• Editor's comment

Something's got to give

Martin Williamson October 15, 2010
Two masters of all they control ... Bernie Ecclestone and the not-quite-as-autocratic Vladamir Putin at the announcement of a Russian Grand Prix in 2014 © Getty Images

It seems barely a week goes by without Bernie Ecclestone announcing, or at the least dropping lead-weighted hints about, another new grand prix venue. On the eve of his 80th birthday he seems hell bent on leaving a legacy of a race in almost every major country. Less is more is not a term bandied round the Ecclestone household.

His actions are completely at odds with his own well-documented statement that the F1 season cannot contain more than 20 grands prix. This year we have had 19 and it's been an unrelenting eight months. Next season, thanks to the addition of an Indian GP, we have hit Bernie's magic 20.

But with the enthusiasm of Imelda Marcos in a shoe shop, Bernie just can't help himself. He has agreed to a US Grand Prix in 2012 and now a Russian Grand Prix in 2014. He's also been gushing about a Rome Grand Prix as soon as 2012. Something has to give.

A US race makes common as well as financial sense. There is a massive untapped market in America. But the same cannot be said for many of the newer venues. Few expect massive crowds at the remote, new and finished-by-the-seat-of-their-pants Korean Grand Prix next weekend. And why on earth do we need a street race in Rome when we already have a long-standing GP at Monza?

Nothing will get in the way of Bernie and money, so he just keeps on dealing

While TV companies would love a race pretty much every weekend, the logistics of hauling huge amounts of equipment round the world, as well as the strain on teams, drivers, and dare we say it, the media, rule that out. But nothing will get in the way of Bernie and money, so he just keeps on dealing.

In the last three years the season has become a month longer. Next year it is extended by almost a fortnight and runs to the last weekend of November. Given the need for all connected with the sport to remind their families they exist, as well as pre-season testing, it's at saturation point. The only window left for another race is the four-week August break.

And while the last few seasons have been exciting, you only have to go back to the first few years of the decade to remember quite how tedious the Schumacher-Ferrari domination was. Those seasons often felt as if they would never end. Just imagine a similar scenario in a bloated calendar.

In addition, the new tracks are all designed by Hermann Tilke and as a result have a rather uniform look and feel. That's not Tilke's fault, but using the same designer will inevitably lead to a homogenised product. At least in Austin he's gone for a wild deviation from the norm. It will be anticlockwise. Or perhaps the plans were just printed the wrong way round.

If the promised races go ahead, then the real losers are likely to be the established venues, mainly in Europe. Bernie deals on the back of massive financial guarantees from the tracks. The new venues he has unveiled - some good, some appalling - have almost all had the benefit of huge funding from local or central government. The older circuits simply cannot match the money being thrown at Ecclestone.

When Bernie faced with sentimentality, or even public opinion, against cash, there will only be one winner.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo