Since the official FIA Formula 1 World Championship began in 1950, non-championship races have featured on the Grand Prix calendar. These races continued to be a major feature on the motorsport schedule well into the 1970s, with the last non-championship race being in 1983.
With that historic nod, should modern F1 embrace the non-championship race once again?
According to Formula 1’s new head of motorsport, Ross Brawn, this is an option for the future of the sport.
“It might be rather optimistic, but you can imagine if we had a non-championship race there’d be a lot more capacity to look at different formats and approaches and see if the fans take to it with much less risk or exposure than we would if we were doing something in the championship,” he said.
With new owner Liberty Media now calling the shots in Formula 1, fresh ideas need to be tried. A good way to achieve this could be to hold a race which does not affect the World Championship.
“We often had non-championship races in the old days but getting it all to work is another matter,” Brawn added.
“It needs to be commercially viable of course, and that’s the challenge. Again, it couldn’t just be ‘pick ideas out of a hat’. It needs to be properly thought through, but maybe an opportunity.”
So what new ideas could be tested?
Shorter race formats is probably a given. This idea has been mooted many times in the past and sprint races would be a different spectacle: less about conserving the car and more about driving as fast as possible!
More racing action on a Saturday is also very likely. Other concepts such as reverse grids could also be trialled at a non-championship meeting. While F1 purists would want the sport to steer clear of gimmicks, non-championship races could explore artificially wetting the circuit (if a circuit was able to offer it).
Non-championship races in the past were often held in locations which were considered exotic, so perhaps these could be a means of trialing new locations. What about a race through a major city, a hill climb, or a race with a truly spectacular backdrop.
Purists will argue that the current format is fine and should not be changed. However, if F1 is to increase its global appeal and grow, then new ideas need to be tested. Other sports have benefited from updating and changing their format, with cricket’s move to Twenty20 being a prime example of this.
Formula 1 does need to evolve as well as cater to a younger audience. It also has heritage, more than any other motorsport category, so this needs to be respected too.
Non-championship race meetings would provide the means to try new things, while still respecting F1’s heritage.
As Brawn says: “We expose ourselves whenever we make changes like this. Fingers crossed, it is going to work out but l think it is a good example of where we didn’t go through the right principles to begin with.”
Image via McLaren