Continued wrangling over next year’s Formula One calendar poses an interesting question.
How many Grands Prix should make up the F1 calendar?
The present situation, whereby we should see the sport visiting 20 circuits over the course of the season, has teams and personnel at breaking point.
Logistically speaking, it’s a challenge as it is. The smaller teams haul cars from their bases in Europe to Asia, North and South America and the Middle-East.
So you can understand their concerns when the possibility of several back-to-back flyaways crops up as Bernie Ecclestone attempts to squeeze as many Grands Prix (read: business opportunities) into a single season of racing as possible.
Admittedly, having so many options shows Ecclestone has been doing his job well.
While teams struggle to find sponsors and run to a profit margin, there is a clear surplus of potential Grand Prix venues.
At present, we’ve yet to see (but have been assured of, or have heard rumours regarding) Grands Prix in America, Russia, Thailand, Austria, Mexico and Dubai.
Bearing in mind India is supposed to return to the calendar after 2014 and Turkey is still waiting in the wings with a rather nice F1 facility, you have to commend Ecclestone for having those options.
However, the trouble starts when the pound/dollar/euro/dirham signs start to float in front of his eyes.
Shoe-horning as many races in as possible is not necessarily his job description, but thanks to some continued contract wrangling and political intervention, it looks like next season (at least) will not exceed 20.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh told Sky Sports F1:
I don't know if the calendar will grow to 22. It would certainly be incredibly tough on the teams, but that's the business we're in.
We all thought a few years ago that going beyond 16 would be tough, and a lot more of them are outside Europe now.
Myself and the drivers have a comparatively easy time compared to the guys who build the cars and do all the back-to-back races, it's very hard.
20 The Limit?
So how many circuits should it be? Whitmarsh reckons there will be “no more than 20” next season. But is 20 still a push?
This year has 19 races. The usual quartet of flyaways tests the resolves of the smaller teams before the slight reprieve of a three-week break before two races in Europe. A quick trip to North America (might that become two with New Jersey?) is followed by a quintet of European Grands Prix, split after Hungary by the summer break.
But, especially given teams have to switch resources to developing next year’s car in the closing stages of the season, the final seven races offer another logistical challenge.
Singapore, Korea, Japan, India, Abu Dhabi, the United States and then Brazil. Just two of those final seven Grands Prix has any substantial F1 history (that’s just the race, of the circuits only Suzuka and Interlagos can boast F1 nostalgia).
That calendar will shake around next year, preseason included. Teams will obviously much prefer sunnier climes of Dubai to test their cars rather than Barcelona in January, but how will the summer part of the schedule work out?
With Austria supposedly confirmed and Britain, Germany, Canada and New Jersey (not to mention the Le Mans 24 Hours), it poses something of an organisational conundrum in the summer months of June and July.
20 is the absolute limit for those who do not claim even a portion of the F1 limelight, and pushing it beyond 20 risks making it financially unviable.
With preseason moving forward even earlier and more and more work going into car development, where does the reprieve come for engineers, designers and HQ staff?
There’s a lot more stress put on a Formula 1 operation by a packed calendar than is often considered, and that stands true for the human and financial elements of the teams.