Formula 1

Is format variety the saviour amid F1 calendar saturation fears?

by Josh Suttill
4 min read

Fernando Alonso thinks 18 Formula 1 races a year is enough, Lando Norris says 20 would be a “good number” and Max Verstappen says 24 is “too many for me”.

It’s hard to find real enthusiasm among drivers about F1 announcing its longest-ever calendar for 2024, with January the only clear month without racing or pre-season testing.

Pierre Gasly paused when asked for his thoughts on the 24-race schedule and understandably went for the “let’s say I love racing so I’m happy to race” argument. It’s clear drivers want to race. But most drivers are reluctant to have 24 weekends of everything a modern F1 weekend now entails; racing is only a small part of it in the end.

And they also acknowledge it’s “extremely tough for everyone” else in the team. As Gasly noted, it’s both a “physical and mental” challenge.

“Twenty is a good number also for the lives of mechanics, engineers, everyone that travels,” McLaren driver Norris said.

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“They’re away from families, kids for so [many] days. More days than us drivers are away. It’s tougher for them, when we talk about things, we almost speak as more voices for them than probably for ourselves.

“It’s nice to see they [F1] have put some effort into organising it in a slightly better way but still it’s a tough calendar, longest we’ve had. I’d say 20 is a better number for everyone, for the health of all the Formula 1 people.”

Alonso concurred: “More than 18, 19 and you start stressing the mechanics, media, everyone is just on the back foot from February to December.”

He said drivers have the “comfort” to not complain but it’s not the same for other members of the team.

But does the greater variety of the format in recent years – variety that’s only going to increase next year with two extra Saturday races to start the season – make having so many races more palatable?

“There is also a saturation factor. How we have the races at the moment, if we had 24 races all the same I think we would already have too many but because they’re so different now, people always look forward to something,” Haas team principal Guenther Steiner argued.

“Six sprint weekends, then they have got the night race. Now next year we’ve got three Saturday races [Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Las Vegas].

“A little bit of a mix. You always have something special to look forward to.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Austrian Grand Prix Sprint Day Spielberg, Austria

“But can you imagine 24 races in the old days when it was all cookie cutter, start at 3pm, finish at 5pm. You would say after 20 ‘I’ve had enough’ but now there’s also some newness, different thing in there, which makes it interesting.”

There’s probably some truth to what Steiner is saying in the respect that sprint weekends have sometimes mixed up grand prix weekends potentially beyond the way a standard format would, and have certainly made Fridays more interesting. After all, sprint weekends mean there are only 16 FP2s this year rather than 22.

But it’s another matter of whether the variety is really enough to make up for F1 pushing right to the limit of the mandated 24-round maximum the current Concorde agreement allows for.

“No, I think 24 with the business model we have now is the limit. If you have more races it needs to be a big step, a big step financially that you can have two [rotating] teams running it, otherwise it’s very difficult to attract people to work in F1,” Steiner said.

“It’s putting an effort in. I say from my side, I come on Wednesdays, some of the set-up crew is away months in a row, a long time. For them it’s more difficult [than] for me personally. Obviously for us it’s not easy to be away for 24 weekends racing [either].”

If F1 personnel are struggling being away from home for so long, is the fact there’s a qualifying session instead of an FP2 on a Friday really going to make up for that – likewise a couple of back-to-back Saturday races?

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Race Day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Perhaps if those Saturday races involved two-day rather than three-day weekends that would be the kind of variety that would make more of a tangible difference.

But instead the only real positive that can be taken from the format variety is simply about making that gruelling “physical and mental challenge” a little bit less routine.

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