The Formula 1 calendar has been a little frustrating this season. Back-to-back race weekends have seen packed action, followed by a few weeks of quiet and then the season bursting back into life. Consider that the Hungarian Grand Prix is the only race across seven summer weeks but once the series returns in Belgium, it marks the first of nine races in 14 weeks. It creates a disjointed feel, rather than the old ‘a race a fortnight’ calendar.
The news that Austria will re-join the calendar next year has ultimately raised questions about pushing the sport to breaking point and whether Formula 1 can sustain a 22 race calendar. For many fans it is good news that after years of heading East, Formula 1 will return to a seemingly long lost venue in Europe. But where will all the races fit?
Both Austria and Britain hold a provisional date of July 6th for their event, meaning that in all likelihood one will be pushed back a week to June 29th. Silverstone is listed as one of the venues for next year’s four in-season tests, suggesting that organisers of the Austrian Grand Prix could find themselves occupying the final weekend in June in order to allow for the post-Silverstone test. The Hungarian Grand Prix would be able to keep its date at the end of July, with the German Grand Prix – to be held next year in Hockenheim – shifted to the weekend of July 20th. It creates a hectic, but not unmanageable, situation of four races within five weeks. But it also raises questions about the potential race in New Jersey.
The intention in 2013 was for the Canadian and American Grand Prixs to be held back-to-back, but the race in New Jersey was subsequently postponed for a year, which created a three week gap. For 2014, the World Motor Sport Council has prohibited Formula 1 from racing on June 15th, so that no race clashes with the Le Mans 24 hours. So unless Le Mans is moved – and that would prove very unpopular for the Automobile Club L’Ouest after the 2013 date shenanigans – there’s little room for New Jersey on the calendar. Unless of course Canada is moved a week earlier, which would mean Monaco is moved a week earlier. That would upset tradition and once again prove unpopular. The alternative would be shifting the whole European season back a week to accommodate New Jersey on June 22nd. But then that eats into the summer break…
So is there suddenly no room for New Jersey, or is the Austrian deal a Bernie Ecclestone hurry-up call and a message of ‘there are alternatives, you know?’
How the Russian Grand Prix fits into the schedule will also cause concerns. The end of 2013 mirrors 2012’s busy finale to a season and there’s little room for Russia to be slotted into such a congested run. One race could move towards the start of the season, but that would be dependent on weather and negotiation tactics; after all, lots of race promoters would prefer their race to be held as the title battle reaches its climax. Suzuka is currently the only circuit without a contract for 2014 but with Honda returning as an engine supplier in 2015, it’s difficult to envisage the Japanese event falling off of the calendar without a fight. The only other option appears to be to drop the universally unloved Korean Grand Prix; the event has been financially ruinous for the organisers since its shambolic debut in 2010 and has little long term future unless a miracle happens. But if Korea clings on for another year – and the contract does last until 2016 – then that could push the season back into early December.
New Jersey may not happen, but it’s more than likely that – even with the headache of the Winter Olympics – Sochi will be ready for their provisional date of November next year. That would mean 21 races, as well as four pre-season tests and four in-season tests. It’s a year being pushed to breaking point for teams, meaning that a recruitment drive may be required. All while being told to cut costs…
Meanwhile, these calendar issues circulate during a period in which there is still no Concorde Agreement, with teams hesitant to expand to more than 20 races, on the backdrop of continued financial struggles and with an FIA presidential election on the horizon.