Reflecting on F1’s unveiled longest-ever calendar for 2021
Has Liberty Media been, as a famous doctor once said, “so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”?
Formula 1’s 2021 calendar will visit a record twenty-three venues across the globe next year. The growth of the calendar to such a length has seemed inevitable for a while. Liberty Media has openly been looking to reach a twenty-five race schedule, and they have now taken one step closer. But as Dr. Ian Malcolm famously said, perhaps Liberty has been “so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
I’ve battled internally about the merits of such a lengthy calendar since the announcement. And we’re still two events shy of that magic 25 tentpole figure. More races per year certainly sounds exciting from a pure viewer perspective. It gives us more opportunities to watch our favorite superstars race the most advanced cars in the world throughout the year. There will be more weekends with news and updates to keep track of with F1’s ever-increasing coverage. And, of course, more chances of races turning out to be sensational, such as the most recent Turkish GP.
But equally, from a viewer’s perspective, all of the above isn’t necessarily positive. As we’ve seen for the past half-decade, if one team surges past its competition, running more races will just mean more Sundays where fans might tire of domination. In a busy world where having a smartphone that already inundates you with information, having additional weekends to keep on top of the going’s on in F1 might be too much for some. And while having more events might mean there’ll be a classic race somewhere in the supplementary Grands Prix, the chances are higher that there’ll just be additional forgettable processions.
Image: © Red Bull Media Hous
So it comes down to perspective for a fan, then. Those who are already satisfied with the 21-race championship that F1 has run over recent years will be happy for more. If football fans can enjoy their sport weekly throughout the season, then a mostly fortnightly schedule is more than manageable. And the six races in seven weeks from Spa to Suzuka will be a treat to enjoy after the summer break.
But those who have been reminiscing for the old days of the mid-high teen events on a calendar will see twenty-three races and wince. I’ve spoken to friends who resign themselves to missing Grand Prix or flat out never watching any events in full. With families to look after, their weekends are hallowed time. A currently-understanding partner might become a little more frustrated if they lose their spouse for nearly half the weekends in a year to cars driving in circles.
One friend in the latter camp rightly questioned who the new races will please. F1 might lose my friend as a fan due to the commitment F1 is asking for, but who will replace him? There aren’t any prospective fans who are saying something like, “Oh man, I’d love to watch Formula One, but only if there were more races.” As far as he sees it, busy people like him will slide away, and there aren’t fans waiting in the wings to replace them. So who benefits from the extra events?
Image: © Red Bull Media House
Well, one thing you cannot critique Liberty Media on is their desire to bring Formula One closer to the fans. Their F1 Festival events in London, L.A., and Miami allow those who can’t afford F1 tickets or who wouldn’t consider traveling to a Grand Prix the chance to be up close and personal with the cars. While that’s great for American and British fans, spreading the sport’s reach to more countries gives a similar opportunity to global supporters, too.
While that intent appears to be noble on the surface, the addition of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix for 2021 dilutes any sense of purity from the promoters. I love that F1 is as global as it is. But hosting Grands Prix at venues without heritage hasn’t exactly resulted in stellar results historically. Remember those empty grandstands in Korea?
With the Saudi company, Aramco, having such prominent sponsorship in 2020, the 2021 visit to the kingdom is a highly transparent, financially focused move. While traditional venues with an existing fanbase such as Germany and South Africa go without, it doesn’t seem right that the Middle East gains another race while they do not.
Image: © Red Bull Media House
Of course, the only way we’ll know how a longer-than-ever calendar feels will be to go through it. With or without the TBC event in April, which could drop the championship to twenty-two races, F1 will have its longest season in 2021. I suspect the number of races will be a baseline for the future, too, as we creep towards that twenty-five Grands Prix target.
Whatever time fans will need to put into watching F1, both next year and beyond, the real struggles will be for the race personnel clocking up their air miles. No matter what side of the fence you’re on with the growing calendar, be it full weekends of viewing or the five minute YouTube highlights on-demand, make sure you give your sympathy to those men and women who will be giving up so much for your entertainment.