Is F1 at its saturation point? Drivers fed up with gruelling schedule

There will be 24 Formula races in 2024, a record for a single season, and it's not without controversy

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Formula 1 cars will take to the track in a racing context 30 times in the 2024 season with 24 races and six sprints as Liberty Media and the FIA continues to attempt to grow the sport around the world, but they are meeting resistance from drivers, who are sick of their needs not being heard.

Esteemed names such as Max Verstappen, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and many more have all complained about the growing schedule and have even been empathetic to the mechanics who work to even tighter deadlines than the racers.

Verstappen, in fact, has even threatened to quit the sport if he doesn’t feel like he can adequately prioritise the things he values in life and he isn’t scared to take his talents to another series.

He constantly alludes to racing in the World Endurance Championship in the future, and his retirement is something he reasserted at a press conference ahead of the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix.

“I’ve said it before, but this is not sustainable,” Verstappen said to media. “I love racing a lot and I do it a lot outside of F1.

“But at one point you start looking into the quality of life and how much you are away doing the sport that you love, but at one point I prefer probably to just be at home and focus on other projects, because this is crazy, you know how much you have to do for it and I love F1.”

Alonso also fired a warning to the bosses of the sport by pointing out that in a situation such as 2023, once you realise you won’t be winning races then there is no motivation to fight.

“I started and we had 16 races,” Alonso added to the press. “Then it was it was 18 at some point and then I think Liberty Media [F1’s owners] came up with like a message then we had a 20-race season and that was absolutely the limit, 20 races, and now we are up to 24.

“This is not sustainable for the future for anyone. Even the world champion [Verstappen] thinks that is a little bit of a long season. Imagine. For the rest of us, we go to the races in the second half for nothing because there is no incentive to fight for anything.”

Sainz and Hamilton say it devalues the sport

Not just settling for the fatigue of a mammoth set of races, both Carlos Sainz and Hamilton noted that too many races actually take away from the show, although the Mercedes racer looked at it from a more environmentally-friendly stance.

Sainz noted that in football (soccer for our American and Australian friends), the rarity of a competition such as the UEFA Champions League or the FIFA World Cup makes it exciting and if games were stacked upon games upon games, then nobody would care about Real Madrid vs Barcelona anymore.

“When I look at football, I really like the Champions League because the Champions League, you don’t get it that often,” Sainz said at the press conference when asked about the F1 calendar. “The highlight of having a Champions League match is that it connects people for that day.

Lewis Hamilton looks on in a press conference at the 2024 pre-season test in Bahrain | Mercedes / Jiri Krenek
Lewis Hamilton looks on in a press conference at the 2024 pre-season test in Bahrain | Mercedes / Jiri Krenek

“I think F1 is risking becoming too constant, having one race every weekend and losing a bit the appetite of everyone switching on the TV to watch. I think it needs to remain exclusive.

“It needs to remain a sport where everyone is looking forward for the race to switch on and not something that you can get used to just by switching on the TV like regular league match every weekend.”

Another point raised is that constantly expanding the calendar goes against F1’s push on the broadcasters, team and itself to become more carbon neutral especially as teams become more reliant on flights to transport equipment in time instead of less polluting transportation such as lorries (trucks).

For Hamilton, the environment and sustainability are at the heart of his social activism, and he suggested that he feels F1 doesn’t quite value being green as much as it has to in order to keep the sport alive in the wake of climate change.

“We are on the limit already,” Hamilton added, offering his voice to the unity against the calendar. “Maybe we’re already over it, but I think we just have to be conscious of quality versus quantity.

“And we also have to think about the impact that we have on the world and the more races that we put this whole circus on traveling everywhere. Sustainability has to, should be, at the at the heart of the decisions that they’re making moving forwards.”

Perez’s FIA plea for the mechanics

In particular, Sergio Perez made a big point of highlighting that the mechanics and engineers can have just days to make it from one track to the next, which can sometimes involved travelling to the other side of the globe.

For example, in September the logistics crews have four days between the conclusion of the Azerbaijan GP to the Singapore GP meaning they must pack down the garages, fly over 4300 miles and set them back up again in time for arrivals on the Thursday.

For the triple header between the US GP, Mexico City GP and Brazilian GP they will clock a mega 5558 miles across the span of 12 days in order to make sure Liberty Media’s show manages to stay on schedule.

Sergio Perez walks to the grid prior to the 2023 Qatar GP | Mark Thompson / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Sergio Perez walks to the grid prior to the 2023 Qatar GP | Mark Thompson / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“Not only for the drivers but also for the mechanics,” Perez added, about how drained everyone feels. “For example, they got here on Tuesday.

“And weekend after weekend. I think it’s just a little bit too much. So, I think it’s important for the calendar to at least try to keep this as the limit or if not go down.

“Let’s see how it works out for the year, but I remember seeing a lot of some zombies in Abu Dhabi after Las Vegas, so let’s see how the year pans out. I don’t want to think too much on it.”

So, what is the solution? The obvious method is to communicate with the FIA through the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association to see if the big bosses can try to find a balance between entertainment and burnout and ethics for the mechanics and drivers.

That’s exactly what Perez says they’re trying to do as he highlights the 2023 Abu Dhabi GP as a particular example of everyone feeling frazzled by the demanding calendar and tight turnarounds.

“We are trying,” Perez said on communicating with the FIA on the issue. “And I think it’s a long process that we are trying to basically put some points across that is not only for the drivers, to be honest.

“Like I say there are a lot of mechanics and engineers and basically, they travel the world, weekend after weekend with a lot of hours on the planes. So, I think it’s something that has to be looked at.

“Like I said, I think it’s the first year with 24 races but we already saw last year how people got to Abu Dhabi. So, let’s see what happens.”

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