F1 calendar expansion set to keep prompting debate

Updated: 18 March 2011 16:14 IST

Last year there was Korea, this year Formula One welcomes India, next year it will make a belated return to the United States.


Last year there was Korea, this year Formula One welcomes India, next year it will make a belated return to the United States.

With Russia to join in 2014 and each week bringing reports of F1 ambitions from all four points of the compass, signs are pointing to a traffic jam on the series' calendar.

After indicating that the circuit eventually could host 25 races, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone backtracked in 2010, saying that 20 races was the absolute maximum and that he would prefer a return to a 16-race season.

If 20 races is the limit, and with India, the U.S. and Russia joining, plus Bahrain contracted to return next season after this month's cancellation, at least two races must go in the next two years.

There don't appear to be any easy choices.

Europe is the heartland of the series with eight races, though only Monaco and Italy would be regarded as untouchable.

Some would regard the British Grand Prix as sacrosanct, given it is the home to most of the teams, the large role that the nation has played in the development of F1, and the vast sums that have been poured into redeveloping Silverstone.

France might be seen in a similar light. Though it is the home of the series' governing body and has played a comparably major role in F1 history, the race there is off the calendar.

Germany, like England, would appear to be deserving of a race given the boom in the series there sparked by seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, and the nation's burgeoning involvement in F1. However, it too has been the subject of ongoing speculation about the future of its alternating circuits, Hockenheim and the Nurburgring.

Spain is the only nation to currently host two races - a status that would appear unsustainable, notwithstanding the interest sparked by the success of two-time world champion Fernando Alonso. One of those races is the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona and the other is the European GP at the new circuit in Valencia.

The Belgian GP has been on and off the calendar over the past decade. It remains a firm favorite with drivers and fans alike for providing exciting and challenging races around the historic Spa-Francorchamps track, yet that may not be enough for it to survive the calendar cull.

The Hungarian GP has been a great survivor, remaining an integral part of the F1 calendar since 1986 despite a lack of any great motorsport history in the nation and usually dreary racing on a circuit with next-to-no overtaking opportunities. It has provided a gathering point for race fans across eastern Europe, but Russia may supersede it in that role.

One event that appears vulnerable is Turkey, where the contract expires after this season and the race has failed to generate much enthusiasm in the country, playing to small crowds.

The same criticism could be made of China, which still struggles to get fans to the track on the outskirts of Shanghai and whose contract remains the subject of constant speculation. However, the car companies and sponsors are eager to promote themselves in China, which may encourage some persistence in trying to make that race work.

Elsewhere in Asia, the night race in Singapore has been a great success, drawing big crowds and being met with genuine enthusiasm by the teams and drivers.

The success of the city state has put pressure on neighboring Malaysia. The government-sponsored car company Proton is investing in F1 via its Lotus brand and the Sepang circuit may join Singapore in becoming a night race to fit in with European viewing times, as Malaysia fights to retain its spot on the calendar.

The Australian GP is another event under pressure to switch to a night race, but that would be prohibitively expensive for the temporary Albert Park street circuit, particularly at a time the state government is growing increasingly uneasy with the high cost of putting on the event. A move to a permanent circuit may be the answer, but it would be hard to match the existing atmosphere of inner-city Melbourne.

The addition of the United States would take the number of races in the Americas to three, joining Brazil and Canada. That small number means those races would all appear safe, despite the aging infrastructure in Sao Paulo and the past difficulties between Montreal organizers and Ecclestone.

Bahrain's return will depend on resolution of the political strife in the Gulf nation. Should it be unable to return, it would likely see the race relocated to somewhere else in the region, with Qatar among the rich Arab states eager to join Abu Dhabi in the F1 circus.

Topics : Formula 1 Michael Schumacher Brawn Honda Giancarlo Fisichella Lewis Hamilton Sepang International Circuit McLaren Monaco Grand Prix Jenson Button Sergio Perez
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