A vision of the future

APRIL 17, 1995

A vision of the future

When Max Mosley was campaigning for the FISA presidency against Jean-Marie Balestre back in 1991, he promised that if elected, he would ensure that the governing body of the sport finalize its calendars as far in advance as possible to avoid being in a situation where races were coming in and dropping out of the calendar after the season had begun.

Mosley has fulfilled many of his election promises during the last three and half years, but he has singularly failed to solve the problem of the F1 calendar. This is mainly because the calendar is drawn up by Bernie Ecclestone, the FIA Vice-President (Commercial Affairs). He is constantly juggling the various countries which want to hold races, making sure that those on the calendar can pay the prices he asks and are keeping their facilities at the necessary level for F1. Unfortunately, in their desire to get a race, some organizers have been known to over-extend themselves and get into trouble.

Bernie normally negotiates five-year contracts with racing tracks and, with an enormous demand for races, that means that each time a slot becomes available in the calendar, he is able to hold an auction. The country which bids most gets the race. There seems to be an endless supply of nations around the world which want to be associated with the prestige and glamour of F1. In recent years we have heard stories of Indonesia, South Africa, China, Dubai, Korea, Russia, Qatar, Venezuela, Malaysia and several others, and in Europe both Germany and Great Britain want to have two Grands Prix in a year. In addition, there are at least two circuits in the United States that have F1 pretensions: the new circuit in Miami being built by Ralph Sanchez and the Brandy Station project in Virginia.

Ecclestone seems to be quite happy to play the countries off against one another and watch the price go up, but he knows that this is now so high that it is rare that anyone other than a government can afford to pay him and build a world-class racing circuit.

There are times when Ecclestone must be desperate for F1 teams to accept one extra race in a year - another $10 million is always useful - but to date the teams are refusing to do more than 16 - although they might now be pushed into doing 17 in the right circumstances.

Bernie is therefore finding that he is now wasting potential earnings; and that if he dropped his prices a little, he could probably hold as many as 25 races each year. This may be an option he is considering. For some time Ecclestone has been saying that he is about to revolutionize F1; but, as yet, there have been no real earthquakes in terms of the organization of the World Championship.

With F1 cars having now been downgraded to 3-liter engines and Formula 3000 being canceled at the end of the year - theoretically it will be replaced by some form of one-make series like the Indy Lights Championship in the United States - it might be possible for Ecclestone to offer Formula 3000 teams a better deal in the future by renaming the series Formula 1 Division 2. The top two or three teams in F1-D2 would be promoted each year into F1 and the bottom three in F1-D1 would be relegated. This may sound like an absurd idea, but any F3000 team owner will tell you that it is almost impossible to raise money for anything but F1 racing because of the television exposure Grand Prix racing can bring to a big sponsor. F1 may be more expensive, but it is easier to find the money. The key to the plan is television coverage. If Ecclestone could guarantee that F1-D2 would be on worldwide television every fortnight, the sponsors would come rolling in because there are many companies today which would like to have a big involvement in F1 but do not want to be associated with teams which have tobacco money. Ecclestone's contracts with TV companies - which are keen to show F1 racing - could include a clause wherein broadcasters agree to screen 32 Grands Prix (16 F1 and 16 F1-D2 races a year).

Ultimately Bernie knows that such a move could mean that he doubles his income. All this would depend, of course, on Bernie's ability to find 32 teams to race. Increasingly, the motorsport world is becoming focused on F1, the top sportscar teams of a few years ago (Peugeot, Mercedes, Sauber and TWR) are already in F1; and there are even rally outfits (Prodrive) which are looking to an F1 future. In such circumstances, finding 32 teams might not be impossible, particularly if F1-D1 manufacturers were allowed to sell cars to F1-D2 teams.

With 32 Grands Prix in a year, more nations could be represented in the World Championship; there would be no more calendar problems or Grand Prix auctions, more teams could find more sponsors, racing fans would have more racing to watch, prices could come down (maybe) - and everyone in the sport could make more money.

We are not saying it is going to happen, but we are certain that Bernie and Max are both considering the possibilities.

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