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Thoughts on the 2017 Formula 1 calendar - Expansion to 25 races in long term vision?

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Thoughts on the 2017 Formula 1 calendar - Expansion to 25 races in long term vision?
Sep 29, 2016, 5:24 AM

The new calendar for next season's F1 World Championship was published on Wednesday night, following the FIA World Council meeting.

The new calendar for next season's F1 World Championship was published on Wednesday night, following the FIA World Council meeting. There are no new venues.

The calendar contains 21 Grands Prix, like this year, but there are some questions marks.

The first concerns Canada, where issues around infrastructure and investment have bubbled under for several years. There has been a plan to build a new pits and paddock complex on the exit of the hairpin, moving it away from the lake, which places constraints on the paddock size.

This year's presentation of Heineken as a new global partner took place in a large draughty tent, highlighting the need for the venue to professionalise.

2017 Formula 1 Calendar - Click to enlarge

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-11-47-42

The second is the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. A 2017 Grand Prix is not part of the venue's contract with Formula One Management. They are scheduled to host every other season, shared with Nurburgring, which has now dropped out of its obligation.

So for 2017, Hockenheim has been provisionally scheduled but will require a different model to make it happen. The promoter is on the limit with the financial numbers of the event given the drop in interest in F1 in Germany and a small loss is predicted each event.

Hockenheim F1

To host a 2017 race which they are not contractually obliged to host, the model is likely to be based on a circuit lease arrangement to Bernie Ecclestone and FOM, for a fee, with Ecclestone taking on the role of promoter of the event; taking the risk but also collecting all of the upside.

With Max Verstappen's large and mobile fan base growing by the day and Hockenheim a short drive from Holland, there can be reasonable confidence that tens of thousands of tickets will be sold to that cohort.

This will be especially true if the Red Bull is as competitive next season as many in the F1 paddock are predicting, making Verstappen a contender at every race. By early 2017 Liberty Media should have completed its takeover of F1 and they will have a say on the viability of the German GP. Given their comments on the importance of events in Europe, its likely that they will feel the event should be supported with an eye to the long term.

The final question mark is Brazil. The fact that the event has been given only provisional status has raised the hackles of the promoter as they learned of this doubt about their event when the calendar was published,

"The Brazilian Grand Prix Organization, took notice, with surprise, of the 2017 F1 WC Calendar which shows the race TBC (to be confirmed)," said a statement overnight.

"There is a contract in place until 2020 every provision of which will be complied with as it has been for the past 45 years."

Sources in Brazil say the dispute is a financial one, relating to the role of the TV rights holder in Brazil, TV Globo, which had underwritten the event. The hosting fee is around US$24 million a year and Globo's reduction of support is a concern; this is a particularly difficult moment for the Brazilian economy especially after the huge spend on the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Baku F1

One other area of controversy is the repeat of the clash between the European Grand Prix in Baku and Le Mans 24 Hours. The date of Le Mans is supposed to be sacrosanct in the FIA calendars, but it clashed in 2016 and is scheduled to do so again on June 17/18 nest year.

In many ways Baku came off worst in the clash last year, with only 65 accredited FIA permanent media attending the event, which was a disappointment to the promoters. Le Mans meanwhile staged another classic event with a nail-biting finish. The clash is certainly regrettable on both sides and doesn't reflect well on motorsport.

Behind the scenes reflections and the future under Liberty Media

The calendar is also the first since the announcement of Liberty Media's takeover of Formula 1, which is only partially completed at the time of writing. Liberty has taken a minority stake, with a full takeover due to be completed in the first quarter of 2017.

Former Fox executive Chase Carey has taken up his post as Chairman of F1 and the company is working behind the scenes to set out its strategy for growing and developing the sport of Formula 1, which will include developing the calendar.

Chase Carey

There is plenty of evidence that a different approach helping promoters to de-risk the hosting of events in return for sharing the upside will be on the promoters' agenda and is the key to long term sustainability and growth. Part of that strategy should be the reduction of ticket prices to fans and rewards for loyalty; the idea being to engage the large contingent of fans that are well disposed towards the sport, but who feel priced out currently.

In tandem with a repackaging of the sporting product, more impressive cars and more spectacle, there is substantial scope for growth.

What we know already is that Liberty believes strongly that F1's European heartland needs to be maintained, which is good news for classic venues like Spa, Monaco, Silverstone and Monza, three of which face constant financial struggle to maintain the event. The extent to which Liberty is willing to be flexible and work with the local promoters will be one of the first key indicators of what kind of regime they will run.

Austin F1

They are in the business to make money, but perhaps as a media company with a long term vision they will be more inclined to work with promoters and share the upside, rather than squeeze them constantly for hosting fees as has happened in the last 10 years under CVC ownership.

Liberty CEO Greg Maffei spoke to investors last week at on the subject of the calendar said two significant things; first that he sees room for upward expansion in the calendar, but a focus on sustainable events. From that we can intuit that an increase of up to 25 races may be on their agenda. The other was that the development of the sport in the USA is a high priority as they feel there is strong growth potential there. Maffei cited Miami and Las Vegas as two locations Liberty would like to target as race hosting venues.

Other points of note from World Council

The WMSC also approved changes to the sporting regulations whereby drivers who need to take an additional engine will not be able to stockpile engines, as Lewis Hamilton did in Spa. Only the last engine taken will be usable again after the penalty is taken and the car moved to the back of the grid. Also to avoid a repeat of the unhappiness over the British Grand Prix starting after many laps under a Safety Car, the decision has been taken to have a standing start for wet races, once the track is considered safe to race on.

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