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Is a 20+ Race Schedule a Bridge Too Far for F1?

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With the announcement of the new Grand Prix of America in New Jersey for 2013, the focus gets narrower as McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh shares his concerns about the number of races on the Formula One schedule. The concern is the team's ability to manage more than 20 races and the far-flung nature of the current F1 model is challenging the teams to stay on top of the logistics.

According to the BBC, Whitmarsh has suggested that the teams are running at maximum and any more than 20 races would need a re-think on how the teams approach the global series. Can Formula One handle 21 or 22 races per year? According to Whitmarsh...no:

"We're getting close to the point where you do need to alternate crews, like in NASCAR.

"Obviously, the world championship is important, but every grand prix as a stand-alone event is very special.

"I know there is always the chase of money, but 20 is a lot and we're right on the limit of what we should be.

"I think we can cope with it (next year) but it is very hard because by the time the team strips down and returns after Brazil [the final race of this season, on 27 Novmber], then it will be December.

"In January those same guys will be building the car, and then in February testing it, and then they're into a flog around the world.

It is a tall order to move an entire operation around the world with literally tons of gear, cars, tools and humans and to that notion, F1 has been on its own version of an austerity plan lending gravity to the notion of reducing cost--travel seems the obvious target.

"Twenty races and a lot of fly-aways is pretty hard on the team, and we're at the tipping point. We shouldn't have any more than 20." said Whitmarsh.

The charm and glamor of F1 is its global presence. It's footprint on the world stage is what gives the series its panache and value as a marketing leader in motor sport but the weight of such a system traveling to far-flung locations does take its toll on human capital. At some level, the fine men and women working for the teams have a family and a need to go home.

Many team members fly from one venue to the next with only a week's preparation time before the next grand prix. The paddock details, assembly of their racing center, garage outfitting and other race issues consume their time. The IT professionals work diligently to assemble the team's massive data network for live communication back to the HQ during the race and the coordination it takes to land and assemble your operation in a foreign country is massive.

The F1 system has become sophisticated--and perhaps bloated--if you consider Whitmarsh's concern of more than 20 races in a season. In the old days a team had less kit to carry from one venue to the other and most races were centered in Europe but that has changed. Now they assemble a small city wherever they go and they do go to some of the more remote locations on the planet.

The off-season is also really a misnomer as the teams are furiously building the cars and testing them for the next season so little rest for the brilliant employees of any team during the Winter Season.

Whitmarsh cautions F1's commercial brokers, CVC Capital Partners, on making the schedule too big as it would require a second team to handle the details and from a fans point of view, what's wrong with that? It's expensive but surely the F1 machine has enough revenue to offset the expense?

F1's value can be found in its global approach. It reaches nations ripe for marketing dollars and it gives clarity and reason for many of the teams to do what they do. Selling Vodafone products and services is important to McLaren and having their brand exposed to the world 22 times a year, versus 20, has to be a good thing.

How can F1 limit itself to 20 races if the world supports more, the sponsors would like more and the fans will watch more? Perhaps less revenue spent on lavish motorhomes and technology or 3D simulators and more on the basics of racing is in order? Perhaps a second team to prep each location for the racing team to fly in a race? The logistics in F1 are staggering and it is important not to marginalize this point but at some crucial stage, the F1 calendar could very well balloon to 21 or 22 races and that has to be addressed through cunning logistics and resource management. Whitmarsh's example of NASCAR is a good one when you consider that series races practically every weekend all summer long. It doesn't travel as far but it races twice as much.