Why F1 is striking the right calendar balance with Miami GP

F1

Miami will join the F1 calendar next season over other iconic venues but Chris Medland argues that there's a balance to be found between old and new

F1IMola21

F1 can have its iconic European venues but there's space for new hosts too

Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

When Liberty Media took control of Formula 1, they made it clear that the calendar was going to evolve. With new backing and a fresh business approach, they were going to try and explore new markets, strengthen in the United States but also protect or even add classic tracks to the schedule.

Then COVID-19 hit. You might have thought those plans were going to be disrupted, but in many ways, they have been accelerated.

Previously, the focus from pretty much whoever was trying to make money out of owning F1 was to chase massive race-hosting fees. The added bonus was the more races being held, the more you could charge television broadcasters to show them.

But the pandemic threatened to derail that on both fronts, with a number of venues unable to hold a race and therefore a risk of broadcasters not paying the full amount due to the reduced number of events on offer.

So a number of European tracks that had not really been anywhere near to a spot on the schedule were suddenly called upon: Imola, Mugello, Portimao, Nürburgring and Turkey were suddenly back in fashion.

And one year later, even with a record-breaking calendar on the go, many of them are at the very least in the frame again.

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Imola we’ve already had, Portimao we head to next. Nürburgring and Turkey have both been mooted as potential replacements for Canada in June should Montreal not happen. Only Mugello hasn’t been talked about as a repeat venue.

There are still clearly big-money races added that don’t sit well with everyone – Saudi Arabia joining the calendar this year after Vietnam all but fell through – but expanding into markets that will pay such fees has long been a part of the sport’s set-up, and it’s about getting the right balance.

And the way I see it, Miami’s confirmation is just the missing part of the jigsaw. A new location in a market that clearly has untapped potential, and one that brings the sport closer to a major city than some existing venues do.

But it’s the existing venues that actually form the need for this piece, because one of the main dissenting opinions against a race in Miami is the parking lot style circuit when there are many iconic tracks in the States.

It’s no secret America has some awesome circuits. Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen, Road America, Sonoma… It’s a pretty long list of tracks that would be brilliant to watch an F1 car on, but it’s also a list that just isn’t realistic. In fact, there’s only a list of three that can currently host F1, and two of them are COTA and the new Miami venue.

The other is Indianapolis, which has been linked with a return to the calendar and has obviously got huge appeal in the motor racing world. But the desire to get classic venues on the schedule is currently being met in F1’s existing European heartland.

There are 22 circuits in Europe that can currently host F1 – half of the global total – and of those, 11 currently do, or are at least set to this year. That number could become 12 if Turkey or the Nürburgring replaces Montreal.

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, Florida

The Hard Rock Stadium in Miami is the next American F1 venue

Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

And I think it’s an aspect that has been overlooked by anyone criticising some of the new tracks making their way onto the F1 calendar. Variety is important when it comes to a world championship, and drivers should be tested in a number of different ways, but ensuring that half of the races in a season take place on classic European venues that perhaps can’t pay the huge race-hosting fees I mentioned before is a pretty decent trade-off.

Imola’s chances of being a factor in future years have clearly increased, and let’s not forget that we’re heading back to Zandvoort this season after last year’s aborted effort.

And that’s before we expand our horizons outside of Europe and acknowledge the iconic tracks such as Suzuka and Interlagos that remain on the calendar. Add in Mexico City and Melbourne – including attempts this year to improve the racing potential at Albert Park – and you’re reeling off tracks that punish mistakes in locations with massive fanbases.

That’s also not to say we don’t have other great tracks on the calendar right now, even if some of them are relatively new. COTA is a very good venue for the sport in Texas, while Singapore is a spectacular test and a flagship event even if overtaking is difficult.

By now I’ve listed so many races either directly or indirectly that I’m only left with Bahrain, Baku, Russia and Abu Dhabi that haven’t had a mention, and we’ve seen some absolute classics at some of those venues. But for those who really don’t like them, it’s a small price to pay to then be able to have some of your favourites on there.

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So no, Miami’s not an iconic American race track, but then F1 would likely ruin them with the changes required to be able to race on some. We haven’t even seen the track built yet and been able to understand the test it might give drivers, or what the racing could be like. Baku is a prime example of a race that got a poor initial reception – and in all honesty produced a dull as hell opener – but now comes with a hefty amount of anticipation after some thrillers.

What Miami does is hit the right market, provide a destination people want to visit and hopefully increase the sport’s popularity in the US even further. If it achieves that, it’s more money in F1’s coffers that will only further the chances of more classic tracks being able to host races moving forward. And that’s all before we factor in a revenue-sharing model that could also open the door to different ways of races and the sport making a profit.

There’s a balancing act to be had, and in many ways the pandemic has forced F1 into a position where it had to find out just where the sweet spot is. Last year it had to turn to venues in Europe due to travel issues, and the majority of those are ones that could never have dreamed of paying the race hosting fees expected. But now both sides have shown a successful event is possible, a viable business plan becomes much more likely.

Just like the sprint races, you could view it as a real-life trial that is definitely paying off, even if it was inadvertent. As it stands, the balance is being found through calendar expansion, but F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali is using that to ideally drive up demand and therefore the asking price for races moving forward.

“We need to be realistic, we cannot have 52 weekends in F1,” Domenicali said recently. “The good thing is we have a lot of interest that will enable to create unique events with the right value, and we’re going to mix the strategic need for F1 to develop in a certain country with historical places that we know where F1 should stay. So that’s the beauty of having this many opportunities in front of us.”

That could well mean a reduction in European races in future, so while the balance feels pretty close right now, let’s just hope it continues to be struck then.