A car bomb set off in Manama’s Financial District on Sunday night, the 13th of April, a week before the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, and with the opposition February 14 movement claiming responsibility, has of course raised security concerns: but is there really a chance of the race being cancelled in 2013? Or perhaps postponed?
The Bahrain Grand Prix won’t be cancelled due to the rights and wrongs of what happened in 2011, and since, where the Bahrain Police and Government have been accused of Human Rights abuses. The Bahrain Grand Prix was cancelled in 2011 but returned in 2012, many believed it shouldn’t have done so and that F1 shouldn’t have been seen to support the Bahrain Government. The arguments against running the race in 2013 though haven’t strengthened since 2012 so on this count there is no reason to believe the race will be cancelled, and certainly not at this late stage.
The potential for disruption to the Grand Prix though, including attacks, has to be considered still, and monitored up to the morning of the race. In 2012 an incident where a vehicle the Force India team’s personnel were traveling between the circuit and their hotel in was attacked with petrol bombs saw the team sit out Friday practice. This followed assurances in the run up to the Grand Prix, from security and police in Bahrain, that no such incidents would occur.
Has this changed in 2013 then? Are security risks higher following this bombing? Presumably the timing of which a week before the Grand Prix isn’t coincidental, or is security tighter this year with more detailed planning in place?
Bernie Ecclestone doesn’t see a problem in going back this year but the teams have to be willing to attend so all will need assurances. Force India though, understandably the team most likely to be concerned about security threats, have come out saying they have no concerns.
Bob Fernley of Force India is quoted by AutoSport as saying “There are bound to be incidents, but ours was just one of those unfortunately things last year and it just got blown out of all proportion,” and so it appears the race will go ahead baring any incidents between now and then.
The worry is of course that protestors and opposition groups such as the February 14 movement will try to scare away the teams, who have now arrived at the Sakhir circuit, before a wheel is turned.
It seems the German Grand Prix will in fact not be at the Nurburgring in 2013 and the vacant European race might be filled by Portugal, though a French Grand Prix is still a possibility.
First to the vacant European race, A French race has long seemed most likely but a Turkish race at Istanbul Park or Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring have also been suggested, now a Portuguese Grand Prix (which would be the first since 1996) is being suggested as a possibility by Bernie Ecclestone.
Portugal’s Algarve region have a shiny, nearly, new circuit at Portimao. The Algarve International Circuit was homologated by the FIA in 2008 and was used for testing in in 2010. The circuit has also hosted events such as A1 GP in 2008 and Superbikes so has facilities for fans. In fact in 2009 then FIA President Max Mosley said he could see no reason why the Circuit couldn’t host F1 if an agreement was made with Formula One Management. Now Bernie has said the Portuguese are showing interest in hosting a race to fill this one off vacant European GP slot, created by the delay to the Port Imperial circuit in New Jersey.
It seems Austria isn’t an option as a replacement though, even though some had suggested Red Bull might finance the race at their Red Bull Ring circuit, formerly the A1 ring and the Osterreichring Bernie Ecclestone has suggested it is unlikely. He doesn’t think it could replace the German Grand Prix either it seems, based on an interview given by Mr Ecclestone last week in Austria.
Since then though Mr Ecclestone has confirmed that negotiations with the Nurburgring for this year’s German Grand Prix have ceased.
The circuit is in serious financial trouble and may soon need to seek Bankruptcy protection, this opens the potential for it to be sold but the circuit may be off the calender for at least a few years.
Those running the Hockenheimring have said they are willing and ready to host the race this year if they need to. Long term though they may find that hosting the German Grand Prix every year is unviable financially; both the Nurburgring and Hockenheim did seem to find their arrangement to host the race in alternate years as a good solution.
You might have thought then that a new deal where Hockenheim and the Red Bull Ring alternate might have been ideal but it seems not. With increasing pressure on European circuits though and Bernie Ecclestone looking to cut Grand Prix it could be that a circuit such as the Hungaroring might see alternating with Hockenheim as the only way to keep a Grand Prix long term.
