Formula 1 is going through a wave of popularity, with more countries attempting to host a Grand Prix than ever before in the sport’s 73-year history.
The increased competition means venues must create a smooth, environmentally sustainable experience to remember or potentially face the axe, especially if crowd numbers.
First to be ousted was Paul Ricard, following four French Grand Prix, which generated more negative headlines for poor facilities, limited access roads and minimal accommodation options than positive ones.
Paul Ricard wasn’t the first venue to have its future on the F1 calendar at risk, whilst Spa Francorchamps narrowly avoided the same fate, following Kyalami’s failure to agree the return of the South African GP in time.
So what venues could be waving goodbye to the F1 circus soon?
Belgian GP – Contract expires in 2023
The first circuit on thin ice is Spa Francorchamps, a circuit steeped in F1 history and adored by drivers and fans but seemingly not by the sport’s bigwigs.
Spas ruralness, coupled with its limited accommodation options in the area around the track, dreadful weather, and the debacle, which was the 2021 Belgium GP, have put it firmly in the firing line.
This is despite the circuit owners upgrading the facilities, building new grandstands and making the Eau Rouge-Raidillon section of the course safer following a series of high-profile accidents.
Ironically enough, Spa‘s future will depend on whether Kyalami’s attempts to get onto the F1 calendar are once again fruitless, potentially giving Belgium a lifeline even if a multi-year deal seems unlikely.
Japanese GP – Contract expires in 2024
If you ask any top F1 driver which circuit they love driving most, chances are they will say Suzuka, which has had a reputation for exciting racing and passionate fans since 1987.
But the race has taken a knock because of the Covid-19 pandemic, causing F1 to avoid the country for two years before being brought back in 2022, albeit with some restrictions.
Like many older circuits, Suzuka struggles with rural access roads, and it seems whilst the fans have come back, they all haven’t come back, with only 190,000 attending last year’s race.
With the circuit’s contract set to run out at the end of next year, time will be of the essence to save Suzuka from the axe.
Azerbaijan GP – Contract expires in 2024
Since Azerbaijan first welcomed F1 in 2016, the country’s sporting reputation has skyrocketed, hosting events such as the Europa League final and the European Games.
The Baku street circuit, in particular, has produced some all-time classics which have gone down in folklore, challenging the drivers’ reactions on a course based the city’s landmarks.
However, Baku has its drawbacks, and the biggest was the lack of cheap direct flights to the country from mainland Europe and visas to enter the country, putting fans off.
Russian and Ukrainians did go, but with the war between the two nations still ongoing, ticket sales have suffered, potentially ending Azerbaijan’s F1 adventure.
Monaco GP – Contract expires in 2025
In the past, it seemed the only way of removing Monte Carlo from the calendar was either a pandemic or if Monaco’s clever money turned to cheese overnight.
But trouble is brewing in paradise as a combination of lack of space, separate sponsorship contracts and lack of willingness has put the race’s future on a knife edge.
Heading into last year’s race, speculation intensified over the race’s future as talks between the organisers and the sport’s governing body had reached a stalemate until they agreed upon a three-year deal.
On paper, Monaco have everything a modern-day F1 venue needs, but the lack of space and non-full-time sponsors continuing to back the race may cause problems when contract talks start again.
Emilia Romagna GP – Contract expires in 2025
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, F1 was left scrambling for venues to fill up a makeshift calendar, with Imola being one of those venues given a spot.
F1 called upon Imola to host another race in 2021, and as a result of bailing the sport for two years in a row, the circuit given a contract until 2025.
The first race with fans for 16 years didn’t go as smoothly as expected, with cars being pulled out of car parks by tractors whilst some stewards could not direct fans to their seats.
Imola may be a popular destination with fans due to its history and value for money, but with more countries wanting a piece of the F1 pie, it will need to improve or face the consequences.
Spanish GP – Contract expires in 2026
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is unusual for the fact it’s hosted Grand Prix for over 30 years, yet it remains very much a marmite circuit with fans due to its limited overtaking opportunities.
Popular with teams for winter testing and with ex-pats, Montmelo attracted a massive crowd for last year’s Spanish GP held in baking hot temperatures, which, unfortunately for the organisers, exposed the circuit’s ageing facilities.
Not only did the circuit’s vendors run out of food and drink options causing some fans to collapse with heat stroke, but poor logistics meant fans couldn’t get away from the venue for hours.
Throw in attempted robberies in the circuit car parks, and with pre-season testing moved to Bahrain, it’s understandable as to why Montmelo’s future on the calendar is under threat.