Grand Prix. French for grand prize, yet since 2008 there has not been a French Grand Prix on the F1 calendar. This is set to change with news that the Paul Ricard circuit (near Marseille) is due to hold a race from next year, and then once every two years in a shared deal with the Belgium Grand Prix. This is bittersweet news in the greatest way - France needs to be on the calendar: 3 French drivers on the grid this year and Renault powers four of the 12 teams. But to alternate with Belgium is heartbreaking. Ask any Formula One driver what circuits they want to win a Grand Prix at and most will answer with Silverstone (Britain), Monte-Carlo (Monaco), Monza (Italy) or Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium).
Why is Spa considered one of the greatest in a country best known for chocolate? Well my friends who are not into Formula 1 describe the sport as, "cars going round in circles" or "it's boring and the same guy always win" well maybe the latter point is the subject for a later blog, but I admit in its rawest form F1 is about cars going in circles - but Spa is different. It's 4.35 miles of twisting and undulating track buried deep in the Ardennes gives the sense of 'going somewhere'. Sure, it's been modernised, but the track layout still carries the sense of thrill that was given to the almighty circuits of the 1950's and 60's.
But it got me thinking, why do we have the core races and why do some that just come and go? Monaco is usually the dullest of all the races in terms of on-track action, but people watch it because of its unique setting, along with the glitz and glamour. Monza is just a series of long straights broken up with chicanes, but its Ferrari's homeland. Silverstone was the birth of the Formula One World Championship, having held the first ever race in 1950 and it seems to be Bernie Ecclestone's aim in life to slate it at any given opportunity. Yet these are among the crown jewels of the F1 calendar and will never be removed. What does a country need to do in order for it to remain? Well, with history not being on their side, it comes down to money.
The history of the F1 calendar could be used to show the state of the world economy. With the circuits of the 1950's being mostly the ring roads of the airfields used in World War II, it was no surprise that the heartland of the sport was centred on Europe. Now into the 21st century and the growing nations of India, China, the Middle East and Asia, there are fewer races proportionally in Europe than at any other point in the sports history.
I celebrate this - F1 is a WORLD championship after all. I hope the limit of races is kept at 20 however. To win a Grand Prix is special, and a Championship more so - it should never become diluted through having 25, 30 races in one season. For years, the calendar was rooted to 16 races and you could almost guess what the calendar would be for the following season before it was officially published. Formula One has now become greater than just a sport. Countries are clamouring to get on the calendar to showcase their country and culture to the world - outside of the international sporting competitions (World Cup, Olympics), no other sport gives this platform for advertisement to a country - and it happens every year.
So with that news of France possibly sharing with Belgium, I applaud it. Yes it means fewer races at Spa, but it does allow for variety on the calendar, and possibly a new element in mixing up the grid, as teams and drivers won't have a year-on-year knowledge of the track. The core races will always be there, but the lower tiered races could be altered. There you go Bernie, a whole new pricing structure for you to work with...