Is F1's 23-race calendar too much and too ambitious?

Formula 1 unveiled its record-breaking 23-race calendar for the 2021 season on Tuesday, marking the most ambitious and lucrative schedule ever proposed in the series' history.

Is F1's 23-race calendar too much and too ambitious?

F1 is not straying from its push to expand the schedule and take the series to new territories despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced more than half of the planned events for 2020 to be cancelled.

As popular as this year's makeshift calendar has proven, reviving old favourites such as Imola and visiting new venues like Portimao and Mugello, a more "normal" calendar was always planned for 2021, the first draft of which was handed to teams last month.

Read Also:

Featuring 23 races - one TBC after Vietnam was scrapped - two triple-headers and ending in early December, the proposed calendar for 2021 is certainly the most ambitious F1 has ever unveiled.

More races naturally means more revenue from hosting fees, which results in bigger prize-money payouts to teams.

Despite the obvious upsides, will 23 races prove too much for the F1 paddock, and is it realistic?

The addition of another race to the schedule is hardly a surprise. Liberty Media has always had a target of around 25 races per season in mind as part of its plans to expand F1, despite the natural concerns of how it will stretch personnel in teams.

The drivers have always been sympathetic to the stresses more races place on their teams and crew, as exciting as the prospect of racing more may be.

"As a race driver, you want to race as much as you can," said Williams's George Russell. "But ultimately, I know the strain this puts on the engineers and mechanics. We have the luxury sometimes to go back between races, and these guys are often away from their families for three weeks at a time which is just not sustainable.

"If the calendar is going to increase, definitely smaller teams need more help - two lots of teams to be able to spread it out across the course of the season.

"I want to race as much as possible, but it needs to be sensible, and there needs to be a good compromise for the people working because at the end of the day, they have their own lives and their families."

Max Verstappen felt the true strain of adding more races to the schedule was something those making the decisions were perhaps not so aware of: "In the end, the mechanics are the ones who are going to suffer a bit, while the big bosses in Formula 1 arrive later and leave earlier, so of course there it doesn't really change much."

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16, on the grid

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16, on the grid

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

The idea of rotating personnel and crews is something teams have long discussed as the number of races has crept higher and higher. Acting Williams team principal Simon Roberts said it was on the cards already for 2021, ensuring staff do not attend every single grands prix.

"It's something we've been looking at for a few months now," Roberts said. "We plan on be able to create some rotation for people. Being away for 22 or 23 events a year is very, very tiring, and drains energy out the whole team.

"Luckily back at the factory, we've got enough people with experience, and with the current COVID situation we're having to have them on standby anyway. Next year we will basically be rationing out the races for everybody."

Even team bosses are appreciative of the pressures attending every race can bring. Mercedes chief Toto Wolff has spoken openly about the "toll" he has faced during his time at the helm of the championship-winning team, with a cutback in on-site presence being part of his current considerations about his future.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto revealed that he is considering missing some races as early as this year, partly to prepare for more rotation in the future.

"You need to balance your tasks at the race track and at the factory," he said. "For myself, I think I will not be at all the races. Even in 2020, I am considering skipping some of the races in the last part of the season starting from Turkey, but that is more of an eventuality for next year.

"Increasing the number of races there is a judgement that needs to be done to take care where you can on some engineers and technicians to eventually find a balance."

It is not only the number of races that creates a challenge for teams, but also their regularity. F1's first attempt at a triple-header in 2018 - spread across France, Austria and Great Britain - was widely met with disapproval and agreement never to run it due to the pressures it created. 2020's calendar featured four triple-headers out of necessity to get a season completed, but team bosses had warned it could not become the norm.

Alas, the 2021 schedule features two triple-headers, separated by just one week. Spa, Zandvoort and Monza are bunched together in late August/early September, and is followed by a run of Russia, Singapore and Japan. Six races in seven weeks is a big ask - but some are optimistic it will be workable, thanks to some staff rotation and after coping through 2020.

"I'm not overly concerned, honestly," said Renault sporting director Alan Permane. "I think we're going to do four triple-headers this year, if my maths are right, and we've coped well with it. So no, I don't have any big worries.

"The way we organise our travelling staff and their time off and how we rebuild between races works pretty well for us. I'll be very happy to get back to some normality and if we do 23 races, then great."

Alan Permane, Sporting Director, Renault Sport F1 Team, in a Press Conference

Alan Permane, Sporting Director, Renault Sport F1 Team, in a Press Conference

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Permane's use of "if" is accurate, as even if 23 races are announced for 2021, the likelihood of the complete calendar remains in doubt due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As lockdowns return across the world and infection rates increase, countries may become uneasy about committing to staging major international events. Restrictions on entering and exiting countries will also be something that could bear on the viability of events, particularly in the early part of next season.

