Start, Hockenheimring, 2018

How the 2019 calendar has failed to arrest F1’s rising costs

2019 F1 season

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Back in April I outlined how Formula 1 goes about constructing its calendars: the factors taken into account in when compiling a workable 20-plus race schedule, a matter complicated by seasonal factors, national and religious holidays and promoter preferences.

The feature included a suggested calendar that lumped regional events together in order to reduce travel time and costs where possible, yet without causing undue saturation in certain territories – both being Liberty’s stated objectives. Indeed, more than a few promoters were complimentary, with one stating (possibly in jest) that it would not be adopted on account of being too logical!

It was motivated by this year’s calendar, which lumped the final nine rounds into a 12-Sunday block stretching from the end of August to the final weekend in November, packed five rounds into six weeks at the height of summer – featuring F1’s first-ever triple header – yet spread the opening seven rounds over a three-month block. In total there are five back-to-backs: two each in Europe/Asia, and one in North America.

Any wonder fatigue has already set in despite there being one-third of the season still to go?

Hopes that Liberty, who assumed control of the sport in January 2017, would learn from what had been their first schedule, were dashed when the draft 2019 F1 calendar was published. Far from flowing regionally and pairing events on a back-to-back basis where logical, the calendar appears to have been constructed one event at a time, rather than as a cohesive block.

For example, most flights from Europe to Australia and/or China (including those operated by F1 corporate sponsor Emirates) fly directly over the Middle East. Yet the Melbourne, Bahrain and Shanghai rounds are two weeks apart respectively. A seemingly obvious opportunity to slash everyone’s air miles has been missed.

Ditto the final two rounds, namely Sao Paulo and Abu Dhabi. In the past they were back-to-back, which made perfect sense, as the slight detour to the UAE on the outward leg is more than made up for a saving in flying time (and costs) incurred through two intercontinental flights. Yet they are a fortnight apart.

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Bernie Ecclestone, Bahrain, 2018
How Ecclestone’s parting shot to Liberty added to their F1 calendar woes
The net result is that the 2019 calendar starts a week earlier and finishes later than any season during the past 50 years. Yet it is logistically more convoluted – and thus costlier – than ever before. Indeed, conservative estimates place the cost of attending the full 2019 season at 30% high than this year, which was already the costliest to date.

Apart from the missed back-to-back opportunities outlined above, consider the Singapore/Russia/japan set, with the first two being back-to-back and Suzuka’s round scheduled after Sochi. Thus folk fly from Europe to Singapore, then back to Moscow to get down to Sochi, then back to Europe, before flying east and directly past Singapore two weeks later. Not the most efficient grouping, is it?

Why not Russia, two weeks later Singapore, followed immediately by Japan before the American slog starts a fortnight later, then the suggested (above) Brazil/Abu Dhabi set a fortnight later? Such routing would save three intercontinental flights, plus end the season a week earlier. This would make life easier for the teams, who have new car builds to crack on with, and enable formalities such as gala awards to be dispensed with well ahead of year-end festivities.

Equally important, the time saved could better have been productively spent in offices/factories or with loved ones. It is abundantly clear that more effort could have been expended in delivering a cost- and time-efficient 2019 calendar. I’m told Liberty’s policy is to alternate staff – for example, generally two of its top three managers attend a race, while other positions are also rotated. There must be reasons for that.

One of Liberty’s oft-repeated aims is to reduce the costs of F1, yet the 2019 calendar defies both logic and that stated aim. Where 2018’s schedule is hectic in the extreme, next year’s programme is almost lethargic by comparison. Hopefully Liberty’s third attempt at a calendar – for 2020 – will find a happy medium. The template is available.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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16 comments on “How the 2019 calendar has failed to arrest F1’s rising costs”

  1. From what I’ve seen Liberty Media are focussed on introducing intrusive advertising and dumbing down the sport, particularly with their on screen graphics. I’ve been watching F1 for over 40 years but this will be my last season. The changes to live timing in the app is the last straw for me, Liberty Media don’t have a clue.

    1. I am hoping that Liberty Media will react to the massive criticism by rolling back their awful new app before the start of the Singapore race. I mean, how long does it take to make a change? If they do not, I doubt I will use the app as it led to massive frustration during the qualification. Which means I will most likely miss the race. I want my money back!

      1. I don’t think they have any intention of rolling it back @bozztdk, they just seem to be ignoring all of the criticism they’re getting on Twitter. I think they’ve cut the timing down so that they could add all of the other guff, I’d prefer a separate fully functioning timing app myself.

  2. I think that Liberty are not doing as they say. The failure to organise the calendar to reduce costs and travel and increase time at home is another example. I am of the opinion they are going down the Rd of further limiting innovation under the guise of encouraging new manufactures to join by slashing budgets.
    I think there are too many artificial limits on the racing now.

    1. @johnrkh If Liberty wanted to slash budgets, an appropriately efficient calendar would be a good starting point. Having said that, it’s not clear what other races tracks are holding (as they are usually reluctant to move race weekends with a settled date if they get good attendance – these being the races that help pay for the F1).

      1. Yeah they should really plan out the calendar 12 months in advance. So, have the 2020 calendar locked in before 2019 even starts.

  3. ”The net result is that the 2019 calendar starts a week earlier and finishes later than any season during the past 50 years.”
    – Yes, but only a mere two days later than in 2015 (when the 29th of November was the race day for the Abu Dhabi GP), so no real difference on that front.

