The Formula 1 calendar is the lifeblood of teams, drivers, and fans, as this simple list of dates can potentially make or break an F1 season.
In recent years this simple list of dates has expanded from 16 in 2003 to 24 in 2023, with the continued popularity of the sport causing track owners and national governments to throw the kitchen sink at securing a race.
Since buying the sport from Bernie Ecclestone, Liberty Media have tried to find the right balance between keeping the classics and expanding into new territories that Ecclestone turned his nose up at.
But this continued expansion has come at a cost, with the morale of people working inside the sport seemingly at breaking point whilst the traditional and newer fans struggle to warm to newer venues such as Miami, Las Vegas and Losail.
“I feel that F1 is close to a tipping point; with the calendar getting longer and the sport’s bosses thinking they can keep rolling out the triple-headers, so many people have talked about quitting this year, and that hasn’t happened any other years that I’ve been involved in the sport,” said an anonymous mechanic to Motorsport.com in 2021.
“I’m not sure if it’s just the working staff who think that 23 races is too much: I sense even the fans think that a run of triple-headers is not great. It feels like the sport is being cheapened in a way where each race is no longer as valuable and important because there are now so many.”
These comments may cause some concern at Liberty Media, but with the sport growing, the question of what makes a good calendar is difficult to answer.
What is the right amount of races?
Having the right amount of races has always been tricky for Formula 1.
Not enough races means the commercial side suffers; too many leave the people keeping the show on the road exhausted while also diluting the quality.
Then there’s the added headache of deciding what races to drop or put on a rotational deal with every move potentially causing a legal battle.
In an ideal world, 19 races would be perfect as it meets Formula 1’s competitive and financial demands without burning out the fans or those who work inside the paddock.
Doing away with triple headers?
The words triple header will always send a shiver down the back of anyone working in Formula 1. They are long, tiresome and generally held on multiple continents, complicating matters further.
Teams and fans, in general, hate them, but with an ever-expanding calendar, they’ve become more of a necessary evil than something the sport has to do on a once-a-year basis.
In an ideal world, triple headers would be a thing of the past, and with a reduction in races, this can happen as a week’s break in between races keeps the product and the teams fresh for what is still a gruelling season.
Finding the right balance
With Formula 1 being a World Championship, it’s crucial to strike a good balance between permanent and street circuits and races held in Europe and outside of Europe.
In the last 12 months, three street circuits have been added to the calendar, bringing the total to seven. The remaining 17 races are on permanent circuits located in Europe, the Americas and Asia.
One continent not represented on the calendar for what will be over 30 years by the time the 2023 F1 season begins is Africa, which has tried and failed to welcome the sport back.
Hopes of a return to Africa were raised when rumours spread that Kyalami, the venue of the last South African Grand Prix, was due to return in 2023, only for a deal to fall at the final hurdle giving Spa a reprieve.
To become a true World Championship for the first time in over 30 years, all continents needed to be represented, and that may mean some venues which are failing to pull in the crowds will need to be dropped to make that happen.
Not too early and not too late
In the 1960s, the season would start as early as January, with the drivers and teams spending Christmas in South Africa and Argentina before the action got underway.
The idea of a January start in modern Formula 1 is unthinkable, but a late finish isn’t, considering the last two championships finished in mid-December.
However, anything later than the second week of December would be far from ideal, with three days of testing and the FIA gala taking place shortly after the season’s final race.
Generally, the season begins in early to mid-March because of pre-season testing and car launches; with pre-season testing now being reduced to a single three-day session to save money, the 2023 F1 season will begin in the first week of March in Bahrain.
An earlier start looks set to become the norm with an expanded calendar and cost cap, benefiting fans who no longer have to wait weeks for the season to start.
A mixture of old and new venues
The final ingredient in making a good calendar is a mixture of historical venues and newer, more glamorous circuits that are either temporary facilities or built specifically for Formula 1, such as Portimao.
In 2021, Zandvoort returned to the Formula 1 calendar following extensive renovations to the circuit and its facilities, making it an instant fan favourite, whilst Imola’s modernised but tight layout has challenged the drivers.
Although some historical venues such as Paul Ricard have been dropped again after a brief return, Imola and Zandvoort’s success has given hope to the likes of Kyalami and Jarama that they too could rejoin the calendar.
Jarama will face competition from Madrid, who threw its hat into the ring to host a race around the city’s streets in the spring. A second race in China was also mooted by F1’s CEO Stefano Domenicali.
A purpose-built circuit in Qiddiya designed by former Benetton driver Alex Wurz was due to be added in 2023, whilst the Colombian city of Barranquilla welcomed Liberty Media executives in order to raise interest for a maiden Grand Prix in the country.
Ideal 2023 F1 calendar
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So after explaining what makes an ideal calendar, it’s time to create the perfect F1 schedule for 2023 with two rules in place.
The first rule is that the calendar can’t have more than 19 races, as anything over 19 will dilute the quality of the races. The second rule is that no country will get more than one race meaning that every continent will get a chance to host a Grand Prix, with some getting an extra race due to this rule.
The season starts in Australia, which before the pandemic is where the sport traditionally held its season opener, with Kyalami earning its spot a fortnight after Sakhir.
Estoril and the much-loved Nurburgring are the other classic venues that return, whilst Rio Hondo comes after Interlagos for logistical reasons.
Finally, Suzuka is the season finale again, as prior to the arrival of Yas Marina, the Japanese circuit was always seen as the true home of the sport’s season finale.