Examining Which Circuits Will Make the 2015 Formula 1 Calendar
The 2015 Formula One calendar is likely to consist of 20 grands prix, but at least 23 circuits have thrown their hats into the ring.
Some of them are safe. The likes of the Italian, British, Japanese, Monaco and Singapore Grands Prix are going nowhere, and most of the others also have long contracts with no outstanding problems. At least 17 of the 20 slots are as good as taken.
The remaining three are being fought over by at least six different countries: the United States, Canada, France, Azerbaijan, India and Mexico. Each has issues, great or small, keeping them in the "maybe" category.
Using whatever information is out in the public domain, here's my take on how likely each is to find its way onto the final 2015 calendar.
Grand Prix of America at Port Imperial Street Circuit, New Jersey
Ah, this old chestnut.
A race around the streets of Weehawken and West New York was announced by New Jersey governor Chris Christie back in October 2011. He said at the time the first race would be held in 2013.
As we're all well aware, that didn't happen, and the race's debut was pushed back to 2014.
The problem was funding. The plans were there and awaiting investors, but the necessary financing required to create the circuit and hold the race never materialised.
So it was pushed back to 2015, but again it encountered problems and again they were of the monetary nature. Speaking to Christian Sylt of Autoweek in December 2013, Bernie Ecclestone said the original organisers had breached their contract, and new bids to take it over were welcome.
In March 2014, he told Racer magazine the financial situation looked a little more promising but gave no indication the race was back on.
Ecclestone seemingly wants the race to happen, primarily because of the proximity to New York City and the associated publicity and prestige. The Big Apple is only across the river, so F1 could follow the example of the NFL and WWE and pretend the event is in NYC itself.
Political will in New Jersey, at least from the governor's office, is in favour.
But the circuit isn't ready, the money isn't there and the whole idea has become a bit of a joke.
This one's a non-starter, unless Bernie pays for it himself...
Indian Grand Prix at Buddh International Circuit
The Indian Grand Prix was supposed to be F1's great foray into the world's second-most populous nation.
But that nation doesn't seem all that keen.
India does not see F1 as a sport—rather, as a form of entertainment. The regional government therefore demands the organisers pay "entertainment tax" on revenues generated by the race. Ticket prices are also affected.
The tax issue doesn't end there. In the Times of India, former Indian motorsport chief Vicky Chandhok explained another major problem caused by the Indian government:
Just to give an example on how taxation policy is a major hindrance: The Indian government expects the teams to share their sponsorship contracts with them and based on that the authorities will tax them. The teams are not required to do that anywhere else in the world and more so they are not at all comfortable sharing their sponsorship agreements. This is one of the many ticklish issues.
High customs duties are also an irritating hurdle, as are, per BBC Sport, visas. Ex-F1 driver Karun Chandhok claimed at least 50 media and team personnel could not get to last year's race due to visa problems.
To top it off, the race promoters have, according to Bernie Ecclestone speaking to IANS, breached their contract.
The F1 chief is taking a tough line. The 2014 race was cancelled ostensibly to facilitate a move to an early-season date in 2015, but next year's race is now almost seemingly cancelled as well.
In March this year Ecclestone told Reuters, "At the moment, India won't be on for next year for sure. Probably 2016...they're gradually getting over all the bureaucracy with the tax position inside the country and the general finance."
His tune had changed slightly by April, when he told The Deccan Herald that, if the organisers met him and sorted out the "financial issues," a 2015 race was possible.
But time is running out.
If the country as a whole doesn't care and the promoters can't stick to their contract, a return to India is highly unlikely.
French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours
As previously mentioned here, France is angling for a return to the calendar.
In the week prior to the Monaco Grand Prix, Magny-Cours circuit chief Serge Saulnier claimed a deal was close. A few days later, Bernie Ecclestone spoke to Reuters and rubbished the idea. But his mind changes regularly, so we can't rule it out entirely.
There are two major obstacles to a French Grand Prix return at Magny-Cours. The first is the circuit itself. Magny-Cours could be worse, but the layout is unlikely to produce the thrilling racing the sport has spent the last decade trying to encourage.
Though the situation has improved slightly with better access roads and facilities, the circuit is still quite remote.
