Just weeks into a new season, talk of the next campaign has already begun in earnest – such is the pace of life in the fast lane. While provisional calenders in recent years have been largely a story of continuity as oppose to redesign, 2016 is a very different affair. With the Australian Grand Prix organisers confirming an April 3rd curtain-raiser, the season is set to be “compressed” and will feature several back-to-back rounds. However, not since 1988 has the season launched in April and many analysts are harboring concerns as to whether the anticipated 21-race schedule will be as stacked come confirmation in December.
Fundamentally, it appears to be a case of false economy – more races, crammed into a tighter schedule seems like madness, but such an occurrence would answer many of the criticisms currently being aimed at the sport. A season spread from April to November means that painfully long periods between events, such as the three week bridge between Bahrain and Spain this season, can be avoided and therefore, momentum can be carried from one round to the next much easier.
For the casual fan, or the channel-hopper, (who should be considered as the critical market), avoiding prolonged spells where the sport is out of the spotlight is essential. Consider this – had it not been for Mick Schumacher’s heroics in his debut weekend in the European F4 Series, or Lewis Hamilton’s rather sizable earnings, F1 has been out of the news entirely since the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend.
This is what happens in a three week absence. The summer break, where the sport has typically taken a four week hiatus, is even less casual-fan-friendly. This is an era when F1 has to compete with a smorgasbord of rival sports and despite only being 18 years old, I have seen a substantial change in the sheer quantity of motorsport on television in my lifetime. F1, BTCC and MotoGP was the entire motorsport package available to terrestrial television viewers, (particularly young readers who are not aware of the fundamental five channels of yesteryear should ask your parents for more information).
Now, with satellite television providing such a vast amount of options, F1 has to compete with WTCC, V8 Supercars, NASCAR, IndyCar and WEC – that is if we exclude the junior single seater categories and two-wheel entertainment from the list. Add to this the draw of Premier League football and the scale of the challenge which Formula 1 finds itself up against becomes apparent.
In my opinion, a compressed calender will work for the majority of fans. However, would a 21 race calender spread over a small time period work for the competitors?
Early forecasts suggest yes. For back-to-back events, the team’s send their cars from one location to the next without heading back to base, meaning that with more of these fan-friendly double headers, the team’s will spend less on logistics. According to Autosport’s predicted 2016 calender, Singapore and Malaysia could appear as back-to-back races – a poignant exemplification of how a compressed calender with a more efficient global pathway could be cheaper.
This morning, Tom Clarkson tweeted; “2016 season-opener on April 3rd? Surely Bernie meant April 1st… Same start date as 1988, but only 16 races back then #negotiation”. This tweet from BBC’s pit-lane dweller, ultimately sums up the concerns regarding the Australian GP’s confirmed date. Is it indeed possible to host a stacked calender, (21 races would make 2016 the biggest in F1 history), and shorten the length of the season at the same time?
It is a question which will remain unanswered for some time to come.
Image Credit: "Australian Grand Prix 2012" By brassynn via Flickr [CC-BY-NC-2.0]