Bernie Ecclestone has said that he feels 21 Grands Prix in a season is probably the limit, as F1 teams are ‘shattered’ but has also hinted that it could fall to 20 next year if the Italian Grand Prix drops from the calendar.
This year’s schedule of 21 races is the longest in the sport’s history, but several promoters are struggling to balance the books as the revenue from tickets sales does not cover the high annual sanctioning fees and other costs. Sources in Germany suggest that the race at Hockenheim this year is likely to lose around €4-5m, while the alternate venue Nurburgring had to pull out last year leaving no German GP.
In contrast the new Mexican Grand Prix last year was a massive success financially and other venues like Singapore make money.
One source who sits on the F1 Commission said that he was aware of five race promoters that are concerned with long term viability.
The F1 calendar featured 16 or 17 races for many years, but since CVC took over the ownership of the sport a major part of their growth strategy has been to increase the revenue from sanctioning fees, pushing Ecclestone to sell to more new venues for high fees. Hosting fees in excess of $700m a year, account for over a third of F1’s revenues, with media rights sales the other major earner as well as global partner sponsorships.
Many fans have said on these pages that an extended calendar of 21 races makes the F1 season hard to follow and that for non-diehards, once they miss a few races, they lose the thread of the season and then watch fewer races. This is a common story. Combined with the increasing movement of the sport’s TV coverage behind a paywall, this has contributed to the decline in audience numbers, that in turn feeds the problem for race promoters of selling tickets.
The wrangling over Monza has gone on for months and despite the two main players the ACI (Automobile Club of Italy) and the Milan Automobile club finding much of the funding, it is a third body the SIAS, which manages the Monza circuit,
that appears to be the stumbling block.
“We have got 21 races now. It could go more, but I don’t think it will. It’s enough. Some of the guys at the teams are shattered,” Ecclestone to the Mail on Sunday.
“Monza has got a contract for this year so it is going to go ahead. Next year is the question mark. I don’t think we have to have an Italian Grand Prix. Somebody once told me a funny thing that you couldn’t have Formula 1 without a race in France. But we do.”
Ecclstone made some more positive noises last week in Gazzetta dello Sport, so it is interesting that these pronouncements in the UK media run in the opposite direction.
Ferrari has so far kept relatively quiet about the situation at Monza, but the idea of an F1 calendar not featuring an Italian Grand Prix, the home event of F1’s most celebrated team and its passionate fans the tifosi is as close to unimaginable as anything in this sport. It would be a major own goal for the sport’s owners, CVC, whom Ecclestone describes in the same article as having an $8.5 billion offer to sell under consideration.
They pulled back from a similar mistake when the British Grand Prix was under threat a few years ago, signing a long term deal with the Silverstone circuit, albeit one that continues to challenge the circuits owners the BRDC. The members are to vote shortly on a new partnership within automotive OEM that aimed at securing the circuit’s financial future.
What do you think? Do you struggle to follow a season with over 20 races? What is the ideal number? Leave your comment below