With the start of the 2013 season only just over a month away though it seems that the season could well start with an unfinalised calender.
There will be more races added to the calendar over the next few years, not just Sochi in Russia and New Jersey in the US but the likes of Thailand, Greece, Argentina and Mexico are planning circuits, there’s also existing circuits looking to get races back though.
A few years ago there were few if any circuits of the right standard to host formula one, which weren’t already hosting it: that standard including not just the track and its safety standards but facilities for spectators, guests and press and infrastructure including most importantly transport links.
Magny Cours left the calendar partly due to poor road links, since improved, the transport links for Paul Ricard have been questioned regarding their suitability recently by the French Government. Other circuits that are closer to F1 standards though but currently don’t host F1 include Jerez, still used for testing but a little dated, Estoril a little dated now and the circuit fell out with F1 with a last minute cancellation in 1997.
Then there’s Portimao, a testing circuit without enough facilities for a major race, the same is true for Valencia (Circuit_Ricardo_Tormo), the permanent circuit rather than the street circuit. There’s Imola which would need some safety improvements to host F1, which may not be practical without redesigning the layout. There’s also the Red Bull Ring, previously the A1 ring and before that, the site at least, of the Österreichring, no races have been held here since 2003 but Dietrich Materschitz has bought it up to standard.
The Red Bull Ring could host races right now and so could Istanbul Park, off the calendar for no reason but lack of spectators and
therefore lack of money to compete with better offers Bernie Ecclestone is getting from elsewhere. Magny Cours as mentioned could host F1 now too and may even get a chance in 2013 to fill in for the postponed inaugural American Grand Prix in New Jersey.
Probably the only other current track that could potentially host F1 in the world right now is Indianapolis and we can discount that for at least the rest of Bernie’s lifetime.
What future for these circuits that have the overheads of maintaining an F1 standard circuit but no F1? There will however be more in the near future, especially in Europe where Bernie wants to slash the calendar down to only a handful of European races, with numbers as low as four mentioned.
The Nurburgring could be gone from the calendar very soon as the circuit is in financial trouble and may be unable to maintain a contract going forwards even if it finds a buyer and even on the current basis on which it shares the German Grand Prix with Hockenheim alternating each year. Hockenheim may struggle to finance a race every year, Barcelona and Valencia’s Street Circuit will alternate but neither circuit is completely safe.
Spa Franchorchamps’s medium term future is safe with a new contract signed this year (2012) and Silverstone has a long contact, Monaco isn’t going anywhere and the same can probably be said for Monza. The Hungaroring’s owners should feel a little nervous then, especially with a race in Russia at the Black Sea port of Sochi, ensuring a race in Eastern Europe.
For those who dream of the return of classic tracks like already mentioned Imola as well as Brands Hatch or Zandvoort there seems to be no room for this sadly and Tilke’s grip on designing circuits doesn’t seem to be set to end, with the exception of the new Piraeus Street Circuit on the edge of Athens. Speaking of Greece in fact they may not only be planning this circuit but a F1 standard circuit at Patras is also tabled, though if this does become a reality testing is the only way it is likely to see F1 action.
Ok so that’s the situation now with over supply of F1 circuits so what can be done with them? Well maybe we will see the rise of the super sub circuit?
A few times in the past races have been cancelled and then moved elsewhere, often last miunute: teams, drivers and FOM prefer to keep a round in place and ideally on the same day and time to fit in with pre-planned TV schedules; not to mention ensuring the championship isn’t cut short when a race could be crucial for the championship. In the past though there weren’t any circuits ready to fill in these gaps. If Bahrain had been cancelled this year there was talk of the race going to Turkey the year before Magny Cours was the only circuit mentioned as a replacement and this never looked likely.
Estoril being replaced for the last round by Jerez in 1997 was the last time a swap actually took place, the last minute cancellation of the last round really wouldn’t have been an option with the championship so finally poised.
In future though circuits could keep themselves ready to cash in on other circuits not being able to host a race, and financial problems aren’t uncommon for circuit owners nor are problems completing work on time.
