A Radical Proposal: Rotating Schedules
Grand Prix selection and scheduling always persists as among the most controversial of issues in Formula One.
Every season, Bernie Ecclestone pisses off nearly everyone by threatening to take away an event or multiple events from the schedule—often the most historically significant and/or prestigious ones—unless they meet some list of his demands, which are usually related to his own bottom line.
Since 2003, the Austrian, San Marino, Canadian, French, and United States Grands Prix have been removed from the schedule.
All of these carried great significance for the sport, be it historical (France is the birthplace of Grand Prix racing), commercial (U.S. is the largest marketplace for many manufacturers in F1), or sentimental (San Marino was the "home" grand prix for Ferrari, F1's most popular team; and it, the A-1 Ring, and Circuit Gilles Villeneuve were widely considered among the greatest circuits in F1).
Furthermore, F1 has made very controversial decisions in relation to the changing of locations of certain Grands Prix.
The decision to remove the Japanese Grand Prix from the great Suzuka Circuit and award it to Fuji Speedway met great scorn from the racing community.
The removal of the cherished German Grand Prix from the schedule in 2007 was highly unpopular, although the reaction was mediated by its re-inclusion in the schedule and sharing between Germany's two great racing circuits, the Nurburgring and Hockenheimring.
Ecclestone has stirred even more angst for his campaign to remove the British Grand Prix from the semi-sacrosanct Silverstone Circuit and give it to Donnington Park, a highly unexciting track currently being redesigned and renovated.
Great doubt persists over whether or not the reconstruction plans for Donnington Park will be completed in time, introducing even more controversy to the subject.
Furthermore, F1 has played a game with the Belgian Grand Prix, taking it away from the schedule in 2003 and 2006. Spa-Francorchamps consistently lists in the top tier of favorite circuits among drivers and fans alike and is perhaps the greatest of them all. (I know it's my own personal favorite circuit.)
Simultaneously, F1 has added a smathering of new locations to the calendar with a clear eye at capturing opportunities for commercial expansion and capitalizing on rising fan bases. It has moved the European Grand Prix to Spain, playing to the rise of Alonsomania in the nation.
The concentration of F1 expansion has centered firmly around economically emerging Asia, with new events on the calendar in China, Bahrain, Turkey, and Singapore since 2003 and more to come in Abu Dhabi, South Korea, and India.
It is certainly understandable that Ecclestone seeks to increase the commercial intake of the series, and no one will argue that it's not good for the sport. It's less understandable that his prime motivation seems to be his own material welfare, but this is unfortunately a part of the game.
However, by removing so many of the historical grands prix from the schedule from some of the most prestigious circuits in the world, he risks alienating F1's most loyal fans and damaging the series' reputation and, ironically, its commercial standing. What we should all be asking is:
Why can't F1 keep its greatest events AND experience commercial expansion?
Currently, the limit on grands prix in a season is 20. There are currently 17 grands prix on the schedule, with new events arriving next season in South Korea and in 2011 in India. This will bring the total to 19, assuming that the grands prix that are unconfirmed for 2010- Italy, Germany, and China- are kept on the calendar.
There are musings that the United States and/or French Grands Prix will return in the near future at new facilities, while Canadian Grand Prix organizers campaigning for a return. More events rumored to be under consideration in Russia, Portugal, South Africa, Argentina, Bulgaria, and Mexico.
To accommodate all of this growth and the return of old grands prix, the F1 schedule would have to expand. This would be deemed wildly unpopular among teams, whose employees work full-on every day of the year to achieve competitive performance in 15-18 events a year.
World Rally Championship faced a similar problem recently, with its rapid growth in popularity and its demand for new events. The solution they reached is a fairly simple one:
Rotate the series schedule from season to season.
F1 would be very wise to adopt this strategy. At least one sacrosanct grand prix (Monaco) must remain on the schedule from year-to-year, and a handful of others should also remain given each one's respective significance (Brazil, Britain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Japan).
This leaves about 10-13 grands prix a year which may be rotated among many locations in a variety of fashions.
Rotating scheduling will allow F1 to keep its cherished events and circuits while also accommodating growth. It will also increase the value of rotated grands prix since they do not occur on the calendar every year.
Furthermore, individual events may rotate among multiple circuits. Two years time is more than enough to plan for a grand prix to be held at a new circuit.
Hell, should Bernie Ecclestone find a soul when he looks within himself at some point in the future, he may find it worthwhile to give the British Grand Prix back to Silverstone every other year.
This is yet another F1 fanboy pipe dream that surely will never be adopted. But it's always great to dream.
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