Rewind the clock twenty years and you will note that Formula 1’s global reach was vastly different to how it is today. New F1 destinations are cropping up all the time, and like it or not, the sport is steadily shifting away from its European heartland.
Is this a healthy, or simply necessary, shift for Formula 1? Our guest writer, Liam Ohm, takes a closer look in his first feature article for RichardsF1.com…
It seems almost wrong to ask whether Europe will always have a place on the F1 calendar, given the continent’s creation and management of motorsport, and the power of leading teams like Ferrari and McLaren.
However, the pressure of globalisation is making F1 become increasingly focused on Asia and the Middle East as it looks to recover from internal disputes, and protect itself within the economic recession.
In this context, what we think of as the traditional European F1 base is changing, albeit perhaps not at a rate where the centrality of European Grand Prix are truly under threat.
So where is Formula One’s ‘Home’?
F1 developed in Europe around early track races, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, and the early years of Formula One in the 1950s. The World Driver’s Championship from the 1950s was principally associated with the leading events of Monza, Silverstone, and Monaco, while the rise of teams like Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, and Lotus came to represent the core of the sport.
More international races, however, became the norm by the 1970s and 1980s as Argentina, Brazil, Morocco, Japan, and Australia became regular destinations, and Japanese teams like Honda increased their stakes in the sport.
Under Bernie Ecclestone, F1 also began to move towards a business model that expanded the racing brand into as many different countries as possible. In this context, the twenty-course makeup of F1 has considerably altered over the past ten years.
In turn, this has created its own challenges – some might go so far as calling it a fragmentation – of Formula 1.
The sport’s globalisation has come as part of disputes between the FIA and other bodies, as well as within the sport’s struggle to overcome internal clashes and sponsorship disputes.
Ecclestone has directed F1 into India, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, as well as attempting to boost the sport’s profile in the United States. Only ten years ago, eleven out of seventeen races were held in Europe, making up 65 per cent of the calendar.
As of 2012, European events have dropped to 40 per cent, with events such as the Austrian, French and San Marino Grands Prix being dumped to make way for more offshore rounds.
With the United States expected to have two Grand Prix by 2013, and Russia having its own circuit in 2014, this trend is set to continue.
Further motivation for dropping European events has come from the sheer amount of money poured into F1 by oil-rich countries, with Bahrain spending $150 million on building its own bespoke F1 circuit.
One should, however, take a balanced perspective on this. Despite the globalisation of F1, the new international circuits, they still lack the stability and tradition offered by Monza, Monaco or Silverstone, and the well-established fan base that comes with them.
Broadening the F1 brand in countries like Bahrain has also caused controversy as political uprisings have threatened the very financial incentives on which the sport survives. Some problems with tracks in Turkey, India, Korea and Singapore have similarly tested standardisation for tracks around the world.
In the United States, new tracks in Austin and New Jersey have experienced mixed fortunes. Although Austin is set to have its first Grand Prix in 2012, Ecclestone has seemingly fallen out with New Jersey organisers over a new circuit on the East Coast of America.
The risks in moving F1 away from its European base, and making the annual calendar more diverse, are consequently being taken against the potential for diminished support in new countries, and financial instability for new circuits.
[Images via The Cahier Archive and XPB]
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