For those working in the paddock, it was the first indication of how many weekends will be spent away from home next year. People joked about the coming boom in divorce solicitor business around Oxfordshire, home to most of the F1 teams, and shuddered at the amount of time that would be spent flying next season.
The number of races is not what is surprising about the calendar. We knew it would, given the plans to add Qatar and Las Vegas, bring China back and keep both Spa and Monaco. The Limit of 24 races The Concorde Agreement will always suffer.
It is the grouping of races that has become a source of frustration for those working in Formula 1. A connection between Baku and Miami and Montreal in a month; not placing Qatar on the calendar alongside other Middle Eastern races; with Austin just a month before Las Vegas, the latter forms a doubleheader with Abu Dhabi to close out the season. On the face of it, some of it doesn’t make much sense, especially after F1 announced its intention to try to regroup geographically where possible.
And that’s before we factor in the triple headers. Remember when the first one happened in 2018 and teams said they never wanted to do it again? And that their return in 2020 was just a necessity due to COVID? Well, next year we’re back to two triples: Emilia-Romagna/Monaco/Spain and USA/Mexico/Brazil. Five races in six weeks to end the season may be exciting for the fans, but they will stretch the field to its limit.
Reasons for scheduling
Compiling the calendar for 2023 for F1 was not easy. Part of the early-season schedule hinged on South Africa, who will now have to wait until 2024 at the latest before getting a race, and its absence has had knock-on effects elsewhere. China was also moved as F1 evaluated plans with or without South Africa. The early slot now means there should be clarity on the viability of a return to Shanghai sooner rather than later.
The separation of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia at the beginning of the year may seem strange, given their proximity, but there is a certain logic to it. With testing due to take place in Bahrain a week before the season opener, the combination of the first two races would essentially create another triple whammy. The gap at least gives the teams and staff a chance to return home after their time in Bahrain.
Splitting the first leg in Bahrain from the next match against Saudi Arabia will take away an effective triple whammy
Photo: Andy Hone / Images of motor sports
Australia as self-governing is something like that caused criticism this year, but realistically it can only be paired with China – which naturally needs a bigger gap given possible entry restrictions – or Qatar, which will appear later as part of the Asian race alongside Singapore and Japan. However, the prospect of traveling 48 hours during the week to get to Melbourne and back is still a big ask for the paddock.
Further scheduling problems arose with Spa’s return. It was never going to return to its traditional venue as the year-end events were locked out, leaving only two European events left after the summer break: Zandvoort and Monza. Spa’s push in July forced Imola to move, setting up a treble with Monaco and Spain, which also affected Baku’s schedule.
What happened to the plans to group the races geographically?
This was one of the biggest criticisms of F1 since the publication of the calendar. For a series that aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030, the amount of air travel – 133,570km from one race to the next with no visits home – seems like a big step backwards.
Back in May, Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali told team bosses that this was the plan group races by region from 2023 as part of the commitment to sustainable development. While there is some loose grouping – Singapore/Japan/Qatar, USA/Mexico/Brazil/Las Vegas – it’s not quite the breakdown many would have hoped for on that front.
Formula 1 has made efforts to improve group racing. But for many events, with contracts already in place and dates set, rescheduling the races was simply not viable. In some cases, the attempt to get the date changed even reached the highest levels of government, only to be rejected. Promoters have to consider the time of year, weather conditions and any possible impact on the fan experience – which is ultimately a way to generate revenue to cover hosting fees. This is not the work of the moment.
Moving to a more clustered calendar is an area where F1 will work, but it will be difficult. He will have to weigh the challenge of moving dates and ensuring that promoters are satisfied with their commitment to sustainable development. For the sake of the planet, there can only be one winner, but it will take time to create a proper grouping on the calendar.
Staff rotation has been much discussed – but it is not realistic in current F1
Photo: Stephen Tee / Images of motor sports
The human cost of the calendar
In recent years, teams have become increasingly aware of the ever-expanding F1 schedule for those working in the pod. Staff rotation is something most now consider not just desirable, but necessary to keep staff fresh and prevent burnout. Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff told Autosport/Motorsport.com last year that he even thought it should be written into the rules to account for the pressure calendar, especially when it comes to mental health.
But this is not something that all employees can afford. In some cases, the role is so specialist or so important that only one person can fulfill it. Consider the race engineers: it’s rare to hear another voice on the other end of the radio talking to the drivers. While teams have protocols in place to allow other members of staff to step in if necessary, the importance of relationships for drivers means regular rotation may not be viable. It’s a challenge that teams have to contend with to make sure the best talent stays put and can enjoy not only a good career in F1, but a long career that won’t be cut short by burnout.
Another fear for many in F1 is that the calendar will not stop growing at 24. Domenicali suggested there was demand for as many as 30 races last year, but F1 has made it clear that is not the plan. The Concorde Agreement sets a limit of 24 to be adhered to. This is done not only to avoid over-saturation of events that affect those who work on the organization of the races, but also to interest the fans watching them at home.
As attractive as the additional revenue from more races for teams through prize money payments and for the growth of Formula 1 as a whole is, there is a trade-off to be considered as the calendar draws to a close next year.
Team personnel already spend a lot of time away from home – and that will only increase with longer calendars
Photo: Andy Hone / Images of motor sports