For those working in the paddock, this was the first sign of how many weekends would be away from home next year. People joked about the impending boom in business for divorce lawyers in Oxfordshire, where most F1 teams are based, and shuddered at the copious amount of time that will be spent on flights until next season.
The number of races is not the surprising thing about the calendar. We knew that would be the case given the plans to add Qatar and Las Vegas, bring back China and keep both Spa and Monaco. The 24 race limit set in the Concorde Agreement would always be met.
It is the grouping of races that has been the source of frustration for those who work in F1. Linking Baku to Miami while having Montreal a month later; Putting Qatar nowhere near the other Middle Eastern races on the calendar; with Austin just a month before Las Vegas, the latter formed a double-header with Abu Dhabi to close out the season. On the face of it, some of it doesn’t make sense, especially after F1 indicated its intention to regroup geographically where possible.
And that’s before we consider the triple headers. Remember when the first happened in 2018 and teams said they never wanted to do it again? And that their return in 2020 was simply out of necessity because of COVID? Well, we have two triples again next year: Emilia Romagna/Monaco/Spain and USA/Mexico/Brazil. Five races in six weeks to finish the season may be exciting for fans, but it will stretch the paddock to its limits.
The reasons behind the planning
The 2023 calendar was not easy for F1 to put together. Some of the planning at the start of the season relied on South Africa, which now has to wait until 2024 at the earliest before a race can take place, and its absence is having a knock-on effect elsewhere. China had also moved as F1 evaluated plans with or without South Africa, the early slot now means that sooner or later the feasibility of a return to Shanghai must be clarified.
Splitting Bahrain and Saudi Arabia at the beginning of the year may seem odd given their proximity, but there is some logic behind it. With testing due to take place a week before the season opener in Bahrain, pairing the first two races would have effectively produced another triple header. The gap will at least give teams and staff a chance to go home after the stint in Bahrain.
Splitting Bahraini opener from Saudi Arabia’s follow-up removes an effective triple header
Photo By: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Australia as a stand-alone is something that has been criticized this year, but it could realistically only be paired with China – which obviously needs a wider gap, allowing for possible entry restrictions – or Qatar, which goes later as part of the swing. of Asian races along with Singapore and Japan. Still, the prospect of 48 hours of travel in a week to get to and from Melbourne is still a big question for the paddock.
Further planning challenges came with Spa’s return. It would never take back its traditional slot, as the year-end events were locked and there would only be room for two European events after the summer break: Zandvoort and Monza. Squeezing Spa in July forced Imola to move and formed the triple header with Monaco and Spain, which also had a knock-on effect on Baku’s schedule.
What happened to plans to group races geographically?
This was one of the biggest criticisms of F1 when the calendar was published. For a series that aims to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2030, the amount of air travel – 133,570km from one race to another without a home visit – seems like a huge step backwards.
In May, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali told team bosses that the plan was to group races by region from 2023 as part of his sustainability commitment. While there is a loose grouping—Singapore/Japan/Qatar, US/Mexico/Brazil/Las Vegas—it doesn’t seem like the kind of planning many on this front would have hoped for.
F1 did do its best to group the races better. But for many events, with contracts already in place and dates set, shifting races just wasn’t feasible. In some cases, the urge to try to get a date change went even to the very highest levels of government, but was rejected. Promoters have to consider the time of year, weather conditions, and any potential impact on the fan experience – which is ultimately how they bring in the revenue to cover hosting costs. It is not the work of a moment.
The shift to a more grouped calendar is one area F1 will be working on to move forward, but it will be tricky. It will have to weigh up the challenge of moving the dates and keeping the promoters happy with its sustainability commitment. For the sake of the planet there can only be one winner here, but it will take time to get the right calendar grouping in place.
Staff rotation has been mooted a lot – but not realistic in today’s F1
Photo By: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
The Human Cost of the Calendar
The toll of F1’s ever-expanding schedule on those working up and down the paddock is something teams have become increasingly aware of in recent years. According to most, staff rotation is not only desirable these days, but also necessary to keep staff fresh and prevent them from burning out. Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff told TNZT last year that he even thought it should be written into the regulations to account for the pressures of the calendar, especially when it comes to taking care of mental health.
But that is not the case for all employees. In some cases, the role is so specialized or so critical that only one person can fill it. Remember the race engineers: it’s rare to ever hear another voice on the other side of the radio to drivers. While teams have protocols in place for other staff to intervene if necessary, the importance of the relationship to drivers means regular rotation may not be feasible. It’s a challenge that teams must grapple with to ensure top talent stays around and enjoys not only a good career in F1, but a long one that isn’t cut short by burnout.
Another fear for many in F1 is that the calendar won’t stop growing at 24. Domenicali suggested last year that there was a demand for as many as 30 races, but F1 made it clear that this was not the plan. The Concorde Agreement sets the limit at 24, which must be adhered to. This is not only to ensure there is no oversaturation of events affecting those working to make races happen, but also to engage the interest of fans watching at home.
As attractive as the additional income from more races may be for teams through their prize money payouts, and for the growth of F1 as a whole, the trade-off must be considered as the calendar approaches its limit next year.
The team’s staff has been away from home for a long time – and it’s only getting longer with longer calendars
Photo By: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images