But F1 has proven its testing protocols do work, giving the FIA confidence that it could race anywhere safely. And although teams were not informed of any back-up events on next year's calendar, the way in which this year's schedule was salvaged with stand-in circuits proves any gaps that may emerge could be filled. The high level of demand from tracks mean there are few concerns the gap left by Vietnam won't be filled by another track.

The collapse of the Vietnam race is a big blow to F1, given it would have been the first new event brought in under Liberty Media that met its 'destination city' model. But the grand prix is understood to have been blighted with difficulties throughout its planning, and its omission from the calendar is due to the ongoing political issues in Vietnam. The chairman of the Hanoi People's Committee, Nguyen Duc Chung, was arrested in August over corruption charges. He was the former mayor of Hanoi and a major supporter of the grand prix.

One of the biggest question marks on next year's schedule appeared to surround the Brazilian Grand Prix, given the plans to move to Rio de Janeiro. But news emerged last night that the race would be staying at Interlagos due to the tricky time constraints facing the Rio project, which still has not received the required government approvals. Interlagos will, however, race with a new promoter in charge after the existing freebie deal handed out by Bernie Ecclestone expired in 2020.

A 23-race calendar for 2021 is highly ambitious, but as F1 looks to recover from the impact the pandemic and brace for any aftershocks, shooting high is a wise tactic even if it ends up falling a little short.

Quite what the human cost will be on the men and women plying their trade in the paddock is something we will only find out once next season is over - by which point, a figure of 23 races may have already been surpassed in future plans.


Related video

Australian GP working towards fan attendance for 2021
Previous article

Australian GP working towards fan attendance for 2021

Next article

The awesome circuits F1 drivers want on the calendar

The awesome circuits F1 drivers want on the calendar
Load comments
How getting sacked from Benetton made Mercedes' Allison Prime

How getting sacked from Benetton made Mercedes' Allison

He’s had a hand in world championship-winning Formula 1 cars for Benetton, Renault and Mercedes, and was also a cog in the Schumacher-Ferrari axis. Having recently ‘moved upstairs’ as Mercedes chief technical officer, James Allison tells Stuart Codling about his career path and why being axed by Benetton was one of the best things that ever happened to him.

Formula 1
Nov 28, 2021
The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback Prime

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback

It’s easy to look at Robert Kubica’s second Formula 1 career and feel a sense of sadness that he didn’t reach the heights for which he seemed destined. But as Ben Anderson discovered, performance and results are almost meaningless in this context – something more fundamental and incredible happened…

Formula 1
Nov 27, 2021
The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver for McLaren Prime

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver for McLaren

From being lapped by his own teammate in Monaco to winning at Monza, it’s been a tumultuous first season at McLaren for Daniel Ricciardo. But, as he tells STUART CODLING, there’s more to the story of his turnaround than having a lovely summer holiday during Formula 1's summer break...

Formula 1
Nov 26, 2021
The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title Prime

The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title

As the battle continues to rage over the F1 2021 drivers' championship, teams up and down the grid are turning their attentions to the prize money attributed to each position in the constructors' standings. But F1's sliding scale rules governing wind tunnel and CFD use will soften the blow for those who miss out on the top places

Formula 1
Nov 25, 2021
The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher Prime

The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher

After winning his past few Formula 1 titles as a canter, Lewis Hamilton currently trails Max Verstappen by eight points heading into the final double-header of 2021. Although Red Bull has been his biggest on-track challenge, Hamilton feels that he has just as much to grapple with away from the circuit

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2021
Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay Prime

Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay

OPINION: Quibbles over the length of time taken by Formula 1's stewards over decisions are entirely valid. But however inconvenient it is, there can be no questioning the importance of having clearly defined rules that everyone understands and can stick to. Recent events have shown that ambiguity could have big consequences

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021's title fight climax Prime

The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021's title fight climax

OPINION: Red Bull has had Formula 1’s fastest package for most of 2021, but in several of the title run-in events it has wasted the RB16B’s potential. It cannot afford to do so again with Lewis Hamilton motoring back towards Max Verstappen in the drivers’ standings with two rounds remaining

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
Qatar Grand Prix driver ratings Prime

Qatar Grand Prix driver ratings

Qatar was a virtual unknown for most as Formula 1 made its inaugural visit to the Gulf state, and tyre management quickly emerged as an even more critical factor than normal. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that two of the championship's elder statesmen produced standout drives

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2021