So, which way are we going, Bernie?
No one can doubt that Bernie Ecclestone has what he feels to be the best interests of Formula One at heart. After all, the sport has an umbilical connection to his wallet, and there is nothing more important to him than that.
Best interests or not, surely it’s time to question the headlong rush into new markets that is the driving force behind the sport in the current era.
F1 seems to have Olympic-like appeal for potential host cities.
There is an ever-growing list of potential venues from around the globe lining up to beg for the privilege of throwing bags of cash at the F1 supremo. All they ask in return is that he bestow upon them the honour of throwing even more cash at Hermann Tilke to build them a racetrack.
Surprisingly, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
While entering new markets is the best way of ensuring long-term survival, it has to be sustainable. It also shouldn’t be at the expense of established and reliable markets.
Ecclestone has this week declared that more European races will be culled to make way for the burgeoning new tracks. He has told the F1 Times, "We'll keep trying to move forward. We're a world championship, we'll probably lose two or three more races in Europe as we have to sort of move on."
Take away three from the current roster and that leaves only four European races.
If we assume that the spiritual homes of F1—Monaco and Monza—will be untouched and with the British Grand Prix at Silverstone being the actual home race for many teams, that means we will lose even more of the iconic tracks of Europe.
Will the rapid expansion of F1 ultimately destroy the sport?
So which will it be? Will Ecclestone decide that Spa misses out, robbing us of one of the last truly great tracks? Perhaps Hockenheim will go.
While no one would care that Valencia is going to get the axe, these other tracks are important to the sport and the true fans who have been there for decades. They have history and character. They cannot be replaced by the sterile, soulless creations of Herr Tilke.
Unless fans pay close attention to the calendar, they would be hard-pressed to tell where a race is being held on the new circuits. The architecture sometimes gives a generic tip of the hat to local style but is otherwise undistinguished.
The tracks themselves are variations on Tilke’s fixed design ideas, put together in slightly differing orders, with their runway-length straights followed by slow hairpins and sections of flowing curves.
They all look the same, and his fingerprints are now on the vast majority of tracks on the calendar.
There’s nothing that comes close to Eau Rouge, the Parabolica, the Ascari chicane or Becketts—corners that are instantly recognisable by anyone who follows the sport.
F1 is becoming like a plague of locusts, descending on an area, sucking it dry and moving on. Many of the new tracks are unable to afford to play the game.
The Indian Grand Prix had only 65,000 fans turn up to watch the race—30,000 fewer than last year. The Korean GP is in financial trouble. Australia is asking for lower fees. The Turkish F1 GP got down to only 36,000 attendees over three days.
Then there is the questionable morality of the expansion, racing in Bahrain during the recent uprising being a classic example of an organisation that cares only for the bottom line.
Time will tell whether the relentless drive for expansion will ultimately work for Formula One or not. While there are more countries trying to get a race than spots on the calendar, so it looks okay.
But let’s see where we are in 20 years’ time. How many of the new tracks will still be in use?
My guess is not many.