My first thought when I hear that the F1 season would start in April, was to check to see what was happening in March 2016. Remember, 2016 is an Olympic year so in theory races should be moved away from the Games to avoid clashes in August, but this seems to be the opposite. The IAFF World Indoor Athletics Championship from Portland, Oregon, is hardly worth shifting an F1 calendar. And if F1 is worried about figure skating, the sport is in deep trouble. So what is it all about?
Shoving the Australian GP back to the start of April is on odd thing to do. The race has a contract to be the first of the season and usually there are other races keen to get that position – and these pay more money than do the Australians. So the best way to convince the Aussies to move on that (or to pay more to keep it) is to get them to want a different date. Putting the race back into the Australian autumn, into the Aussie Rules Football season, will likely achieve that. The crowd will be smaller, the critics noisier and yadda, yadda, yadda… So that is probably one motivation behind the April start in 2016. It also shows that with the retirement of Ron Walker – Bernie’s big mate in the Antipodes – the Australians are no longer going to have a special relationship with FOM.
But with Bernie Ecclestone nothing is ever simple. There are always multiple reasons why things happen. Lopping a fortnight off at the start of the year will not necessarily push everything back by a fortnight, but rather we may see one of the other early season races shoved to the other end of the year. China is coming up for a negotiation and this may be part of that process. China may be heading to an autumn date. At the same time, Ecclestone is always pushing for more races. The bizarre spacing of the calendar in recent years has been designed to get the teams arguing in favour of back-to-back races which would make it easier to get them to accept a 21st or 22nd race. Compressing the season is another way to try to do that.
A late start also probably means a later start for payments and as we saw this year, teams struggle with cash flow at the start of the year and so become more manageable…
And, of course, there is one other key point. FOM’s hands are tied in lots of ways, but it still decides the dates. This reminds everyone that FOM can still do as it pleases in some areas of the sport.
Which of these reasons is the primary one for the change? Who knows? Is any of this thinking for the long-term good of the sport? Hmmm… Different question.