The Inside Line #74: Addition by subtraction?

TILI Logo PrintHow much of a good thing is too much? News that Formula One’s calendar will expand to 20 races next year (the equal-longest season of all-time with 2012) emerged last week with a similar calendar to this season; Mexico City comes in, while for the first time in a long time, no races make way. Off the back of this season where (by my estimation) at least half of the races have been absolute belters, one more race can only be a good thing, on paper. But some closer examination of the calendar and its construction makes me wonder if the sport has done the best possible job.

As always, the order of the races and what seems to be a complete lack of common sense in the planning remains the work of people who have their own private jets or, when they’re really slumming it, turn left on airplanes [1]. But it’s not the order of the schedule that’s the biggest issue – it’s whether we need 20 races at all, and if we’d be better off with (a) fewer races in more desirable locations or (b) more races held over a two-day weekend that changes the way people consume the sport [2]. The latter is an interesting idea. Could practice, qualifying and the race all be held in two days? History suggests that it can when weather intervenes (see two Grands Prix in the past 10 years in Japan), but can the circuit/event promoters recoup some of the money they outlay to have a Grand Prix in the first place if they only have two days to sell tickets to? Given ticket prices are bordering on the criminal anyway at some races, it’s not a pleasant thought [3]. But in an ever-changing environment for how people want to consume sport, isn’t it at least worth exploring?

Mexico City will be a good addition. The infrastructure will probably be a bit rough and ready, the venue has some F1 history and the two Mexican drivers on the grid will ensure a decent turn-out. Better there than somewhere like India, China, Bahrain, Korea … all Tilke-dromes that haven’t exactly captured the imagination of the viewing public on TV or the locals, given the number of them that don’t show up [4]. I know there are reasons for that, mostly economic ones, but it’s a bad look for what’s supposed to be the highest-profile category of global motorsport when the world’s best drivers showcase their skills in front of empty grandstands. At least Bahrain, like Qatar does for MotoGP, had the good sense to run their race under lights this year to at least mask the fact there was nobody in attendance …

An examination of the 2015 F1 calendar features on ‘The Inside Line’ this week, while we also relive what will be the first of many Daniel Ricciardo career wins with the man himself. Canada 2014 will stay etched in the affable Aussie’s brain for the rest of his career, and it’s compelling to hear him recount the day that changed everything several months on with such wide-eyed enthusiasm [5].

We also debrief the Singapore Grand Prix last weekend, where Lewis Hamilton made the most of teammate Nico Rosberg’s misfortune to reclaim the championship lead for the first time since round five in Spain.

Check out ‘The Inside Line’ on SPEED TV Australia (Foxtel/Austar channel 512) at 7pm on Wednesday September 24, and/or on ESPN (Foxtel/Austar channel 508 in Australia) at 8.30pm on Thursday September 25.

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[1] Something I got mightily sick of last week: journalists complaining about the length of the schedule, the order of the schedule, anything about the calendar really. F1 has the oldest and most change-averse press room of any of the many sports I dabble in, and ‘why don’t they have more races in Europe like the old days?’ seems to be a familiar refrain. It’s your job. If you don’t like it, do something else and give someone younger and hungrier who wants to be there a go. Quite simple really.

[2] I’m all for this option. To see fans (in places that actually have them) spend their hard-earned and bust their backsides to get to the track in time for first practice on Friday only to watch a mostly empty track for the first half an hour is a bad, bad look for the sport. Giving the teams tyres they have to give back after that first half-hour whether they use them or not this year is a step in the right direction, but only a small one. What about two 60-minute Saturday practice sessions, then qualifying as normal ahead of the Sunday race?

[3] A very interesting piece about the cost of attending F1 races. Like most press people, I can easily lose touch with what it costs to follow the sport as a fan, but know enough fans who’ve been to just about every race on the calendar to know that this is just not sustainable.

[4] I worked at the inaugural Chinese GP in 2004 and it was packed. Packed. I learned the Mandarin word for dodgy non-working binoculars (which escapes me 10 years on), and couldn’t believe how many fans were there. These days, that empty grandstand at the start of that massive back straight, which is usually used as ad space, is one of the most depressing F1 TV images of the season.

[5] Looking forward to see what our non-English language broadcasters make of Daniel using “knackered” to describe how he felt mentally after winning in Montreal.

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