My dream F1 season


Grand Prix teams are braced for a tough 2014: a radical new formula to be played out over a record 22 races in a relentless campaign, much of it long-haul, that stretches from mid-March to the fag end of November.

This, our dear American readers, is a genuine World Championship.

Fuji, 1976: Hunt, Mass and a volcano

Bernie Ecclestone has done a remarkable job of stewarding and spreading the F1 word since those few fretting hours spent beneath forbidding low Fuji cloud and expensively booked orbiting telecommunication satellites. His plan for global expansion might have set there and then in the Land of the Rising Sun had that GP not gone ahead that grisly October day in 1976.

The sport’s European heartland will provide nine of next year’s 22 rounds – Russia’s Sochi straddles the Eurasian divide – while Asia will host seven, the Americas five and Australasia one. The balance between old world and new money looks about right. No doubt there will be some sparsely populated grandstands as a result; F1’s coffer, however, will be full.

But for me, 22 are rather too many. I preferred it when sports had seasons that allowed pauses for breath and reflection. Give me thrilling straight knockout over tedious round robin any time. Give me a one-off rather than a, sigh, best-of-seven final. Give me an Ashes series once every two years not twice each year. And as for football – give me a break!

The poor old sporting golden goose has long since been plucked, cooked and wolfed by rabid commercialism.

Andretti leads Rodríguez and Siffert at Kyalami, 1971

Sixteen rounds, as first it was in that memorable 1976, and for the majority of the 1980s and ’90s, seemed to me to be ample. And, given the opportunity, I would start in South Africa on New Year’s Day, as occurred at East London in 1965. The latter venue had a spectacular position overlooking the ocean, but the old Kyalami – ah, that motorway plunge of a main straight – just tops it. And thus it provides Round One of my Dream Season.

Having blown out the Christmas cobwebs, teams and tyre manufacturers (the latter in the plural, you’ll notice) would then spend several weeks under an African sun, as they used to, honing new chassis, constructions and compounds before heading to… Argentina.

The usual alphabetical arrangement of the South American GPs – Argentina followed by Brazil – soothes my OCD tendencies. Buenos Aires is not a brilliant track – I would select its No.15 layout, which lassoes the park’s lake – but its proximity to a world city and the country’s racing heritage would guarantee a large, appreciative and passionate deserving crowd.

Ditto Sao Paulo’s Interlagos – albeit not its long and winding version. The original layout was too much like tangled electrical flex ‘spaghetti’ – a Room 101 definite of mine – while the current layout retains the best bits and provides excellent, fast-paced racing. Not everything older is better.

Montoya and Button at Interlagos, 2004

Next, I’d head to the gloriously seedy surroundings of Long Beach: the original version, with its like-a-Bullitt descent of Linden Avenue and sweep of Shoreline Drive book-ended by hairpins. ‘Boasting’ porn shops and cinemas, and by-the-hour hotel rooms, it’s the Monte Carlo antidote.

That’s February, March and April over and done with. No point barging in and spoiling the anticipation. Think of it as foreplay.

My annual summer sweep through Europe would consist of the Spanish, at Montjuïc Park – complete with Greek theatre, Art Deco police station and sinuous ascents and descents – Belgian, Monaco, French and British GPs.

Though it verges on sacrilege, I would plump for the new Spa for the same reasons that I selected the new Interlagos. Monaco would have its decorative iron-fronted railway station and unglamorous gasworks restored. And the French GP would be held at Reims; I agonised over the possible inclusion of Clermont-Ferrand or Rouen before deciding that the season’s pacing would benefit from a slipstreamer in Champagne country.

The British GP would be at Brands Hatch, not Silverstone. The chicane at Dingle Dell could stay, but a return would have to be made to the more sweeping alignment of Bottom Bend.

Brands Hatch, 1966: Brabham leads Gurney, Hulme, Clark and the rest on the first lap

The German GP would, of course, be at the 14-mile Nürburgring.

This European tranche would be leavened by a transatlantic June hop to Canada, where Montréal and Mont Tremblant would take turns at hosting the GP; the former being given first dibs.

Now for the outro: the Austrian GP at the fizzing Österreichring rather than the decidedly flat Red Bull Ring; the Swiss GP at Bremgarten, cobbles and all; plus Pescara – too crazy to resist – and a pilgrimage to Monza. Ferrari has done enough for Italy to deserve two GPs.

And so to the denouement.

The swathe of homogenous Tilkedromes lined up for 2014 leaves me cold. The best of them, Istanbul, has sadly been dropped. I do, however, have a soft spot for Malaysia’s Sepang. Its muggy climate often mixes matters up and always provides drivers with a true test. Plus it provides a neat geographical stepping stone to my Japanese GP, at Suzuka naturally, and an Australian finale.

The long-lost welcome F1 receives from fans Down Under makes this an ideal curtain-raiser or closer: witness 1986 and ’94. And despite the charms of Melbourne, Adelaide and its churches gets the nod.

Adelaide, 1990: Nelson Piquet on the way to his penultimate Grand Prix win

So there you are: my perfect season. No more than two GPs in any month and all finished, at the latest, by the first week in November. This would allow just enough time for a couple of non-championship Tasman Series races at, ooh, say, Bathurst and Longford, before shipping the cars home, via South Africa in January.

And, yes, I know there are 18 rounds. Well, you’ve got to move with the times. And even Mr E has had trouble matching supply with demand. Scheduling is not a precise science.

Finally, my choice of car for this theoretical season would be the flat-bottomed, unrestricted and raw turbos of 1983. There’s nothing quite like a radical change of formula to stir things up.

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