Why two-day race weekends won’t ease the strain of a 23-race calendar

2021 F1 calendar

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Ever since Liberty Media acquired Formula 1’s commercial rights in January 2017 the company has eyed calendar expansion as a route towards revenue growth on the basis that more races equate to higher race-hosting income. Liberty’s logic is that more races mean they can extract higher fees from broadcasters and ‘bridge and board’ advertisers, and provide incremental opportunities for high-end hospitality.

In short, more championship rounds would solve the problem faced by all listed entities: shareholder demands for constant growth. The problem is that while increased revenues may result, so do operational expenses (largely) carried by the teams, while sponsorship revenues are unlikely to increase proportionally on the basis that sponsors generally have finite amounts available regardless of calendar structure.

Originally Liberty targeted 25 rounds, but the latest Concorde Agreement – which outlines the mutual obligations of the teams and the commercial rights holder – stipulates that the maximum number of events the CRH may include on a calendar without unanimous team consent is 24. Clearly, Liberty plans to push for that number once post-pandemic stability returns to F1.

The 2021 F1 calendar is expected to be published this week featuring as many as 23 or even 24 rounds, Covid-19 notwithstanding. It may be that this record number is being listed to cater for possible cancellations. Whatever, 24 remains an option which is likely to be exercised sooner rather than later.

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Imola, 2020
Just two days of track action took place at Imola
Such a race tally will, of course, take a toll on F1 personnel: employees of FIA and FOM, travelling team members, media, hospitality and broadcast crews. The fatigue of travel and time spent away from loved ones will set in. Teams are already talking of rotating more members of staff between events. But not all activities are rotatable, nor can all teams afford that option.

Thus, Liberty hit upon the concept of two-day race weekends, effectively turning Fridays into arrival/media days, with only Saturdays and Sundays providing track action. A definitive programme has yet to be presented, but reverse grid races (recently rejected by teams for a third time) will surely also feature at some stage.

The logic is that while schedules featuring 20 three-day (Thursday arrival, Friday to Sunday) events have personnel absent from home for 80 days, a 25-race season of two-day events would not only save a day’s accommodation expenses per head but have them away for ‘only’ 75 days in total. That there are five less weekends to spend with loved ones clearly hasn’t registered with decision takers, who don’t attend all races in any event.

See where all this is heading?

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Discussions have been kicked about for three years now, with the teams collectively blocking attempts at introducing two-day formats. Then came Covid-19, forcing a unique set of circumstances upon F1, which required nifty footwork if the sport hoped to construct a workable replacement 2020 calendar.

Paddock, Nurburgring, 2020
Nurburgring was also a two-day weekend, though unintentionally
To do so entailed a Portimao-Imola back-to-back – notwithstanding a distance of 2,500km between circuits and a travelling time of 30 hours excluding statutory stops. Add in post-race pack-up and pre-race build, and there was insufficient time for a traditional weekend schedule in Imola. Thus, the alternatives were losing revenues by not racing in Imola, or a two-day format. Guess which option was leapt at?

Ironically, the rain-affected Eifel Grand Prix held three weeks earlier provided F1 with a dry run, as the opening day’s running was cancelled for the first time since the 1982 South African Grand Prix – albeit then due to a drivers’ strike, not weather – which enabled teams to prepare for Imola’s truncated format.

Post-race in Germany the drivers were largely in favour of two-day weekends – primarily as the additional day provided little performance benefit while its elimination it added a jeopardy factor. But they were not keen on the shortened format being used to shoehorn more stops into the schedule.

By the time the circus decamped in Imola a number of reservations were being raised, at both driver and team levels, predominantly due to the commercial impact on promoters. This factor had, of course, been absent in Germany as tickets and accommodation had already been sold before Friday’s running had to be canned.

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Therein lies the rub: While it is all very well for Liberty to maximise revenues – of which teams benefit to lesser degrees if at all when all factors are considered – the fact is that Liberty’s primary customers are race promoters whose circuits rely upon full three-day events to make their numbers work. In addition, a number of venues receive tourism subsidies, and one day less potentially means one-third less tourism spend.

Start, Albert Park, Melbourne, 2018
F1 should reverse the timing change it made two years ago
Then consider that broadcasters, sponsors and advertisers have finite budgets, which do not ‘grow’ with calendars – meaning little or no incremental revenue from these streams save that Liberty may extract incremental fees from one or two additional promoters.

If so, these are likely to be based within Europe as it makes little or even no sense to fly to far-off cities for two days at great expense. Indeed, existing promoters could even push for discounted fees due to reductions in track activities, so overall hosting fees could decrease.

There is, though, an alternative which retains three-day weekends, substantially reduces accommodation costs, facilitates more quality time for F1 folk and could boost gate numbers: Pull race start times forward by two hours.

In 2018 F1 pushed back start times of most races by 70 minutes, which was expected to better suit television schedules in America. The later finishes meant personnel and fans could no longer make late evening flights, adding to their costs.

Where before fans could travel in Thursday or Friday evening and return Sunday, the later times meant many would need to make (usually costlier) Monday travel arrangements – necessitating an additional day off work plus incremental accommodation costs, which in turn meant a number of fans (particularly those who attend as families) and marshals (many of whom who pay their own costs) could no longer afford live attendance.