The second is politics. French governments (like all governments, in a way) tend to look after their own, and the Magny-Cours circuit lies in the Nevers region, which is traditionally socialist. It was plucked from obscurity by socialist President Francois Mitterand and upgraded to host the French Grand Prix for the first time in 1991.
But the right-wing presidents who followed Mitterand didn't really care about the place, and eventually the race departed. A return to Paul Ricard was mooted in 2012, with Autosport reporting a deal was effectively done.
That deal fell apart after the presidential election the same year. Socialist Francois Hollande was elected, and—quelle surprise—Magny-Cours is once more the flavour of the month.
Only, Hollande's approval ratings are, per the BBC, consistently below 20 percent, and his government is exceptionally unpopular. It seems likely he'll be kicked out at the next election in 2017 and be replaced by someone with no great love for the Nevers region.
So there's a good chance Magny-Cours will become unloved again after only a few years.
Maybe it's more trouble than it's worth, but we can't entirely discount an alternate-year race-sharing agreement with the German or Belgian Grands Prix.
Mexican Grand Prix at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez
The return of the Mexican Grand Prix became big news in 2011. Carlos Slim Domit, a long-time motorsport fan and FIA member whose father is the world's second-richest man, told Reuters a return was "being studied."
Later the same year, he wrote in FIA In Motion magazine (h/t Autosport):
I embrace the idea and believe that a new race for Mexico is what, in colloquial English, is referred to as a 'no-brainer.' Mexico has long been close to Formula One, closer to it indeed than it has been to many other racing series that have visited the country.
To the surprise of no one, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez emerged as the planned location. However, the circuit, which last hosted the Mexican Grand Prix in 1992, would require extensive renovations to bring it up to modern standards.
Autosport reported the race was included on the draft 2014 calendar, but it was removed when it became clear the circuit would not be ready on time.
Which brings us to 2015. Bernie Ecclestone told Racer magazine in March this year, "Mexico is signed for 2015," but a contract and a race are two very different things. A couple of signatures guarantee little in F1.
Mexico has the support of a family with unmatched wealth, so financing it won't be a problem. The main issue here is the circuit.
If it can be renovated and properly secured, the race will happen. If it can't, it won't.
Azerbaijani Grand Prix at Baku Street Circuit
Rumours that Azerbaijan would host a grand prix gained their first solid foundation in late April this year, when Youth and Sports Minister Azad Rahimov told Duncan Mackay of insidethegames.biz that a deal had been done.
The race would take place on a street circuit in the capital, Baku.
Bernie Ecclestone confirmed the news to The Independent a few days later, saying, "Baku has been signed. It will start in 2015 and will replace Korea."
The Gods of Petroleum were kind to Azerbaijan, so finance isn't an issue.
But there's one huge black hole in this plan. No circuit.
Baku does have a street circuit, which hosts sports-car races—but it's far from F1 standard.
A new layout would need to be designed, with space for appropriate crash structures and run-off areas at key locations, as well as grandstand space and sufficient room for a paddock. Roads would need to be resurfaced and a pit lane with media facilities installed.
Once that's done, FIA inspections would have to take place to ensure it met the necessary criteria.
It's a lot of work, but the Azerbaijani Grand Prix would likely take place toward the end of 2015—close to the Russian Grand Prix up the road in Sochi.
So the organisers should have plenty of time.
Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
The Canadian Grand Prix is one of F1's best races. The simple but effective Circuit Gilles Villeneuve never fails to produce great races, and the scenic backdrop is one of the most beautiful of the year.
But no contract is yet in place for 2015 and beyond.
Talks have been ongoing for over a year, with the main issue being funding. The circuit needs upgrades, and a deal was delayed early last year when the local government blanched at a massive renovation quote—reported by grandprix.com as $40 million.
In April this year, race promotor Francois Dumontier revealed the race's future was still in doubt.
Good news arrived a month later, when The Globe and Mail published an article (currently unavailable, but cached here) claiming a deal had been done, pending financial input from the local and federal government.
It's not yet set in stone, but Montreal doesn't want to lose F1, and F1 doesn't want to lose Montreal.
A deal will be finalised, and Canada should remain in place.
Many fans will cry if it doesn't.