August 11, 2022

Oith Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix, the last air show of the spring, Formula 1 is about to enter its European stage proper. But the very popularity of the sport may now jeopardize some of those classic races in what was once considered the heartland of F1.

Following the money as always, F1 signs more expensive and longer deals with the circuits. But given that there are a finite number of slots available on the schedule, something has to give.

Last week, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali traveled to meet the organizers of a planned South African Grand Prix at the Kyalami circuit. No official word has been said, but South Africa is clearly expected to be added to the calendar in 2023. It will be a welcome return as F1 has not held a meeting in Africa since Kyalami hosted its last GP in 1993 and with riders. including Lewis Hamilton expressing his firm belief that sport should be present in Africa.

On Thursday, F1 announced it had signed a new contract for the Australian GP to be held in Melbourne until 2035, a 10-year extension of its current contract until 2025. It is the second longest contract after F1’s recent deal with Bahrain which runs until 2036 and is indicative of the kind of business F1 is entering into.

A contract with Saudi Arabia is worth £50m per meeting for over a decade. Qatar will start his 10-year deal next season, having paid a similar sum. At the end of last year, Abu Dhabi renewed his contract until the end of the decade, while Miami’s debut this year was the first of a 10-year contract.

The surge in interest in F1 is a welcome welcome from owners of the sport, but it comes at a cost. The maximum number of meetings that can take place under the commercial agreement with the teams is 25 and next year is already shaping up to exceed it. With 22 races this season – and Las Vegas, Qatar, South Africa and a return for China, Covid regulations permitting, all scheduled for next year – at least one race needs to be contested. It is clear that F1 will not consider giving up these big long-term contracts.

Monaco, France and now even the Belgian GP at Spa are vulnerable. The rotation of races – a circuit hosting a grand prix every two years – will be employed.

The Belgian GP, ​​which has contested 66 years of the F1 world championship since its debut in 1950, may now have to accept that it cannot compete with the financial demands of the sport. There are also concerns about Spa’s facilities and infrastructure, as demonstrated last year when heavy rain that destroyed the race left fans stranded with their cars stuck in the muddy fields surrounding the circuit.

Heavy rain is causing big problems for teams and spectators at the Belgian Grand Prix in 2021. Photograph: John Thys/Reuters

Monaco have been optimistic he will remain a permanent feature of the calendar, but even this race cannot regard his position as sacrosanct. Since F1 owner Liberty Media has expanded the sport, particularly in North America, Monaco’s place as a glamorous venue that sells the sport is no longer of great importance and talks with the organizers continue, far from the preferential treatment of the race. received under the Bernie Ecclestone regime.

Conversely, the French GP at Paul Ricard is thought to be open to becoming a biennial event and it is understood Spa and France are in contention to be dropped next year. That they can become rotating meetings is indicative of the clear ambition of this burgeoning sport.

Only a year ago some team bosses expressed a desire to peg the season at 20 races, fearing for their staff’s record, especially with a relentless string of double and triple headers. After Canada, 13 races remain and all are double or triple headers.

There were also concerns that the sheer volume of races diluting their impact and value. High profile figures have expressed concern that it is difficult to sell such a special Grand Prix when it arrives in droves and quickly.

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Last year McLaren CEO Zak Brown argued for a 15-race core, with another 10 rotations in and out of the calendar; five one year, five the next, in a 20-race season. His plan seems hopelessly out of step with what F1 is aiming for. While Domenicali has argued for 23 races to be the optimum, indications of what’s next year are that F1 is heading towards a 24 or 25 race season.

Race hosting fees are one of the top three sources of revenue, along with TV rights and marketing, and with the global economy in a precarious position, locked-in fees are a stable source of revenue that sport wants to adopt. Many European venues may well retain their place on the calendar, but only as part of what will turn into a huge and grueling season.