The Formula 1 schedule takes its toll


This is the time of year when people get sick. The long season, back-to-back races and constant travel through switching time zones all start to take their toll. Add in a trip to India – which challenges even the healthiest of folk – and by the time you get to today, the inevitable has happened.

I have air-con flu (going from 36 degrees to six isn’t pleasant), airplane flu and if a girl can get it, then I think I might even have a touch of man flu.

In four days I head to the States and then Brazil for the final race of season. I actually enjoy the last three sets of back-to-backs, and prior to that, Singapore is great. And who doesn’t love Spa and Monza? It is more the sheer number of races and how they are wedged into a calendar that this year has seen three three-week breaks.

From the end of September to the end of the season we will have had nine races in 11 weeks.

Abu Dhabi saw a lot of team personnel and drivers under the weather, either having picked something up in India or the immune system simply saying “OK thanks, I’ve had enough now!”

Drivers were struggling to stay hydrated, especially Paul di Resta, who was taken ill in India. He lost three kilos there and was still sick as he drove a superb race in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

It is with trepidation that many teams and people in F1 talk about ‘the calendar’. So many conversations include, “so what do you know about the calendar?” and “what do you think Bernie will decide to do with the calendar?” The fact is we don’t even have a final version of the 2014 calendar, but we are all waiting like we’re about to find out our exam results.

The provisional calendar for next year does seem to be set out better, with fewer blocks of time away, but there are a lot of standalone races which cause everyone trouble and a lot of expense. Having Australia as a standalone means everyone effectively flies there for five days and, with all the teams based in Europe, this is a big expense. Some people, though, may go directly from the final pre-season test of the year in Bahrain, as we swap Europe for the Middle East for testing.

At the weekend we all heard the almost concrete rumour that neither New Jersey nor Mexico City would make it for next season. Korea does look as if it will survive the cull, appearing in April rather than in October and, after bidding farewell to the final Indian Grand Prix, apparently F1 could be back there in 2015 after signing a five-year deal with Bernie.

My worry is that the more races you put on, the less important each individual event is. TV audiences will not watch them all, and if you can take 20-plus Sundays out of your year then the likelihood is that people will not dedicate time to qualifying and practice sessions that also go out live on many TV channels.

Yes, NASCAR is an incredibly popular series that seems to run more weekends than there are in a year, but they split race team personnel so burn out is not an issue. This system, though, is not a route that Formula 1 teams say they want to go down.

Wheels come off, things are dropped during a pitstop, and people (not me!) leave their luggage beside the carousel and walk out the airport without it.

But as much as a season takes its toll, I cannot wait for Austin and Brazil. The end of the season always has a special feeling, and this year a couple of big names are leaving the sport which will only add to the emotions. Four days to wash clothes, pack more clothes, prepare for filming and head back to the airport… time for more paracetamol and vitamin C I think!

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