F1 Debate: At what time of day should European races be staged?
Claire Williams suggests making 4pm F1's default start time
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 28/04/15 12:35pm
Claire Williams believes F1 should consider running European races later in the day in order to increase the sport's popularity.
Amid a long-running debate over how the F1 'show' can be improved, Bernie Ecclestone last month likened the sport to an "old house" that required constant repairing during a race weekend in he met with team bosses to discuss a series of radical rule ideas.
The future of the sport proved a central topic in Sky Sports F1's #AskCrofty show, when fans put their questions to leading figures in the paddock, including Williams' deputy team principal and Manor Marussia president Graeme Lowdon.
And responding to one question asking whether grands prix should be limited to one-hour in duration, Williams suggested F1 should first look at the time on a Sunday when races are taking place.
"You could cut the two-hour race [limit] to an hour, it doesn't necessarily mean it'll bring about change. I think it's more important when we’re broadcasting our races," she said.
"The way that society is now people want to spend time with the family and doing something together, and actually giving up your whole Sunday, which you have to do to watch a Formula 1 race, completely clobbers your whole day.
"If we moved it to later on in the afternoon, you go out, you do your day with your family, you come home and watch the grand prix at 4pm or 5pm in the afternoon. Those kind of considerations are the questions to ask first."
The seven European races on the calendar, which take place between May and September, all currently begin at 1pm UK time. A number of grands prix in the Middle East and Asia have later local start times for the benefit of European TV audiences, with Bahrain, Singapore and Abu Dhabi running their events under floodlights in night-time/twilight conditions.
The worldwide expansion of F1 over the past 15 years has prompted numerous claims that the sport is forgetting its core fanbase. Six years after the French GP fell off the calendar, 2015 will mark the first time in half a century that the German GP hasn’t taken place, while F1 supremo Ecclestone has also recently cast doubt on the future of the Italian GP at Monza beyond next season.
Williams believes F1 has been right to chase new markets, but says the sport shouldn’t forget its past either.
"I think it's a little bit premature to say it's a worry," she said of the decrease in European races. "Losing Germany, which is one our core races, off the calendar is really disappointing and it's surprising as well.
"But Formula 1 is a global sport and Mr Ecclestone has done a fantastic job taking us global, and that is a great thing for our sport. But you don't want to lose our European heartland and we've got to make sure we work hard and we keep those traditional races on the calendar."
Manor chief Lowdon agreed that it is vital the sport finds the right balance between old and new races.
"You can't imagine Formula 1 without the iconic tracks," he said. "There are two things here. One is the fans. There is a huge fan base in all the European countries.
"But there’s also the fabric of Formula 1 and the history that does play a part. It’s a balancing act that needs to be done, but it wouldn’t be the same championship that’s for sure."
Williams also wants to see the fans consulted on the future direction of F1.
"I think we need to ask what our fans want. It’s something that as a sport we haven’t really done. In Formula 1 we can live in our little bubble, but we need to go and do that piece of work to find out why they’re not necessarily tuning in before we start fixing things," she insisted.
The start times for all 19 races in 2015:
Great Britain: 1pm
United States: 7pm
Abu Dhabi: 1pm
Would you prefer for European-based events to start in the early evening? Has the F1 calendar become too complicated? Should iconic venues be ringfenced? Let us know in the comments section below