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How Many Races Makes a Season?

Over at F1-Fanatic, Keith Collantine has asked the question, How many races does F1 need?, and thereby saved you from my proposed rant about Honda’s new colours. I feel inspired to be awkward, irascible and downright objectionable over the idea of increasing the number of GPs and, as usual, I cannot resist an opportunity to play devil’s advocate. So here we go.

Rouge

Will the added circuits have corners as good as this?

It is easy for us to say, “Yes, give us more races,” when it costs us nothing and adds to the entertainment we crave. But the teams have a point when they say that more races means more expense for them – and this at a time when the FIA is trying to reduce costs. Even Bernie’s upper limit of twenty races may be pushing the envelope too far for some of the teams involved – and that means the little ones that tend to be more popular (Williams, for instance).

Before we shout too loudly for more races, we should consider carefully what effect this might have. It is not just a matter of expense; there is quality to be considered too.

Some will remember the days before the advent of cable and satellite television in Britain. Believe it or not, there was a choice between five channels, take it or leave it. With the arrival of new TV technology, suddenly we were presented with hundreds of channels and we thought we’d entered a brave new world of unlimited entertainment.

The reality turned out to be very different. Sure we had choice as never before, but what was worth choosing? From having a limited TV service that we continually assured ourselves was the best in the world (and it was – remember the annoyance of having two great programmes on at the same time?), we progressed to limitless choice between channel after channel of pure tripe.

The lesson is that there is only so much quality in the world; you can concentrate it or spread it thinly but nothing will increase the amount you started with. I will admit that, with perseverance, it is possible to find one or two channels on satellite TV that are pretty good but are you not then right back where you started? So quality collects into little bundles while the dross spreads out, offering no real choice at all.

This has some relevance for F1, believe it or not. If we increase the number of races, we also increase costs and cut down the amount of time and money that can be spent on developing and testing the cars. Yes, NASCAR has 40 races in a year but they are racing primitive machines that could never be regarded as the pinnacle of technology. And the danger is that allowing more races will lower the pace of development in F1 cars.

Look at this off season that is now drawing to a close. Cars that were designed at the beginning of last year are only now hitting the tracks in test sessions and the teams are struggling to get them fully prepared before the first race of 2007. Some will not be ready. And the result of less testing time is more failures and underperformance.

Does anyone remember how frustrating it is to see a talented driver lose race after race because of breakages on his car? Go back thirty years and you will find countless races in which the driver who deserved most to win was sidelined through mechanical failure. We are spoiled in this age of almost perfect reliability and have become used to seeing the best driver in the best car win with regularity.

There is the matter of familiarity breeding contempt to be considered too. Increase the number of races too much and they will begin to look the same, especially as the new ones added will inevitably be the anodyne, squeaky-clean chicane fests that are designed these days. Boredom will creep in as we realize that the circuits all look the same and they might as well hold all the races in one place. I would rather have a season of ten races on the great circuits of old than thirty held on brand new featureless tracks that provide no challenge at all.

So let us think carefully before providing a knee-jerk response of “Yes, yes, more races, always more races.” If we are talking about additions that are genuinely interesting tracks that provide a real spectacle, then yes, perhaps we could have a few more. But I think twenty must always remain the upper limit – any more than that and the quality will begin to decline.

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