A circuit able to quickly get ready for a race could cash in with reduced fees, if any, and get fans in as a result by not needing to charge as much, though some tracks would have less trouble anyhow with the Hungaroring for example always well attended and with a big market in Scandinavia and central and Eastern Europe who would jump at the chance to go to a race without having to travel as far.
The Sochi Park circuit is due to have its track put down after the Winter Olympics on the same site at the beginning of 2014, there should be time but this could be one opportunity for a super-sub circuit and more immediately Bernie Ecclestone would like to add in a race to replace the cancelled New Jersey race and has said he would be happy to do a deal for a French Grand Prix at Magny Cours or Paul Ricard, which he happens to own.
So, after years of planning and speculation, not just over what the circuit would be like but also whether it would ever be finished or raced upon, we finally got our chance to see what kind of a race the Circuit of The Americas provided. Bernie Ecclestone said the circuit exceeded even his expectations and drivers and team principals such as Christian Horner have also heaped praise on the circuit since the race.
The 2012 US Grand Prix was one of the best of the season, that can’t be denied but whether that is down to the track or not is something that may need further examination before we declare the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) a complete triumph.
So let’s look first at what isn’t down to the circuit that made the race one that is at least bordering on the designation ‘a classic’.
Well Button’s race was one of the most exciting individual performances and this came from a qualifying throttle failure, at least in part, meaning he started twelfth on the grid. From twelfth on the grid Button slipped back at the start due partly to a less grippy starting position than 11th and 13th but it was also due to some bad luck getting blocked going round turn 1; or was it simply that turn 1 has been designed to provide chances for the brave?
The dirty grid positions are not part of the circuits design and won’t be as bad in 2013, as the asphalt will be a year older and less greasy with less residual dust from building work around. However COTA is in the dessert and so like in Bahrain some dust is inevitable.
These factors so far though wouldn’t have been enough alone to create a great race so is it the circuit? Well the biggest influencer has to be between the circuit and the tyres.
Cooler than expected conditions in the Texas dessert meant that the medium tyres couldn’t be switched on fast and the hard tyres seemed to take an eternity. This for a start made qualifying entertaining with cars out on track lap after lap as their tyres got warmer and their times got faster. Some got it just right before the sessions ended, some got it all wrong and this includes Rosberg who was forced to come in and head out on fresh, cold, tyres leaving him perilously close to dropping out in Q1. The Mercedes struggled all weekend though, Ferrari struggled in qualifying but they were better in the race once their tyres reached operating temperature and Massa showed one area where he can outperform Alonso is in getting his tyres up to temperature, which saw him qualify above Alonso and set some blistering times late on in the race with the hard tyres.
In the race of course we were given cars getting up to speed on tyres that were hard to heat with the hard tyres making those that changed on to them early sitting ducks at first and most drivers sitting ducks to Button once he did get his Hard tyres working at the start after a poor first few laps.
Ok so to get such an exciting race then maybe next year we need the ‘wrong’ tyre allocation again, Pirelli have put the show ahead of performance in the past so this isn’t out of the question. Take all of these factors away though and what does the circuit offer?
Well first of all, and this shouldn’t be under-valued, it doesn’t seem to fan out cars like some circuits, this means cars can follow in long trails within a second of one another as was happening during the race; including a train behind Di Resta early on of maybe 8 or 9 cars. This led to some good mid-pack action and meant that cars could leap on opportunities.
At one point in the UK Sky coverage the commentators mentioned the DRS might have been too easy, we would disagree though and suggest the number of DRS overtakes was due to cars being close enough together that the following car could take advantage when the car in front slipped up, which on the dusty circuit they did numerous times, and also when cars were going different speeds, which with people going on to and warming up tyres at different times was happening a lot as well. The fact that many DRS attempts did fail showed that the DRS zone was about right and with Hamilton and Vettel on a similar pace it took a delay, arguably a mistake, for Vettel passing Karthikeyan for Hamilton to be given an opportunity.
The snake section though was an issue for cars passing traffic, some would argue that an experienced driver would have been careful to plan where they approached a car, Vettel would disagree but he also seemed to have unreasonable demands on Karthikeyan to make himself disappear in this section. Is this factor a good or a bad thing? It creates excitement though some fans would rather see the best man win rather than see these unexpected events thrown into the mix, but with bullet proof reliability there is already perhaps less unpredictability in F1 than ever before.
Another point worth making is that the cars looked beautiful through the snake/ Ss section, the change of direction at speed showing what marvels they are. This is even more important when you consider this is a showcase for F1 to the American public who may be more familiar with racing on oval tracks.
In other sections of the track however the width is there to pass safely, if not easily, and up and down the field we saw some great close racing with only a few moves that could have been given penalties and none that did, a rarity for a race in 2012.
250,000 spectators visited COTA over the 3 days, maybe not capacity but not bad considering the worries some potential attendees had over lack of accommodation in the area and the race potentially being cancelled if the circuit wasn’t finished, which may have seen some people stay away.
So what will Americans think themselves? There was some great racing but maybe not the crashes that are more common in many American motor sports series; the first corner seemed to be made for a pileup and despite the space cars inevitably went for the racing line as they turned in and many had to dive off the track, it looked like a matter of moments before someone spun and a pileup occurred. Surely next year the start can’t go off without any incident?
Then again maybe the fans who come to motor racing events see crashes and smashes will never be converted to F1 where retaining walls are a couple of hundred metres back from the track and have a ultra modern tec-pro barrier or thick row of tyres, rather than a solid wall and catch fencing. Maybe it is motorsport fans in America who love close racing and super human ability to overtake around a tricky track without crashing who will be converted to F1, and these do exist in the US as well, in which case the Circuit of the Americas is an ideal circuit.
Bernie Ecclestone seems to have moved on to putting doubts in to the future of the Canadian Grand Prix; he has done the same to Australia earlier in the season but now it seems that he wants something from the organisers of the race in Montreal and so is threatening the future of the race if they don’t update the circuit.
What effect Bernie has on the confidence of sponsors of races and how this threatens races and circuit’s ability to pay for track developments rarely seems to worry him but he does have a long stream of races wanting to join the calendar with new, Tilke designed, circuits.
Fans of course have different concerns and seeing some of the best and most exciting circuits such as Montreal removed is not what they want to see. Montreal is a fans’ favorite, has a lot of history and seems to be great for bringing people to Montreal. So hopefully the circuit will find the money to make changes, either that or it will turn out that Ecclestone’s threats are hollow, which often they are.
Bernie Ecclestone has gone as far as putting a price on the redevelopments for the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on the Ile de Notre Dame in Montreal at $15 million (US) this would include replacing the 25 year old garages and extending the Paddock area, certainly jobs worth doing but are the threats needed?
The race’s promoter Francois Dumontier thinks that the threats are premature and that putting a price on the work is also unnecessary as it is work being considered already. In either case the current contract lasts until 2014 so there is still plenty of time for work to be done, what may be more of a problem is the size of the paddock, already on floating platforms in the Olympic basin.
With the announcement that funding is in place the 2013 French Grand Prix is almost certain to go ahead and as previously reported should share a slot in the calendar with Belgium so that the races happen in alternate years.
The decision for a return of the French Grand Prix may be popular but the reduction of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa to bi-annual is not going down well with fans, at the same time some are philosophical considering that with no contract beyond 2013 this may be the best way of ensuring the Belgian Grand Prix’s future.
French sports minister David Douillet has confirmed that France is ready to host a Grand Prix, it is agreed in principle with Bernie Ecclestone and funding is in place including government backing, the French Prime Minister Francois Fillon having been behind the project to bring the race back.
The French race is set to take place at La Castellet on the Paul Ricard circuit that most teams know well from testing; it is assumed that the race will be on the same end of August, start of September slot as the Belgian Grand Prix is now and has been for many years. An important fact to consider is also that the Paul Ricard circuit is owned by none other than Bernie Ecclestone, he surely then can’t be averse to his circuit hosting what many see as his sport.
