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Debate: Would shorter races work for F1 and what's going on with race venues pulling out?

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Debate: Would shorter races work for F1 and what's going on with race venues pulling out?
Nov 21, 2016, 5:23 PM

F1 commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone has dropped one of his occasional 'bombshell' interviews into the media in the last few days, suggesting th...

F1 commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone has dropped one of his occasional 'bombshell' interviews into the media in the last few days, suggesting that Ferrari and Mercedes may quit F1 and that Singapore, arguably the most important race on the calendar, may soon drop off.

He also suggested that the traditional 300 kilometre single Grand Prix race format could be changed, with two shorter races replacing one long one, for the benefit of the younger viewers, whose attention span is short.

We'll leave the more apocalyptic lines for another time, but focussing on the venues under threat and the length of the races, there are some interesting things to say.

Singapore GP

Race Venues

When CVC took over the ownership of F1 ten years ago, they were impressed with the revenue from TV and media rights, but identified two main growth areas: global sponsor partnerships and race hosting fees. The sport has duly increased its turnover from these two areas to the point where race hosting now accounts for around a third of the F1 revenues at around $600m a year. As we know, CVC has no great love for the sport and set the targets for growth in order to increase the amount of money it could take out of the sport.

The problem with this strategy - without a parallel investment in making sure F1 is the very best it can be in all areas and therefore attractive to the greatest numbers of fans - is that for some of the venues, especially the non-government funded ones, the business model has become increasingly difficult to sustain. Silverstone, Hockenheim, Monza are all on the limit of what is affordable and there are serious question marks about all three, as well as a few government supported races such Baku, Brazil and Malaysia.

Only today a tourism minister in Malaysia has suggested that they will not renew the contract with F1 when it expires in 2018.

Silverstone made a loss on the Grand Prix despite over 130,000 fans on race day and over 300,000 over the weekend.

Sebastian Vettel Fernando Alonso British GP 2014

The race hosting fee for promoters is the main problem and the loud message from some at the moment, as new F1 chairman Chase Carey is settling into his new role and Liberty Media carries out preparations for its expected full takeover at the start of 2017 up from its current 18% stake, is that the sport is in a crisis.

If Liberty is a long term investor, as many hope, then the question of race hosting fees will be one of the first items on the agenda. The sport needs a sensible calendar, with ideally a slight reshaping of emphasis towards the USA and races on the US time zone, as well as maintaining a strong presence for growth in Asia, where car ownership and licensing is still on the rise.

The balance of traditional venues with great history in Europe and Asia is also required alongside a push into new markets. Clearly there is some positioning going on with promoters at the moment as everyone jostles around in anticipation of the change of ownership - and Malaysia's interjection today is part of that.

But Ecclestone has since clarified comments he made in Auto Motor und Sport at the weekend about losing Singapore. He has said that he wants the race to continue and that negotiations are ongoing.

Perhaps it was too strong to say that this race was finished at this point.

Austin F1 2016

Does F1 need shorter races?

Flavio Briatore had many strong views about where F1 was going wrong, even 25 years ago. At that time he said the races should be two 45 minute sprints, like a football match, with a commercial break in between.

Ecclestone floated the idea again in the Auto Motor und Sport interview, but there isn't much of an appetite for that among teams. And presumably the FIA - whose job is to regulate the sport and whose old president Jean Marie Balestre was famously pernickety about respecting the distance of the race - would have something to say about changing one of the fundamentals.

F1 racing

However there is another idea at large which is potentially attractive, which is to have a 'Points Race' on a Saturday late afternoon, after qualifying earlier on Saturday.

This plan would feature a short sprint race of around 30 minutes, with the grid for the Grand Prix reversed. The winner and top ten would collect a small amount of points, from 10 down to one - so that the Grand Prix on Sunday was still the pre-eminent event and the sanctity of the Grand Prix was unaffected.

It would give smaller teams and emerging drivers a chance to shine occasionally.

It would also give the drivers more chances to race, which they would love and overtaking would be the name of the game.

It would give fans a different kind of race and another opportunity to engage in a competitive session. It would generate social media-friendly highlights. And above all it would give promoters better value for money and hand broadcasters another 20 hours of exciting live racing and FOM something else to sell.

At present, as Sky's Martin Turner observed at the recent FORMULATE conference in London, broadcasters have just 40 hours of race action per season, as well as practice sessions.

And as for mileage on engines, five engines for the season would be more than enough to cope with the added demands.

What do you think? Leave your comments in the section below.

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