F1’s commercial managing director, Sean Bratches, says Liberty intends to ‘align our races by geography’. He’s referring to the recent news of a Grand Prix in Vietnam and linking it with other rounds of the championship in Asia. But wouldn’t Bratches be better off ‘aligning races by empathy for the well-being of our people’ and reducing the calendar instead of expanding it to 25?
If he wants to see the effect of this year’s 21 events, it might be an idea to come down from his ivory tower in race control at Yas Marina this weekend, take a wander through the garages (that’s those noisy enclosures where the cars are kept), speak to the boys and girls who do the work (as opposed to management types who’ve flown first class at the eleventh hour), look them in their weary eyes and ask what they think.
I’ll bet a Pound to a Eur 5,000 Paddock Club Pass they’d like to get a life. That’s not to say mechanics and engineers dislike their jobs; far from it. The unique challenge and buzz associated with working in F1 has few equals in the workaday world. But you can have too much of a good thing, to the point where becoming jaded adds to the distress of feeling this way about a job you love.
To a lesser extent, the same punch drunk symptom could apply to spectators and viewers when a succession of races is served up as relentlessly as a weekly soap opera. You can tell it’s having an effect by chatting to fans.
Max Mosley, when president of the FIA, used to talk about the ‘down the pub’ effect. That’s not to say Max had a strong affection for pints of London Pride; it was his way of saying pub talk is a useful indication of how a particular F1 development or event is being received beyond the paddock gates.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that a few of my mates in the pub – some admittedly more interested in F1 than others – have confessed to no longer watching every qualifying session, never mind the frequently mind-numbing monotony of free practice. Some even failed to realise a race was on, particularly during this year’s triple-header, a damaging excess that has happily been removed from the 2019 calendar.
Saying that, next year’s season starts a week early and extends into December. If Liberty keep going at this rate, in 2025 there will a week’s test after the final race in the Middle East and then straight into the opening round of 2026 in Bangkok or somewhere, on the understanding that they’ve generously allowed a few days off for Christmas – and the filing of divorce papers. Never mind needing our excellent F1 medical delegate and his team to provide body massaging as an essential service, the FIA will have to give thought to making available counsellors and family lawyers. The upside is there would be room for the building of necessary suites in the under-used grandstands. I’m joking. But not by much.
Has the concept ‘less is more’ been crushed by Liberty’s stakeholders expectation of more, not less, financial return? Our hope is that a natural brake will be applied as many of the key race promoters are getting together and coming up with the not unreasonable thought that Liberty needs to charge less.
And charge less for what, exactly? Before talking grandly of expansion, Mr. Bratches and his bean counters need to ‘align our races with cars that can actually race’; an altogether different and – as we’ve discussed in the past – far more important task than tickling the fancy of some Potentate with no more idea than Liberty of what F1 is really all about.