JUL 13th 2015

Henry Hope‑Frost: Do we want ‑ or need ‑ 21 Grands Prix?

The recent announcement that motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, has approved a 2016 Formula 1 World Championship calendar comprising 21 Grands Prix made me wonder: is that too many?

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In fact, I already know my answer to the question: it’s a resounding yes.

I’m well aware that money talks in this high-stakes game we all love, and if a country can afford to pay the astronomical race-hosting fees charged by Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One Management and build a circuit on which to run a Grand Prix then good luck to it, but in this case I firmly believe less is more.

The 2012 season featured 20 races, the most in a single year in the World Championship’s 65-year history, but now we’re stretching an over-crowded schedule to breaking point.

A glance at the 2016 dates reveals seven pairs of back-to-back races. Seven! I’ve never enjoyed the two-on-the-trot concept, for it simply dilutes the fever levels. I like to have a few days to get over a GP weekend before starting to get excited about the next one. When I’ve gorged on a fine chunk of medium-rare, washed down with a gallon of red, I don’t want to do it again straight away. You really can have too much of a good thing.

Talking of diluting the fever levels, Azerbaijan has put its hand in its seemingly deep pocket and got itself a race. I can’t get excited about that at all. Here’s a country with no racing culture whatsoever (hosting a sportscar race on a street circuit in Baku doesn’t count), that’ll probably end up bumping another venue with greater F1 status, simply because it’s paid more.

Grands prix 2016

Embracing new markets is important, but not at the expense of historic races and venues. Remember that the German GP was cancelled this year. That’s the Germany with a World Championship-winning F1 team and two front-running, race-winning drivers, one of which helped that team to the manufacturers’ title, the other wearing the number-one hat at Ferrari, F1’s most-famous outfit.

Spare a thought, too, for the folk who work in F1. And I don’t mean the private-jet, six-star-hotel set; more the mechanics and team personnel who have a tough job striking the right work/life balance in what is a pretty selfish endeavour. Being stuck in the globetrotting Grand Prix circus isn’t a high-rolling, glamorous existence for everyone.

As well as the increased number of races, the powers-that-be want to cram them into a shorter time frame, to the extent that the season-opening Australian GP is scheduled for April 3. It’ll have been 28 years since an F1 event started that late in the year.

It’s too much too often for me. And don’t get me started on the two-race-per-weekend idea. I’ll just quote McLaren driver Jenson Button, who said this when pressed on the topic: ‘It’s not worth even commenting on, because it’s not going to happen.’

With large numbers of people – inside and outside the sport – convinced that F1 has a PR crisis to sort out, what we don’t need, I would’ve thought, are more reasons to be turned off. The pinnacle of motorsport needs to get its existing house in order before building the extension.

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