treated to Sky Sports’s rendition of Just Drive, the war horn-like signifier of another decisive weekend in Lewis Hamilton’s career.
But when Alistair Griffin’s pop-rock anthem blares across the globe’s television sets this Sunday night, F1’s 11 teams will hit the ground running in the race to finish the 2016 season.
Can they sustain the run? When is the run likely to devolve into a jog, and then perhaps a crawl? In Formula One’s longest ever season, the grind towards round 21 in Abu Dhabi will be an arduous one.
Already at the German Grand Prix, where the most common question to team personnel had more to do with holiday plans than on-track action, the exhaustion was unmistakeable.
A total of 21 races is hard work, and the task has been made more difficult by a confusing and erratic calendar.
Formula One may be partly dependant on race hosting fees, but flying tonnes of equipment from Montreal to Baku in a matter of hours, as was the case this season, is a needlessly complex way to maximise dollars.
Manor’s Pat Fry shed light on the struggle in Germany, where he admitted teams were being forced to consider hiring extra staff to cope with the workload.
“I’ve been in racing now for 40 years and this is the first time when I’m starting to see people say, ‘Well, actually, we don’t want to go racing … it’s actually too much of a drain on family life and quality of life to be on the road all the time’,” he said.
“We cannot ask our personnel to maintain the level of activity that’s being asked of them.”
But rather than just force the teams into a costly exercise of duplicating staff, can the calendar be rationalised to minimise the pain?
For the answer, we turn to F1 patron saint (and Pirelli motorsport boss) Paul Hembery.
Only last year Hembery suggested a tripartite calendar to simplify Formula One’s zigzagging schedule and maximise the sport’s exposure in the world’s three broad time zone regions, those being Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
Though little more has been said about it since, the concept merits another look now the strain of 2016 is starting to show.
7 Abu Dhabi
Starting with Asia, pairing Australia with a stop in Malaysia on the way back adds value to the 24-hour flight to Melbourne, and scheduling China, Japan, and Singapore alongside each other would allow any combination of those races to be paired.
Contractual obligations have thus far prevented Bahrain and Abu Dhabi from featuring side by side, but similar problems between Singapore and Malaysia were overcome for this year’s calendar, paving the way for a Sakhir–Yas Marina conclusion to the opening flyaway leg.
Formula One’s traditional mid-year visit to Europe could be easily rearranged for ease of travel given the proximity of the current racetracks.
Spa to Hockenheim and Monte Carlo to Monza are journeys of around 300 kilometres each by road, and the trip from the Red Bull Ring to the Hungaroring is only 100 kilometres more.
An aggressive scheduling of this leg could have it completed in just 10 weeks, or a luxurious alignment could have it last for almost four months, notwithstanding a midseason break falling somewhere in the middle.
2 USA (East)
3 USA (Austin)
The season could then conclude in the Americas, which would provide added incentive to the sport’s business powers to close deals on new American races.
The fan favourite Canadian Grand Prix could give way to a race on the USA east coast, while pairings between the current United States Grand Prix in Austin and the Mexican Grand Prix followed by races Argentina and Brazil could ease the load of this transcontinental leg.
The added advantage of having six grands prix in the Americas — or more, should a USA west-coast race present itself — and likewise seven races in Asia is the opportunity to rapidly build broader followings in these regions.
It has taken the Chinese Grand Prix 12 years to begin building a following, and most of the rest of Asia has been similarly slow to the party.
Formula One’s fickle dealings with the United States has left it similarly lukewarm, but six successive races in a time zone that won’t require Americans to wake up in the small hours of Sunday morning to watch them will do wonders to put the sport into the public consciousness.
Such a segmented calendar continues F1’s globetrotting habits while easing its logistical burdens with the added bonus of allowing certain parts of the world to ‘own’ their legs of the calendar.
If only Formula One paid more attention to Paul Hembery.
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