Formula 1 Must Address Financial Inequalities Before Expanding Race Calendar

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2016

Not all teams would benefit equally from an expanded F1 calendar.
Not all teams would benefit equally from an expanded F1 calendar.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Quick show of hands: Who wishes this Formula One season had an extra three or four races?

What, you don't want to see a few more near-guaranteed Mercedes victories?

But that may be exactly where we are headed. Liberty, the U.S. media company that is purchasing the sport's commercial rights, wants to expand the calendar from its current 21 races (itself a record number) to maximise its investment.

"There is a general line of interest if you increase the number of races to a point," Liberty chief executive Greg Maffei said recently, per Reuters' Harro Ten Wolde. "The FIA [the International Automobile Federation, which governs the sport] makes more money, the teams make more money, we make more money."

That is true; the problem is that F1's current prize money distribution scheme is heavily weighted toward the larger teams, and increasing the prize money pot would only enlarge the performance gap that exists between the teams.

In turn, this could lead to more Mercedes-style dominance, rather than the closer racing everyone wants to see.

Before Liberty sets about adding races in Las Vegas or Buenos Aires or who knows where, F1's new owners need to fix the way the sport's revenue is distributed among the teams.

Liberty-appointed F1 chairman Chase Carey.
Liberty-appointed F1 chairman Chase Carey.Lars Baron/Getty Images

In 2016, for example, Ferrari received a larger payout than the three lowest-paid teams combined, according to Autosport's Dieter Rencken and Lawrence Barretto.

Yes, by adding more races, the size of the revenue pie will grow—but so will the differences in the sizes of each team's slice. And not only that, but adding more races will also increase costs for the teams if they have to hire more staff.

"Burnout is becoming a serious problem," longtime F1 journalist Joe Saward wrote on his personal blog, "and it is nonsensical to try and double the size of the crews because some people just aren’t replaceable."

Mercedes already employ more than 700 employees at their Brackley, England, factory—and 400 more at their engine facility in nearby Brixworth. They, as well as Red Bull and Ferrari, could hire another 30 or 40 race staff without feeling the pinch.

But for the smallest teams, like Manor, with perhaps 200 employees, adding a second race crew might be impossible.

If the powers that be in F1 want more excitement, with more teams fighting at the front of the grid and at the top of the championship tables, distributing the prize money more equitably would be a good start. After all, teams like Ferrari and Mercedes would still be able to bring in more sponsorship money than the smaller teams, not to mention the backing they have from some of the biggest car companies in the world.

The goal should be more competition between more teams. There is no point in adding four extra races if they are just four more wins split between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Mercedes have dominated the last three seasons.
Mercedes have dominated the last three seasons.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

And there are other considerations, too, such as timing. How would an extra four races fit into an already jam-packed schedule?

"Where's this extra month coming from?" said Sky Sports F1 commentator David Croft. "Let's not forget the teams are equally busy in the winter at the factories getting ready for the next season."

To ease the travel burden, a more sensible calendar would be necessary, without, for example, races in Montreal and Baku, Azerbaijan, on back-to-back weekends. But cramming more races on to the calendar might actually increase the number of awkward flight connections, particularly as those new races would likely be outside Europe, where all the teams are based.

Also, with too many races, each grand prix feels less like the special event it is. Fans, drivers and everyone else involved in the sport all look forward to grand prix weekends, but would everyone be as excited if every second weekend (on average) had a race?

If every weekend is special, none of them are, right?

Not only that, but the value of each race in terms of the championship is also watered down the more the calendar expands. In 1996, a single race victory was worth 6.25 per cent of the total points a driver could score that season. This year, it is worth 4.76 per cent and, in a season with 25 races, a victory would be worth just 4 per cent of the total potential points a driver could score.

On the surface, adding more races might seem like a good idea—the teams get more money and the fans get more racing—but there are several problems that must be addressed before the calendar expands. The most important issue is the financial disparity (and its corollary, the performance gap) between teams.

If the revenue distribution system doesn't change, then any additional races will only benefit the teams already sitting at top of the heap.

     

Matthew Walthert is an F1 columnist for Bleacher Report UK. He has also written for VICEFourFourTwo and the Globe and Mail.

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