As the F1 calendar gets shuffled, and countries jostle for position, Joe laments the fact that India has well and truly been forgotten.
It won’t be long before we see the 2019 Formula 1 calendar, with the first draft usually going before the FIA World Motorsport Council in June – and the first leaks appearing sometime before that.
There are currently three races which are out of contract after this year – Germany, Belgium and Japan. Belgium has always been a race with problems, but the rise of Max Verstappen has meant that there are no longer difficulties in selling tickets – as the ‘Orange Army’ streams across the border in huge numbers and fills the hills around Spa. The Belgians don’t get quite as excited about Stoffel Vandoorne, but his presence doesn’t hurt either.
There are no worries really with the Japanese Grand Prix. The track is owned by Honda and they’re looking okay these days. There’s a very good chance that we’ll soon see a deal reached between Red Bull and Honda for 2019 and 2020, as there’s little to lose and plenty to gain!
There may be a push from Liberty Media to get the Japanese to agree to a date in the spring because they continue to push for a more regionalized schedule, so that logistics become more sensible and thus more races can be slotted in. The current thinking remains not to grow the business beyond 20 or 21 events in the short term, although the potential exists to increase to 25 under the terms of the existing commercial arrangement with the FIA. That may happen in the longer term, but for the moment Liberty is more focussed on reaching a new commercial deal with the teams for 2021 and beyond.
The future of the German GP, on the other hand, looks very bleak – although Liberty does wants a German event if it’s possible to find a deal. It’s an odd situation given that a German company (Mercedes) is the top constructor at the moment and Ferrari’s lead driver Sebastian Vettel is German. The problem is that Vettel doesn’t seem to excite the German fans in the way that Michael Schumacher did.
There are four contracts that need to be renegotiated after 2019 – Italy, Spain, Mexico and Britain. There are problems with some of these, largely related to the fees being demanded and whether or not the promoters can get government backing, but I hear that Liberty is discussing a profit-sharing deal with Miami and may be willing to do similar deals with other promoters. With Bernie Ecclestone, it was all money-up-front – today, however, things are a little more flexible.
In order to revamp the calendar in any significant way there need to be changes to the current contracts – for instance, Abu Dhabi’s right to host the last race (which runs until 2021 at least), Australia’s deal to be the first race (until 2023) and Canada’s deal that ensures the race remains in the first two weeks of June (in place till 2029, with an option to continue till 2034).
This means that regionalizing the championship into three seasonal time zones (Spring - Asia, Summer - Europe and Autumn – the Americas) is a long-term aspiration, but one that won’t be easy to achieve in the short- and even the mid-term.
There have been plenty of rumours about the future of Baku, but there’s a deal in place until 2025 and the President of Azerbaijan seems to be keen on the race – and, of course, he’s in a position of power that will allow the race to stay on the F1 calendar until the contract expires. Baku is understood to have a break clause that would allow it to cancel the contract after the 2020 race, but the government there knows that if this happens there’s very little chance that Azerbaijan would ever be able to get back on to the F1 schedule – as there are plenty of cities that want to be involved, and other possible venues that Liberty Media wants to be seen included, such as New York, Paris and Berlin.
There’s a big push at the moment from Copenhagen for a race in 2020. There’s also a lot of talk about Asia, where Vietnam is interested in a race in Hanoi and there are rumours of new projects in China and Korea.
India has been left behind in all of this, which is a great shame because it’s such a big potential market. Does Liberty Media see India as a market where they want F1 to be? They haven’t mentioned it. And if it is, is Noida the right place to do it? Sadly, there’s no sign that India is even on the radar for a race – and the available slots are fast disappearing…
Joe Saward has been covering Formula 1 full-time for 30 years. He has not missed a race since 1988.