F1 calendar won’t grow beyond 20 races, insists Ecclestone

By Gareth Llewellyn
bernie ecclestone

bernie ecclestone

Bernie Ecclestone has conceded that 20 Formula 1 races per season is the absolute limit – and that ideally there would be 16 grands prix.

The 2011 season will feature a record 20 races – the 19 races from the 2010 calendar, as well as the addition of the new Indian Grand Prix.

Ecclestone has worked hard to move F1 into new markets in recent years, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, with races springing up in Singapore, Korea, India, and Abu Dhabi. But the return of the US Grand Prix at the new circuit in Austin and other potential races in South Africa, Russia, Bulgaria, New York, Rome and Paris, means many of the more traditional races could face the chop.

“We really should be at 16, to be honest,” he told the Times of India. “Twenty is plenty, that’s the limit. No more. I’ve been able to squeeze in 20 but I wouldn’t want to increase it. There’ll be mayhem otherwise.”

The F1 supremo has threatened several races with the axe in recent years including the British Grand Prix, while the Canadian and Belgian Grands Prix both disappeared off the calendar only to return eventually.

Similarly, historic circuits Magny-Cours in France, Imola in San Marino, and the A1-Ring in Austria left the calendar, while Hockenheim and the Nürburgring now share the German Grand Prix.

Gone are the days of European dominance in the world of F1, and if Ecclestone is to introduce new races in America, Russia and Africa, it will inevitably be the European circuits that face the chop.

Monaco was the latest European grand prix to be threatened, before Ecclestone agreed a new long-term deal, while the British Grand Prix was under threat before Ecclestone awarded a contract to Donington after losing patience with Silverstone.

Of the current European races, few have contracts beyond 2016. The European Grand Prix at Valencia’s street circuit is set to expire in 2014, while the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona, Autodromo Nazionale Monza near Milan, and the Hungaroring near Budapest are all contracted until 2016.

Albert Park in Melbourne has a deal to run until 2015, and could be one of the non-European races to go, with reports from Victoria suggesting the cost to the taxpayer was some $50m – a burden they might not be too keen to keep.

If Ecclestone insists on not having more than 20 races in a season, the most likely candidate to lose out is the Japanese Grand Prix, as the Suzuka Circuit’s contract expires in 2011. Axing Suzuka for 2012 would allow the FIA to insert the US Grand Prix in June, with one of the Asian races filling the gap in October where the Japanese race usually sits in the calendar.

Ecclestone added: “America is a country that should have an F1 race. We have a race in India and soon we’ll have one in the US. It’s great.”

Other circuits without a contract in 2012 are the Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit, and the Turkish Grand Prix at Istanbul Park. But with both being recent additions, they are more likely to remain to develop the sport in those countries.

Japan’s saving grace could be the significant role it has played in F1 over the years, but with the recent withdrawal of Japanese teams Toyota and Honda, and with tyre manufacturer Bridgestone also departing at the end of this season, it is difficult to justify sentimentality as reason for keeping the Japanese race.

F1 should surely rotate circuits in order to give the teams and drivers more variety, as well as allowing more fans from all corners of the globe to experience the sport. In recent years we have seen the German Grand Prix shared, while Suzuka and Fuji shared the Japanese Grand Prix.

It could also be possible to have a rolling European Grand Prix rather than a fixed venue which would allow Ecclestone to continue his plans to enter new markets without unnecessarily damaging the sport’s reputation with local fans.

Germany had two races during the time of Michael Schumacher’s dominance, and despite Ecclestone saying no country needed two events, Spain were granted a second race as Fernando Alonso won back-to-back world titles.

If Ecclestone wants to have a street race around the landmarks of Rome, New York or Paris, F1 could alternate cities, giving the race more prestige. Every year in Monaco we see how quick and easy it is for organisers to set up an F1 circuit and remove it as soon as the race is over. It may be more difficult in larger cities, but it is by no means impossible.

With the ‘traditional’ races, there is an inclination to be sentimental about them – something Ecclestone at times does too. But that is usually the man talking, rather than the businessman, again there is no reason why they cannot be rotated.

Not every Grand Prix turns a profit, or can fill all of the grandstands, and if they report a loss it makes it difficult to justify hosting a race every year.

For the locals who are in love with F1, a race every two years is better than none at all, and it is certainly an option some circuits, and more importantly Ecclestone, should consider in the coming months.

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