Las Vegas has become the latest addition to the Formula 1 calendar for 2023, giving a clear indication of how Liberty Media plans to conduct the next few seasons in the sport now that its popularity is rising, particularly in America, thanks in part to Netflix’s Drive to Survive.
Interest isn’t just rising Stateside, however. Last weekend, Australia saw a crowd of 420,000 turn up over four days in Melbourne, making it one of the biggest weekends in the country’s sporting history.
The addition of a third American venue, particularly one in such a desirable location as the Las Vegas Strip, is exciting for a sport which has long craved popularity in the USA. But it raises concerns over the longevity of other, more historic events, some of which may be in a financially precarious position.
The German Grand Prix is one recent casualty. The event long pre-dates the creation of the world championship, taking place at the Nurburgring, Hockenheimring and, occasionally, Berlin’s now-closed AVUS facility.
Between 2007 and 2014 the race alternated between the Hockenheimring and Nurburgring, until the latter dropped off the calendar. Hockenheim continued to return in alternate years, but dropped off after 2019. While F1 returned to the Nurburgring in 2020 for the Eifel Grand Prix, it was only a one-off as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
With the sport now focusing on the higher fees made available with races hosted in the Middle East and other locations, the return of Germany may not be on the cards any time soon. Could other venues like Paul Ricard and Spa face a similar fate?
Even Monaco’s race, the most famous on the calendar, may be in doubt. However this week Michel Boeri, the president of the Automobile Club de Monaco, quashed such speculation, insisting a new deal of potentially up to five years is in sight. But that will only increase the pressure on those that remain.
When Fernando Alonso came into the sport two decades ago Europe, held 11 of the 17 rounds. Next year’s schedule could feature 24 races, as few as a third of which may be in Europe.
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“It’s the way it is, the way Formula 1 is going,” Alonso said. “So, we accept it.
“There are some positives, bringing Formula 1 to new countries and discovering these new races. I think Las Vegas, for example, it’s going to be very exciting. And Miami, and these kinds of weekends.”
He is more concerned about how many races there are than where they are held. “We need to be careful with the number of races, which I think we need to. We should agree on a limit, because I think for the teams, it’s quite demanding, how the schedule and the calendar is now, especially that we don’t have so many races in Europe anymore.
“So, I think that’s the only concern if we keep adding races.”
However, his team mate Esteban Ocon is concerned his home grand prix could be the next in the firing line. “I’m very happy to discover new tracks but yes, to see the French Grand Prix at threat, definitely I will do everything I can, to be vocal on that, to try and keep it on the calendar,” he said.
“We’ve lived so many good moments with the French fans there. It’s extremely special when we go there every year. I don’t know what’s the situation exactly but I’m not happy to hear that it’s under threat at the moment and I will do everything I can to keep it on the calendar.”
He is also concerned about other historic venues could be under threat. “We haven’t lost the great Spa, the great Monza and all these circuits at the moment, so yeah, it would definitely be a big shame to lose them, and I think we’re all on the same opinion, you know, drivers, teams, and probably Formula 1 as well.”
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“But I’m happy to go to Vegas and Miami and discover a little bit the States and the new tracks,” he added.
Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali recently raised eyebrows after indicating he had enough interest from promoters to fill 30 places on the calendar. The sport remains limited to 24, but 23 is already proving to be a stretch for some teams and drivers, as many are spending the majority of the year on the road as F1 looks to squeeze as much profit as they can from their recent boost.
Perhaps more concerning, the Italian also spoke to some media in Bahrain citing that “some of the current grand prix will no longer be part of the calendar” and they will be replaced by “new grand prix.”
Other venues will add more pressure to future calendars. China’s Zhou Guanyu will also likely fuel some fire to see the return of a Chinese Grand Prix with more races seemingly rumoured month-by-month.
Qatar is set to return: It held a race last year and was originally due to take a one-year break while it hosts the FIFA World Cup before coming back.
It was rumoured as a potential replacement for the canceled Russian Grand Prix this year, but a September date would mean uncomfortably high temperatures even if the race is again held at night. Back-to-back races in Singapore is now thought to be the likeliest solution, which will also help to ease teams’ rapidly escalating travel costs.
But if F1 is at risk of losing tracks that are steeped in motorsport heritage, which should be a concern for bosses, why then are they adding a third race in America?
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jnr believes allowing heritage venues to share calendar slots – as the German tracks once did – could be a solution to the predicament.
“I think there needs to be a limit for the number of races that we keep adding, so at the end, some other races are going to pay the price of having to stay out,” said the Spaniard.
“Obviously I’m a big fan of having to go to Miami and Vegas, but at the same time, it’s a big loss having to lose classic European races, I think.
“Hopefully for the future, we can find a compromise where maybe races that cannot afford to be in the calendar every year, year-in, year-out, can be in the calendar once every two years, once every three years, and we keep coming back to the places that we’ve always been.
“Business is business. Liberty and Formula 1 will look at what they have to do, I guess, for business. But I wouldn’t like to stop racing in Europe. I think it’s a great place to go racing, it’s where our heritage is and I think we need to keep coming back, even if it’s not every single year, but at least keep it on the calendar.”
No one begrudges F1’s desire to make money but if the sport allows too many circuits that are vital to the sport’s history it risks losing part of its identity.
But the appeal of the US market is obvious and it is one the sport has struggled to tap into previously. Having three American races in a season isn’t a first. Former F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone arranged a trio of US rounds in 1982 but two of those venues – Las Vegas (again) and Long Beach – were gone within two years, and Detroit followed after five more.
The US Grand Prix returned to the calendar in 2012 at Austin. Around the same time, Ecclestone again tried to add another round, courting a race around the streets of New Jersey, but that also failed to materialise. Ecclestone had said he understood the importance of the audience in America, but admitted he was “not very enthusiastic” about the States.
His successor, Domenicali, is hoping to succeed in new territories where Ecclestone did not, and the signs are promising so far. But with heritage races in Britain and Spain proclaiming strong ticket sales, surely there is enough space for the both the new and old to live harmoniously together on the calendar?
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