Formula 1: Going Global, Leaving Local

Victor GenovaContributor IOctober 17, 2010

SPA FRANCORCHAMPS, BELGIUM - AUGUST 29:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes drives thru Eau Rouge on his way to winning the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit of Spa Francorchamps on August 29, 2010 in Spa Francorchamps, Belgium.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

It’s official—Russia will be added to the Formula 1 calendar in 2014.

The Russian Grand Prix will be run on a 5.5-km track built around the Olympic Village in Sochi. I’m curious to see how their construction plans go, as said location will be used for the Olympics only months before. 

The addition of Russia, along with Korea, India and another attempt at a US Grand Prix (and not the first attempt at a Formula 1 race in the state of Texas) is helping Formula 1 live up to its claim as a world championship.

As races and countries are added, the schedule is nearing its tipping point. There are 20 Grand Prix next year, and something is going to have to give when it comes time to making room for Russia and the US.

The problem is that we risk sacrificing some historic and fantastic tracks to make this happen.

Go back 15 years and you’ll see a completely different schedule.

In 1995, and for the better part of history, Formula 1 was primarily a Eurocentric series with a couple of non-European races mixed in. 

Take Argentina, for example. In 1995 it was one of two races in South America.

The magical pacific swing I spoke about a couple of weeks ago had no China, Malaysia or Singapore in 1995, but instead contained two races in Japan, along with the legendary, yet short-lived, Adelaide street circuit in Australia.

In 1995 there were 17 races total on the calendar—11 of which were in Europe.

In 2011 there will be 20 races total—nine of which will be in Europe.

Gone are San Marino, Austria and France. Hockenheim and the Nurburgring have been forced to alternate as the home of the German Grand Prix.

Hell, even Spa was kicked off, and then (thankfully) brought back.

Spa, in my opinion, is Formula 1’s second-most historic track—right after Monaco. Removing Spa would be one of the worst acts of self-mutilation Formula 1 could commit. Such a troublesome move would be on par with a switch from internal combustion engines to electric motors, or the Max Mosley uglier-than-anything CDG wing.

Great Britain still has a Grand Prix, but for the longest time it seemed as if it could have been yanked at any moment.

This deconstruction has been done to make way for Eccelstone’s Formula 1 new world order. Like many sport visionaries (just listen to the IOC comments after China was awarded the Olympics), there is this fictitious belief that introducing a world-class sporting event into a developing nation is going to accelerate their progression towards a civil, western society. 

I remember reading ridiculous claims that Formula 1 would help democratize China, fuel growth in India and do wonders for Malaysia.

It could even reunify the two Koreas.

OK, so I got a little carried away with my statement on Korea. But you get the idea.

What I’m trying to illustrate in this long-winded rant is that there are some tracks so historic, so critical to Formula 1’s brand and image, that no sanctioning fee from an Emir, or a communist government, should ever displace them.

There are billions of people in China, but they can’t seem to get many of them to come to a single race.

There aren’t billions in Malaysia, but attendance doesn’t seem to match the number of seats at the Sepang Circuit, because I can make out the painted design patterns on the grandstands.

And I’m able to do this while watching the race on an old tube TV, a dozen time zones away!

My gripe doesn’t just stop with the loss of historic venues. I cannot understand why these new, so-called state-of-the-art facilities can’t take some inspiration from some of their older, cooler siblings.

Another Eau-Rouge would be grand, and I would love it if someone were to actually copy Monza. If they really wanted to give a nod to Formula 1’s heritage, then they would find a way to replicate the old banking, whilst satisfying the FIA’s safety regulations.

Personally, if I had one chance to speak with the track designers in India, Russia or the U.S., I’d tell them to replicate Hockenheim. Not the neutered version that came about a couple of years back, but the balls-to-the wall original that separated the men from the boys, and the racers from the drivers.

Many of these new tracks seem to be cut from the same cloth—take one long front-stretch, put a grandioso grandstand on one side, a state-of-the-art garage on the other, model the buildings after indigenous architecture, and then connect both ends of the front-stretch with a number of technical twists around the cheap seats.

Or, you can build a street circuit next to a harbor. 

Despite all these changes, Eccelstone’s plan seems to have dropped a bit of irony on the doorstep of the Australian Grand Prix.

Melbourne has been a welcome replacement to Adelaide. It’s a temporary track that’s notorious for mayhem. I’d like to think that along with Monaco, Valencia and Singapore, this is one of the few tracks where the safety car driver actually earns his pay.

Despite its reputation for excitement, Eccelstone had been threatening to yank the race if the Aussies did not agree to push the start time back to the evening—or even the night—so the races could run at a more TV-friendly afternoon time in Europe.

Here’s an idea—why not add some European venues? This would solve the television time-zone issue. 

I hear they have a new track in Portugal.

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