More grands prix: How many is too many?

As the FIA prepares to release the provisional 2014 Formula One calendar, possibly including new races in Russia and the United States, as well as the return of Austria (but minus India), Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn stated that “20 [races] is a sensible limit” for each F1 season.  As fans, we obviously want to see as much racing as possible, but there are limits to how many weeks drivers, mechanics and engineers can spend on the road every year, and how many weekends our significant others will put up with three hours of qualifying and racing (and let’s not forget Friday practices, if you live in a country where they are televised!).

brawnRoss Brawn
Photo credit: Alex Comerford via Flickr

So, is Ross Brawn right?  Since the first season of the F1 World Championship in 1950, which included seven races, there has been a consistent upward trend in the number of grands prix that make up the championship.  Last season, 2012, had the most races yet, hitting Brawn’s ideal limit of 20.  This season, we are back down to 19 as there is no European GP and the debut of the GP of America was postponed for a year.  As mentioned above, with the new races proposed the calendar could include as many as 22 GPs next season.

Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 10.36.11 PMExperience tells us that at least one of the new races is unlikely to make the calendar – the smart money is on Russia, but New Jersey is also a possibility – leaving us with 20 or 21 races for 2014.  You might think, “But there are 52 weekends in a year; it can’t make much of a difference whether there are 20 or 22 races.  The Premier League plays 38 weeks a year, plus European competitions and preseason training!”  True, but F1 is a year-round sport like no other.  Sure, the drivers can take vacations like athletes in other sports, train on their own, and come back without losing any performance.  But every second not spent developing the car by the teams is a second that their rivals are ahead of them.  As ESPN writer Kristi Dosh is fond of saying, if you’re not doing it, someone else is.

Between pre-season testing, the race weekends, in-season testing (which returns in force next year), promotional appearances, plus all the development work at the factories, F1 teams do not have much time off.  And perhaps it goes without saying, but the F1 season is much different than the Premier League or any other professional sport, where half your games are played in the city where you live.  At least 19 races in a 20 race season will be “away” races for drivers and other team employees (with each if those races requiring at least four or five days on the road).

In fact, the summer break that is currently underway is enforced by an agreement amongst all the teams: during the four weeks between the Hungarian and Belgian GPs, all factories are shut down for two weeks.  Were it not for this enforced break, nobody in F1 would ever get a summer holiday.

Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 11.28.43 PM

Another factor to consider is how many races the market can sustain without becoming over-saturated.  While Austria has a long F1 history and is a welcome re-addition to the calendar, how many more Tilke-designed circuits in countries with no racing history does the sport really need?  While both the Sochi and New Jersey circuits do look like they have good potential, some of the other recent additions to the F1 schedule have been less-than spectacular (*cough* India *cough*cough* Korea).

As well, some of the smaller teams are already facing serious financial pressures, so adding the expense of another one or two races is not ideal for them, either.  Although the races will no doubt bring in more money for Bernie Ecclestone from sponsorships, TV advertising and hosting fees, there is no guarantee that money will trickle down to the teams.

Given all these factors, TPL is inclined to agree with Ross Brawn, despite our desire to watch as many grands prix as possible.  Oh well, at least F1 2013 is on the way, to help kill the dwindling down time between races.

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