The future of Formula 1: Could F1 expand to 25 races in the future?
Debating the pros and cons of more races than ever before...
By James Galloway at Suzuka
Last Updated: 10/10/16 10:42am
Could a future Formula 1 calendar include 25 races?
One of the most intriguing aspects of the recent takeover of F1 is how its new owners, Liberty Media, will look to grow the sport.
An early suggestion is that an expansion of the calendar could form a key part of their plans, with what already stands as a record 21-race schedule eventually increasing to 25 grands prix per year.
Could it work? And what, if anything, would have to change?. With the help of Sky Sports F1's David Croft and Anthony Davidson, we look at the pros and cons of the debate...
Are 25 races a season feasible?
F1's calendar has expanded in small increments throughout the sport's history. What was a seven-race schedule in 1950 became a 21-race list for the first time this year, with the same number of record races provisionally scheduled again for 2017. History therefore suggests the sport is unlikely to have already hit a glass ceiling.
But could the addition of another four rounds be easily accommodated under teams' current structures? Sky F1 commentator David Croft isn't convinced.
"I don't think it is feasible at the moment," he said. "Without increasing staff and finding ways that every member of the team who is currently doing every race can actually have time off, I don't see how you keep up the level of intensity you need in Formula 1 if you're adding another month to your year working away from home, flat out. Where is the release for people, the time with their families, and the work-life balance?
"And where's this extra month coming from? Let's not forget, the teams are equally busy in the winter at the factories getting ready for the next season."
Since 2008, the F1 season has run from March to November. But whereas in 2008 there were 18 races in a 34-week period, this year that stands at 21 events in 37 weeks. More than half the races are now outside Europe too.
But Davidson reckons: "I don't see why it can't be done. If it's there on the table, someone's going to do it.
"If you were playing devil's advocate, you could say those you couldn't do it could move on, and it would give opportunities to the younger generation."
Could the teams' workforces cope?
McLaren chief Eric Boullier argued last week "we are at the limit already" and that if the calendar did increase again "we would have to have a rotating system with staff people".
Croft suspects "you can do more races if you're a Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari, but can you do it if you're a Force India or a Sauber where they haven't got the money to bring people in?"
However, one significant sweetener could be the creation of extra income that more races would generate.
"If you have more races there's the chance you can earn more money out of it, and everyone wants to do that," said Davidson. "If under a new structure and one which gives more freedom to have more money to go back into the sport, I reckon more people would like to do more races."
Would the race weekend schedule have to change?
Changes to F1's long-established three-day race weekend have long been mooted, with the Strategy Group announcing in summer 2015 they had discussed "several exciting and innovative changes to the qualifying and race weekend formats" for this season. In the end, the ill-fated knockout qualifying format was the only revision which arrived for 2016 and that proved universally unpopular and was abolished after two races.
Even before his calls to revamp the Thursday press conference format after the Snapchat 'controversy' of Suzuka, Lewis Hamilton said last year he thought a change of structure for the race weekend would "1000 per cent" improve the sport.
"It's been the same Thursday, Friday, Saturday pretty much and Sunday for the whole nine years that I've been here," the world champion said at the 2015 Russian GP.
Croft believes that any expansion to 25 races would be the right time for the sport's powerbrokers to evolve the racing format.
"If we had 25 races I'd like to see a rethink on the way we go racing in this sport," says Croft. "I'd like to see a different structure to the weekend to go hand-in-hand with it.
"We accept the way this is how the weekend is structured, but why can't we structure it slightly differently? Keep the grand prix format on the Sunday, but do we need two practice sessions on a Friday when teams have great CFD and computing models? What about two races each weekend?"
Davidson added: "When you see how Formula E works, it's all in one day. Bish, bash, bosh, then they're out of there."
However, there are potential drawbacks to shorter race weekends for existing circuits.
"It depends on the pricing structure," explains Croft. "For example, Silverstone would struggle if it was a two-day weekend because they need that Friday, under this structure, to bring people in to make money and afford the grand prix. They are not alone in that respect, but there are probably other venues that could cope with it as their race is funded by a government or someone else."
Can there ever be too many races?
As one F1 stalwart, Manor's Dave Ryan, put it in Sepang when asked if the F1 calendar had reached a natural limit: "I go back to the days when we had 14 races and that was too many so..."
Putting aside the inevitable logistical challenges of an ever-increasing schedule, does F1 first need to have a 'quality versus quantity' debate before pursuing any further expansion plans?
"I know there are fans out there who would love to see 25 races and, to be honest, if every race is really exciting I'd love to see 25 races too," said Croft. "But not every race is really exciting, so would you devalue it if there are more and more races and they're not absolute thrillers?
"A case study has to be looked at: will more races equal a greater audience? Look at the NFL model. Sixteen matches in a season - that has stayed the same for a long, long time. Less is more in that sport, is that the same with Formula 1?"
Davidson adds: "NASCAR is one of the the most successful motor racing categories in the world, despite being very insular because it only races in America, but it's highly successful and they race pretty much every single weekend."
Like F1's future calendar, this debate might run and run...