Formula One’s big calendar mess

With just over two months to go until the start of the new Formula One season we are still no nearer to knowing the definitive calendar for the year. Doubts still remain over whether the Nurburgring will be able to host the German Grand Prix, while the saga over whether there will be a 20th race or not is still rumbling on.

Bernie Ecclestone has said that there may not even be a confirmed schedule until after the season starts. Speaking to ESPN about the German Grand Prix situation, Ecclestone said: “We can decide once the season has started.”

“The trouble is the people that used to be there [at the Nurburgring] have gone. They haven’t got enough money.”

While it may not seem like much, the problems surrounding the Nurburgring have not sprung up overnight. There have been concerns over the financial state of the circuit – which shares the German Grand Prix with the Hockenheimring – for some time, and there has been ample opportunity to sort out whether it is in a position to be able to host a race or not.

An agreement could have been reached some time ago, and the hold-up is not only unnecessary but also makes things difficult for those who want to buy tickets and organise a visit to the Grand Prix. As more time goes on without any form of confirmation, it becomes more likely that those who planned on attending the race in Germany will decide instead to go to another race, such as those in Hungary or Belgium, which means that not only will the German fans have to pay more and travel further to attend a Grand Prix, but the circuit will also lose out through reduced ticket sales.

It creates a sad situation whereby the only winner will be Bernie himself, an all too familiar sight in this day and age, and one by which the image of Formula One in Germany and elsewhere risks becoming damaged.

The other big concern is the question over whether there will be a 20th race or not, after the scheduled New Jersey race was postponed until 2014 late last year. Despite Ecclestone saying that there were only likely to be 19 races this year, there is no doubt that he would like there to be an extra round as there is money to be made through securing another race.

It is reasonable to assume that is part of the reason for the delay in announcing the final schedule. Bernie is notorious for sending out mixed messages to get what he wants, and by saying there will likely be 19 races his comments can easily be seen as a ploy to get interested parties to agree a fee with him to host a Grand Prix.

However, that does not justify why it has taken so long for the 20th race, happening or not, to be cleared up. New Jersey dropped off the calendar in October, and the provisional calendar with a slot for an unnamed European round was published by the FIA in the first week of December. That has given FOM plenty of time to find a replacement and confirm the situation one way or the other.

It isn’t as though there are a shortage of options. Red Bull were interested in using their circuit in Austria to host a Grand Prix, while talks to bring races to Turkey and France have also taken place. There should have been a deadline in place to ensure that something concrete was confirmed by now, and the possibility of not having a definitive calendar in place before the season starts should have been avoided at all costs. The fact that such a race is likely to be a stopgap before New Jersey and Russia join the schedule in 2014 makes it even more baffling that an agreement is yet to be reached.

Whatever the reasons for the delay, it is farcical that F1 has not been able to organise a schedule for the season by now. You wouldn’t start the football season with the fixture list unfinished, you wouldn’t start the tennis season with the International Tennis Federation trying to find a date for Wimbledon, so it’s baffling for anyone to try and justify why FOM have not been able to guarantee that something as simple as a list of races and the dates on which they are due to take place is put together before the racing gets underway.

For the good of the sport, this situation needs sorting as soon as possible, or Formula One risks being left with egg on its face in a very public manner.

Stephen D’Albiac

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