Liberty, the new owners of F1, have demonstrated that they mean business by announcing the 2018 GP race schedule earlier than ever before, giving teams and event organisers plenty of time to plan and promote the 21-race World Championship for 2018.
The F1 paddock will need that time once the returning French Grand Prix kick-starts. This packed period will see five races in six weeks before the summer break, including the return of the German GP at Hockenheim, which has suffered from a lack of funding and dropped off the calendar two years ago.
Liberty had said it wanted to bring F1 back to its European roots, before acquiring the sport from CVC and Bernie Ecclestone last year, but it will be an exhausting schedule for the teams and drivers as they rush from Paul Ricard in the south of France to Spielberg in Austria; Silverstone in the UK; then Hockenheim in Germany and Budapest in Hungary – all squeezed into a hectic six-week period!
Liberty has set its sights on adding even more races in years to come, but if that happens Fernando Alonso reckons it will be too much for the drivers and team to cope with: “We already have little private time with all the races, events, testing and appearances”. Jenson Button has also joined the conversation, saying: “Three back-to-back races….I feel is too much for Formula 1”.
Quite apart from the drivers, the crews will be exhausted and that’s when it gets dangerous. Fatigue is an issue in every workplace but F1 pit crews making mistakes could have serious repercussions on track. Alternating crews is one option which has been muted; it comes at a serious cost that only the wealthiest teams could afford to do.
Chase Carey, CEO of Formula 1 Group, has already hinted that “a 25-race calendar may not be too far away…” – and there have been rumours regarding a returning Turkish GP, as well as potential races in New York and Las Vegas.
While the additional races will undoubtedly present a challenge for the teams and drivers, brands and sponsors associated with the sport will be monitoring developments with a keen eye. Formula 1 continues to attract huge spectator numbers, including 400 million unique television viewers around the globe each year. It offers a fantastic opportunity for brands to engage with customers – both in existing and new markets. The addition of more races, in new locations, will certainly appeal to brands looking to expand their global reach.
Plenty of food for safe thought there. On the subject of safety, the controversial introduction of the new Halo system has caused a major ruckus, with FOM seemingly censoring the reaction to the new safety system, only presenting glowing reports and reactions from a handful of drivers. But the fact that no one seems to have given any thought to extracting a driver, with the Halo still intact, is an area that needs to be confronted. Alonso, Australia, 2016 springs to mind.
The need for 2018 safety devices stems from Jules Bianchi’s tragic accident at Suzuka in 2014. Without a doubt something needs to be done - as the sport progresses, safety needs to follow suit.
However, is the Halo the best fit at this time? The FIA have released a statement outlining the justification around the device, stating: “... the Halo was able to withstand 15x the static load of the full mass of the car and was able to significantly reduce the potential for injuries, the Halo was able to prevent helmet contact with a wall or a barrier in many cases. Finally, in the case of external objects the Halo was found to successfully deflect large objects away from the cockpit environment and also demonstrated an increased net level of protection against small debris.”
These facts cannot be argued with and present a proactive approach from the FIA. Other options, with input directly from the GPDA, need to be considered, possibly yielding a greater and safer result pleasing both sides of the pit wall.
Interesting times ahead…!
Article by Tony Jardine
Tony Jardine has combined a long career in sports management and communications.
He has continued his media work running alongside the successful management of communications company hps Jardine. TJ has worked for the BBC, ITV, Sky Sports and currently BeIN Sports on F1.
His experience in automotive and motor sport is primary but his love of competition driving has given him a list of ticked events completed from the Monte Carlo Rally to winning at the Goodwood Revival.
A keen race and rally driver, he owns a small collection of favourite cars that includes a classic 1965 Mini Cooper S.