While the ever-expanding Formula One calendar is exciting for the sport and its millions of fans, there is a point at which the number of races becomes too much to handle. Bernie Ecclestone said a few years ago that the feasible limit of the F1 calendar was 20 races. These 20 races include the stretch of six races in eight weeks at the tail end of the season. These last six races are particularly taxing on all who are part of the F1 circus. Nowadays, Bernie is saying that the calendar could expand to 25 races with additions like Russia, New Jersey, Thailand, Mexico, Argentina and others on a rather long short-list of possible venues for future races. While this may mean the axe for some European races, the calendar is sure to be vast in the coming years.
The Formula One circus has a renowned reputation for being efficient and precise in their operations, whether it be transportation or operations during the practice sessions or the race.
One special group of people who I feel are often underrated for their efforts are the F1 mechanics. This highly skilled group of people has to work long, arduous hours for rewards that often don’t seem to come, depending on what team they are affiliated with. These mechanics also have to be intelligent and clever, for problems that occur on track are often out of nowhere and unusual in nature. The mechanics are responsible for repairing massively high-strug pieces of million dollar equipment in a timely fashion so the drivers have enough time on track over the weekend. Like the effort it took to read that last sentence, the mechanics have to exert a large amount of energy over a short period of time.
Another aspect of being a Formula One mechanic is physical fitness. In a split second, the mechanics may need to change a front wing, tires or a steering wheel. Sometimes this must be done all at the same time. Add to all of this the pressure to do all of this work in under three seconds (7-9 seconds for a wing change) and you would be completely spent after a race. I’m not undermining the work that the drivers do, because driving an F1 car is one of the most physically demanding activities on earth. I am saying, though, that like the drivers, the mechanics have to work very hard in conditions not often relaxed.
Back to this F1 calendar. It’s a tricky one to bring into balance. How many races will it take to A) make the fans happy, B) earn enough money for the sport, C) Keep the mechanics safe and awake, and D) provide enough time to make certain next year’s cars can be built in time? FOM is constantly trying to make this balance a reality, but the reality is no one will truly be happy.
Fernando Alonso said the other day that he would prefer a couple fewer races, but in exchange, bring back more testing. This scenario has been discussed in recent years but never before acted upon. The ban of in-season testing was brought on to make it easier for the smaller teams to catch up to the big teams. While this is an interesting idea, could it have done more harm than good? The big teams have the resources to keep up development without testing, but the small teams relied on testing to a certain degree to even keep up during the season.
The prospect of removing a few of the less popular races and replace them with tests is a good idea to me.
FOM could sell tickets to the tests and even televise them for the fans who want to watch but for whatever reason, cannot attend. Having televised tests would provide some more insight into how development in Formula One works. These days, the fans have to rely on pictures of F1 cars with all sorts of sensors and measurement devices as their insight into testing. While these are nice, they don’t even begin to paint a picture of what is really going on.
Last season, a mid-season test was completed at Mugello, the Ferrari-owned circuit in Italy. While it provided teams an opportunity to test parts and drivers, the test was seen as a bit of a waste because of its location relative to the previous and immediate circuits (the test occurred between the Bahrain and Spanish Grands Prix). Had the test been at Bahrain, huge costs would have been prevented and the teams would be gathering more relevant information, as they race at the circuit.
So, if there was more testing, the strained mechanics would be able to work in a much lower-key environment while still accomplishing useful tasks. Testing and mechanics are more closely bound than people realize.
Testing provides the perfect way for FOM to solve the 4 major aspects of the calendar. The mechanics aren’t strained so much, the fans can stay happy, money is saved and technical advancements can be tested and perfected.
If Formula One is to be sustainable over the long run, it would be wise to take Fernando seriously.