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F1’s calendar expansion puts the squeeze on classic races

F1’s calendar expansion puts the squeeze on classic races

FORMULA ONE: With a growing list of sold-out races F1 has never been more popular, but a growing calendar of grands prix threatens to hurt the sport in its traditional heartland.

By Michael Lamonato

Friday 22 April 2022, 09:30AM

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc salutes the crowd at the Australian GP in Melbourne on Apr 9. Photo: AFP

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc salutes the crowd at the Australian GP in Melbourne on Apr 9. Photo: AFP

There’s no doubt Formula 1 is enjoying a global boom in 2022. A heady combination of a locked-down world desperate for live events after two years of pandemic, the Netflix smash hit Drive to Survive and the nailbiting 2021 championship campaign decided on the last lap of the last race has proved intoxicating.

The skyrocketing crowd numbers bear out the bout of F1 mania. The sold-out Australian Grand Prix was the best attended weekend in almost 30 years and one of the most popular events in the sport’s history. Tickets for this weekend’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix at the historic Imola circuit have also been exhausted.

The next race, a debut event in Miami, sold its 80,000 seats in less than 40 minutes despite the cheapest tickets costing around US$649 (B21,000).

The British Grand Prix in July has reported the fastest sell-out in its history, and even Singapore, not until October, has already sold all its weekend grandstand tickets.

F1 reportedly expects every seat to be filled for the rest of the season - no mean feat with 20 grands prix still to run.

And the number of races to sell out is set to only grow, with F1 meeting the burgeoning interest with aggressive expansion plans to ramp up the number of races in the championship.

Shortly before last week’s Australian Grand Prix the sport made a stop in Las Vegas to announce a three-year deal to race along the famous Strip for three years from 2023, expanding the sport’s US footprint to three races and its presence in the Americas to six events. A fourth race in the US, in New York, is rumoured for the middle of the decade, as is a second race in China.

Since Liberty Media took ownership of the sport in 2017 it’s signed up new events in Miami and Las Vegas in the United States and Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the Middle East, while a new race in Vietnam was slated to debut in 2020 but collapsed during the pandemic.

Events at Zandvoort in the Netherlands and at Imola in Italy have also been revived, and Kyalami in South Africa is firming for a return to put F1 on every inhabited continent.

But the with calendar capped at 24 races under the current commercial agreements and the calendar already at a frenetic 23 events, F1 must find space for the glut of new grands prix, and it’s escaped no-one’s attention that the races out of contract are all deep in F1 heartland.

Along with Mexico and France, the heritage Belgian and Monaco grands prix are all up for renewal for 2023, and the sport hasn’t been afraid to turn the blowtorch on the previous untouchable events.

“The arrival of offers from new promoters has an advantage for the F1 platform, and that is to force the organisers of traditional grands prix to raise their level of quality in terms of what they offer the public and infrastructure and management of the event,” F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said earlier in the year, per Motorsport Italy.

“It’s not enough to have a pedigree anymore. You also have to demonstrate that you are keeping up,” he added.

Monaco organisers have told local media they expect a new deal to be agreed imminently, but the previously fee-free and permanent race is talking only in terms of three to five years. It’s also lost its unique Thursday practice day as the sport exercises its burnished influence.

Belgium, historically one of the lesser funded European events, will be the next to state its case, while France, having failed to capture the imagination since its 2018 return, is at serious risk of being dropped next season.

Clear is that the slack will come from Europe. With the Middle Eastern races all on very long and very lucrative contracts and with the sport’s expansion plans centred on the US, it’s the 10-race European leg that will be downsized by either rotating among themselves or being axed altogether.

The debate between money, heritage and expansion will only become inflamed as the difficult decisions are made, but whether it’ll be enough to derail the runaway train of F1 interest remains to be seen.

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