Just as F1 is open to experimenting with various formats and concepts, so it should experiment with the simple expedient of earlier start times – but provide sufficient notice and publicity to ensure that all stakeholders are able to avail themselves of the opportunities. Liberty could find itself pleasantly surprised by the result.

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Author information

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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20 comments on “Why two-day race weekends won’t ease the strain of a 23-race calendar”

  1. Wasn’t the main point of a 2 day weekend to try to increase the unpredictability ? A by product was less work for the teams and certainly 23 races doesn’t do that. ALso ‘going green’ is shown in its true light. Barely window dressing. hey lets travel round the world by jet showcasing our hybrid engines

    1. No, @tonymansell, it wasn’t. It was mainly a proposal to try and squeeze in more races. The other “benefits” were brought up as positive side effects.

      Yeah, the added travel with a 23-25 race calendar does a lot to make it both a worse “deal” for the people involded being away from home even more often, but it clearly adds a LOT to the overall burden of the sport on the environment.

  2. Portimão-Imola back-to-back would have been a doddle in the old days, perhaps even wasteful, now by road it is another matter, very arduous. With good planning f1 can tour around europe. Paul ricard, spa, hockenheim, hungary, austria, monza seems doable. a month or 2 in europe.

  3. Jonathan Parkin
    9th November 2020, 14:49

    Starting the race shortly after one o’clock also gives lots of elbow room before a sunset, so in the event of heavy rain or a red flag stoppage they can hold a full grand prix before light disappears

    1. Yes, that is another pleasant side effect Jonathan

    2. @Jonathan Parkin @bascb
      True, although the races in Algarve and Imola started after 1 pm only because of sunset times (as did the Eifel GP past 2 pm local instead of 3). The European events from Austria 1 to Mugello took place with considerably later sunset times, so more room to scope with the timings.

      1. I was glad they did that @jerejj, because we’ve been too close to dawn far too many times IMO. And with them moving into a longer season, inevitably we will have more and more times that happens.

        1. @bascb How have we been too close to dawn many times? The ideal minimum target set back in 2015 was for races to start at least four full hours or close to it before the sunset, and this has been applied everywhere except Melbourne (because of European TV viewers), Suzuka (also because of European viewers, although this year it was supposed to start past 1 pm, so probably will be the same next year), and Baku thus far. Other than these three, races have started around 4h before the sunset time at the least.

  4. Good point about the late ending on Sunday. For TV audiences that really aren’t there anyway (in the USA) everyone involved has to take in account probably doing an extra stay.

    This certainly is a limit on people being able to go to a race, and for all the journalists and for the crew in the garages it will be even more of an issue.

  5. Regarding the third-to-last paragraph: I thought it was because of viewers in Europe, or at least this was my understanding at the time. This has been a thing mainly for European events, after all, not really for events on other continents, although, partly because of sunset times at different times of the year in different places. For me, the changes ahead of 2018 didn’t make a difference, but I’ve still quite liked the earlier race times for the most recent European ones for a change. BTW, the #1 reason Imola didn’t have Friday running was because of local noise restrictions, so the format would’ve been the same even if it had been a standalone event. As for two-day format versus three-day format: Some places could have three days of track action and some others two, for example, the middle and final leg of a triple-header or the latter one of a double-header if the distance is considerable, while Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, (and Jeddah?) could have FP2 as the only practice session as it’s the only representative one for QLF and the race anyway. The afternoon sessions in the Gulf region are quite useless in this regard, so no need for them.

  6. Point about spectators well made, but Liberty don’t care – their money comes from TV

    1. And big hosting fees, circuits like Montreal and Silverstone have a huge turnout on Friday and would likely lose a small fortune if turned into a 2 day event. Will hosting fees come down if the cars are on track for 2 days instead of 3?

      1. No, the sport will do its classic “have it’s cake and eat it thing” by mysteriously finding good reasons to have Friday running in some places and no Friday running in others…

  7. Well teams need to split personel in two teams and alternate them.

    No other way. Imagine being away from family for 23 weeks a year, even more with all the travel.

    1. @jureo Not all team members have a family and even some drivers have a family, so this argument (if one wants to call it an argument) works both ways.

    2. The problem with that is that a number of teams may have to increase their numbers to be able to do that. Where are they supposed to get additional funds from to be able to afford that?

  8. The reason for having 2 day race weekends was to give the teams time to move the equipment from one venue to the next. And with that the whole article falls apart.

    There are 2500 kilometres between Portimao and Imola. The team trucks will have to drive straight through, only stopping to refuel. We’ll have to bring in external drivers

    1. @f1osaurus Indeed as that isn’t even the primary reason, but the local noise restrictions, meaning that the outcome would’ve been the same even as a standalone event.

      1. @jerejj Ah yes, that makes sense too. The teams were also quite clear about it that they couldn’t be ready on Friday.

        Either way there never was any mention that this was done to “ease the strain” or “improve the show” or anything contrived

  9. But getting rid of the OTT mobile team offices / hospitality will add a couple of days to every week of the European calendar.
    Garages, pit walls & cars can be readied in a single day using the same number of staff, or in two days with reduced staff. Setup Friday, practice and qualify Saturday, race Sunday, pack up travel and arrive Monday. 3 day mid-week break for the entire team. No over-working anyone.

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