    ”Ditto the final two rounds, namely Sao Paulo and Abu Dhabi. In the past they were back-to-back, which made perfect sense, as the slight detour to the UAE on the outward leg is more than made up for a saving in flying time (and costs) incurred through two intercontinental flights. Yet they are a fortnight apart.”
    – No, it’s indeed better these two particular races don’t take place on subsequent weekends due to how significant the distance between them is. It’s even more significant than the Montreal-Baku distance, for example, in comparison, so the one occasion (in 2010) when they took place on subsequent weekends is going to remain as the only occasion that’s happened. The Singapore-Russia-Japan portion of the season, on the other hand, indeed should be altered. If they really want to hold the Japanese GP ahead of the 2nd Monday of October due to annual Health and Sports Day national holiday of the country then so be it but why not then put Singapore on the weekend before (4-6th of October) and subsequently the Russian GP to the September 22nd slot instead? What’s wrong with that? Why does it seem that they’re trying to avoid putting Singapore and Japan on subsequent weekends at all costs even though the distance them is a massive 5000+ km by air, which means that they’re nowhere near close to each other geographically? That’s the only part of the first provisional schedule for next season I’m not OK with at all. The rest I can be OK with but definitely not with this segment.

    1. ‘so hopefully’

  4. The point is that a week could have been saved by back-to-backing Brazil and Abu Dhab; not whether its a day or two earlier than in 2015. As regards the race “finishing later than any season during the past 50 years”: that’s historical fact.

    Regarding flight distances: First, Montreal-Baku routing goes directly via Europe and there are numerous flights out of Montreal on Sunday night. The relative proximity of the circuit to the main airport and seven-hour flight makes it possible to be in office/factory on Monday morning after the race. Times zones worked in favour of Baku. None of these factors apply to Brazil.

    Also, the combined distances for LDN-SP return and LDN-AD are 30k km, whereas a LDN-SP-AD triangle is 25k – so 20% saving in terms of both distance and generally cost. Also, the lost airport and transit time is substantially less, so about a third saved.

    Finally, you’ve overlooked the potential saving of a week at the front end of the calendar by back-to-backing Melbourne with one other. That week is crucial for car build, whether at the beginning of the process, or the end. And f1 could have had both.

    1. @dieterrencken, there is a section of text which does seem to be confusingly written though, as it comes across in a way that I think you did not intend it to.

      When you say “the 2019 calendar starts a week earlier and finishes later than any season during the past 50 years”, it can give the impression that the 2019 calendar has the earliest start date of any season over the past 50 years.

      I assume that is not what you intended it to mean, as there are a lot of seasons within the last 50 years where the first race was earlier in the year – 1992 saw the first race take place on the 1st March, for example, whilst in 1980 the opening three races in Argentina, Brazil and South Africa (on the 13th January, 27th January and 1st March) were all earlier in the year than the 2019 season was. I hope that you do not mind me suggesting that the text could be tweaked to “starts a week earlier than in 2018”, or words to that effect, just to make it the context of that statement a little clearer?

      If I were to be extremely pedantic, it could be pointed out that whilst it is true that the end date is one of the latest in the calendar year for a long time, technically there have also been longer season within the past 50 years as well.

      Although the final race was held on October 5th that year, because the opening race of the 1980 season was on the 13th January, I believe the 1980 season was officially one week longer than the 2019 season is currently scheduled to be – there were 266 days between the first and last race of the 1980 season, whilst the current draft schedule for 2019 has 259 days between the first and last races that season.

      1. anon, there was intended to be a comma to read as follows: “the 2019 calendar starts a week earlier [than the 2018 calendar it is directly compared with], and finishes later than any season during the past 50 years”.

        But, any comparisons with past seasons – save that 2019 will end later than any other seasons during the past 50 years – are meaningless unless one compares apples with apples, which means taking regulations changes and official pre-season tests into account. In the past, including the seasons you mention, this did not apply – and teams could complete their cars at leisure and test whenever it suited them.

        Current seasons come under official FIA sanction from the first day of testing through to the drop of flag at the final round. Thus this season is way longer than any mention, plus the car build period is crucial as they can’t test outside official FIA sessions. Also, carry-over of cars is impossible due to reg changes – a topic I’ve covered in-depth – so cars need to be ready for T1. Thus time is at a premium, particularly as in-seasion testing is all but banned.

        But the thrust of the article is that the 2019 calendar is cost- and time-inefficient, and no amount of arguing about longer or shorter seasons changes that.

        1. @dieterrencken: Question. Since this inefficient calendar is more expensive for the teams, is there a silver or gold lining for Liberty? Do they make more money with this schedule for themselves with race promoter/sponsor deals we’re not aware of? Is there some commercial logic or just more rookie mistakes?

          1. @jimmi-cynic The commercial rights holder pays a portion of the international travel costs – 10 000kg freight and 20 eco air tickets, I believe, per team. So they will be hit by that.

            On the freight and TV side, the kit is moved by DHL and FOM’s own transport planes respectively, but here it makes little difference to costs save that they have more time at each end.

            My bet is that Liberty agreed dates with as many promoters as possible, then left as windows open in order to slot in races as they signed up. Hence they stretched the calendar lest they needed to accommodate Germany and Japan – which they did as it turned out – plus Miami (which they didn’t).

            That, plus some amateurish scheduling.

    2. As someone who teavels a lot for work (I have a trip to Hong Kong next week that involves only one day of work there!), the less individual flights and the less time spent in expensive and uncomfortable airports, the better!
      I happily work back to back jobs as opposed to muliple individual trips. It saves on sanity!

    3. Dieter, is it this year or next year that the Russian GP is when it is because moving it a week earlier/later would have it happen on Vladimir Putin’s birthday? Factors like that also, sadly, play a part in the makeup of the schedule…

  5. His birthday is on 7 October, this year a Sunday (the day of the Japanese GP, and a week after Sochi), and next year a Monday.

    IF (note caps) it was moved, they could only have swapped Russia and Japan around, and it makes no difference which venue we visit first as the next stop is USA via Europe.

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