DECEMBER 9, 1996

The 1997 F1 calendar

THE International Automobile Federation has finally managed to produce a Formula 1 calendar for next season.

THE International Automobile Federation has finally managed to produce a Formula 1 calendar for next season. It will comprise of 17 races between March 9 and October 26. The dates are: Australia (March 9), Brazil (March 30), Argentina (April 13), San Marino (April 27), Monaco (May 11), Spain (May 25), Canada (June 15), France (June 29), Great Britain (July 13), Germany (July 27), Hungary (August 10), Belgium (August 24), Italy (September 7), Austria (September 21), Luxembourg (September 28), Japan (October 12), Portugal (October 26).

There are several points of interest. There are still only five non-European races despite the extra event - Austria being included but China losing out on its bid to hold a race in 1997. Portugal gets the season finale while the tiny Grand Duchy of Luxembourg - a historical curiosity and tax haven which nestles between Belgian, Germany and France - has been granted a Grand Prix, although this will be held at the Nurburgring in Germany. The title has been given to the race to avoid complaints that Germany is hosting too many consecutive European GPs (the Nurburgring has had races in 1995 and 1996) while other countries (notably France) do not get the chance. It will not be the first Luxembourg GP. There have been a number street and aerodrome races under that title dating back to 1939, when Jean-Pierre Wimille won the first in a Bugatti. After the war the event was revived for F2 and sportscars at Findel airport.

Two of the 1997 dates remain provisional. The French GP has legal problems over the televising of the event. The F1 contract in France belongs to TF1 but rival channel FR3 has successfully taken FOCA to court in France claiming the right to film at the venue. The court has ruled that a public event cannot be closed to news cameras. FOCA will not back down and so the French have to sort out the problem amongst themselves.

The Portuguese - as usual - are also being asked to improve their facilities and have to give the FIA assurances by the end of January that there will be resurfacing work at Estoril. If this is not done the Portuguese GP will be switched to Jerez de la Frontera and will presumably become the European GP.

The one surprise in the calendar is the one-week gap between the Austrian and Luxembourg events. This will make life very difficult for the FOCA TV crews which will have to install their production facilities at double the normal speed.