i don’t want to sound like John Lennon, but there is no harm, from time to time, in saying “What if?”.
What if things were different? OK, we can all understand that sport will inevitably be commercialised and that those who do this are not much bothered by the damage they do, as long as the money keeps coming. We can all understand that international sporting federations are generally filled with the wrong kind of people in search of power or money. We get that Bernie Ecclestone gets his kicks from doing big deals.
We also get that behind Ecclestone is some smug city suit and behind the smug city suit is a Texan with a huge bum, who runs a pension fund; and behind the huge-bummed Texan are thousands of normal people, investing their money and looking for big returns.
But what if the sport could be run in a fashion that meant it could be the best it could possibly be, with decent profits, good governance, everyone working together and strategic long-term thinking…
What if the sport was not ruled by the love of greenbacks and the urge to control others? If the fat-bummed Texans went back to buying shares in arms manufacturers, pork belly futures and GE. What would the calendar be like then?
The sport would look at the global markets and say, “Right, this is a consumer business and therefore we must have a strong presence in the world’s largest consumer market.” If you don’t know where that is, get a map and look at the big land mass that lies between New York City and Los Angeles. This is where the money is for sport. Yes, you can pick up the odd tens of millions in ropey places like Azerbaijan, and oil-rich autocracies in the Middle East, but if you are after the big bucks, you need to Go West, as the saying says. You need to have at least a third of your events in timezones that are sensible for US live audiences. And you have to give them someone to be proud of, someone to cheer. In order to get a star or a team you need to have a bigger presence in the country – and you need time to build and money to invest in promotion.
In the perfect world, therefore, you might kick off the F1 season in Australia – in late summer, rather than early autumn, and Melbourne would be a good place to do it. It is impossible for live coverage to be perfect in all timezones but with programmable digital recording devices those who are asleep when an event is on, always have the choice of staying up to watch or catching the event as soon as they wake up. It is important to look to the future and build in developing markets as well and so going from Melbourne up to Asia makes a lot of sense. It is a good time of year for the Asians as the autumn tends to be disrupted by tropical storms. So China is a good second port of call, and if it were possible to have two other Asian races back-to-back at that point in the year, perhaps Malaysia and Korea (or India, with a decent street track) then that would be good. It makes sense after that to go to Bahrain and Russia, back-to-back, while the weather is still cool. After that a couple of European races would be good, in Spain and Monaco, but it would be good to then follow up the buzz of Monte Carlo with a similar race in Long Beach in early June, followed a week later by Montreal.
Then it should be back to Europe for the summer months, picking the best venues when the weather is at its best, so that fans see the best of the sport. I’ve always felt that a race in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris should not only be possible but essential. The first ever motor races were held there, the first post-war motor races were held there. The industry began there. And, of course, in July Paris is delightful (and I live there, so I am biased). Austria is pretty but a million miles from anywhere, while Germany, Belgium and Britain are essential to F1. Spa struggles to get crowds and so needs special care and attention while Silverstone continues to pull in big numbers, despite its remoteness. If they could get a light railway in there, it would be brilliant.
You cannot have a World Championship without Monza and then the modern classic in Singapore must be retained, although the track needs to be tweaked to reduce congestion and to allow for better racing. That should be back-to-back with Japan, before the autumn storms get heavy.
I would then go west again to New York in October for a street race in New Jersey and a week later I’d go somewhere in the Caribbean or Florida so as to keep the F1 “Jersey feel” alive as autumn closes in. Mexico and Brazil are both good markets and in a good time zone, so they would be a good double-header to follow and then I’d go back to finish the year with back-to-back races in the Middle East/Africa. Africa is great for time zones but not easy to achieve because of political instability/crime/poverty in lots of countries, but there has to be somewhere that would work and allow F1 to be a driver for growth and to give the sport another exotic location. They used to race through the streets of Luanda in Angola, back in colonial days, and from photos it looked fabulous, maybe that could be an option. If one is going to Africa, however, one needs it to look like Africa, rather than a Tilkedrome outing the bush somewhere.
Having the final race in Abu Dhabi works pretty well if it is in the evening, so why not?
When you look at the 2016 calendar you can say that actually F1 is doing a decent job with the calendar in many respects, it just needs more in the West and less in places that will never be very significant markets for spectators, sponsors and manufacturers.