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Opinion

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Follow the money

There has been talk of late about the Formula 1 calendar expanding into December in 2016. It was not a popular idea with the teams, and Bernie Ecclestone quickly moved to kill the story. That was sensible, but there is no doubt that Bernie wants to expand the F1 calendar in the years ahead. We know this because of the Concorde Agreement in the summer of 2013, in which the FIA agreed to a championship calendar “that may comprise up to 25 races per season”.

To be brutally honest, I don’t see 25 races being a good idea. I think 20 is probably too much. If one has to live the F1 calendar, as the teams do, it is really tough. It is not like it used to be when there were only a few intercontinental events; today, more than half the calendar is long-haul travel and that does two things: it wears out the people involved and it creates complications for their family lives. This doesn’t matter to Bernie Ecclestone, CVC and Jean Todt. They are moving pieces on chess boards and they don’t have to live the calendar they create.

The teams like getting extra money, but they know there are limits to what team members can do. Already the turnover of staff in the race teams is at a higher level than ever. There was a time when F1 people stayed forever, but there is less of that today. People come, do five years, and then go off to lead more sensible and sedate lives.

I am not against the sport growing – I’m all for it – but growing simply by adding races in countries with no strategic value is not the way to do it. There are lots of other ways to generate revenues that F1 never touches. The thing that I find hardest to cope with is that the motivation behind the extra races is not about growing the sport; it is simply about generating more revenues.

There is no strategic thinking beyond the money: they do not see the absurdity of not trying to expand the sport in the world’s biggest consumer market: the USA. And that is what I hate. Formula 1’s commercial rights may belong to these people, but the sport does not. The sport belongs to the fans – to all of us with an interest – and we can kill it if we stop being interested.

For the moment there is no way out of this mess, as the FIA has been toothless in its defense of the sport.

I hope that this situation will not last. I hope that we get an FIA president who will fight to preserve the sport as it should be, and not how it suits him for it to be. I hope that whoever buys the sport – and it is inevitable that someone will do that – will have the foresight to understand the difference between stripping cash out of the business and real investment to create growth.

Increasing the number of races without any thought about future strategy is simply a sign of the state of the sport at the moment. Hopefully it will pass, and quickly, before too much damage is done. Some of the people involved are doing what they are doing because it suits their current needs, but I don’t think anyone is really looking out for the sport in the long term. It is sad, but not surprising.
We need new blood, new ideas, new ambitions and, above all else, new respect for the product. Formula 1 could be so much better than it is today and yet, despite all the griping, it is still a great sport. It is still a great show. It still has an extraordinary international following.

It could do better – and it will do better with a little time and the proper kind of attention. It is still an exceptional promotional tool, with global market penetration that most sports would die to have. It still delivers the goods for the manufacturers and sponsors, if they are allowed to use it as much as they should be allowed to use it.

Change will come. The clock is ticking. People move on, ideas change. As far as F1 goes, the faster that happens, the better things will be.

 

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