The Belgian Grand Prix is in fact all that is holding up the deal, they have to agree to the plan to share a race and will need to sign a new long term contract. Sources have suggested that the Belgian Grand Prix organisers do welcome the shared race as a way to bring down the costs of hosting a Grand Prix themselves. Organiser of the Belgian grand prix Etienne Davignon said in August last year that:“We have a contract until 2013, and we feel that there is a strong tendency at present for an alternation (in future)”, perhaps suggesting that France may be forced to wait until 2014 if Spa-Franchorchamps want to honour their 2013 contract.
Should the deal not go through with Spa though there may be alternatives with Valencia and Barcelona both looking at cutting the costs of hosting Grand Prix. Valencia may want to cancel the race on the Valencia Street circuit altogether but it seems Barcelona are ready to renogotiate and the Spanish city is in fact much closer to La Castallet (near Marsaille) than Spa is making the fit more logical as fans in the area will still be able to travel to one race or the other; it might be less likely that regulars at the Belgian Grand Prix would go to La Castallet with Hockenheim,, The Nurburgring and even Silverstone being closer.
The first Pre-Season test of the year is currently taking place at the Circuito de Jerez, the circuit is at Formula One standards already and the Formula One circus comes here to test most years. The convenience of being in Europe yet with relatively warm, and reliable, weather for this time of year is what brings Formula One here plus the fact that outside of this area there are few other Formula One grade circuits with sufficient facilities and safety features apart from those that already host Formula One. Iberia though seems to have plenty of top class circuits including Jerez, Valencia (not the street circuit another), and Aragon in Spain and Estoril and Portimão in Portugal.
Even in the UK Brands Hatch is no longer at modern Formula One standards meaning Silverstone is the only place in the UK where Formula One could take place, after the development of Donington was scuppered by finical problems. In France the Paul Ricard circuit, a long time testing favourite, is now set to host Formula One from 2013, alternating with Spa. Could Jerez be a new venue for the Spanish Grand Prix with both Barcelona and Valencia unsure of whether they want to continue to host their races?
Valencia is widely considered the worst circuit on the calendar, before the introduction in the 2000s of many new circuits designed by Tilke Barcelona was thought of as one of the most boring circuits and it is still not exactly known for exciting races now.
As a new circuit Jerez hosted Formula One from 1986 until 1990, after which it was replaced by the new Barcelona circuit; the European Grand Prix has been held here as recently as 1994 and 1997 though. 1997 of course is a famous race: as the closing race of the season, standing in for the cancelled Portugese Grand Prix at Estoril, the race saw the coming together of title protagonists Michael Schumacher and Villenueve that put out Schumacher and also got him disqualified from the championship.
One of the main reasons for the Spanish Grand Prix going to Barcelona from 1991 was the location of Jerez being relatively remote; the problem could always be for the Jerez circuit that it might struggle to pay the fees from gate receipts that Bernie demands, having said this Jerez currently has Moto GP and ticket sales are good and turnout for F1 testing is impressive too. This then may not be a problem if Alonso can start winning again in 2012 to boost interest in Spain and if private investment to lay out the fees can be found. Barcelona and Valencia currently rely on public money from the Catalunyan and Valencian governments respectively, which has it seems dried up.
In either case it seems likely that Jerez would offer a better spectacle and a lot more overtaking than Barcelona or Valencia, or perhaps both put together. The Curva Dry Sac, turn 6, where Villeneuve was overtaking Schumacher in 1997 is a good overtaking opportunity after a long straight and the turn 11 chicane is another opportunity. The hairpin is moderately open and overtaking here is possible going on to the start finish straight and the first corner is a difficult third gear right hander with an up hill braking zone with a blind apex where a pass can be made with a little bravery or if a mistake is made by the car in front.
Update – Sky’s F1 channel will now also be available on Virgin Media
2012 will be very different for F1 fans to 2011, some of us will have resigned ourselves to paying for Sky Sports, others to missing races and having to watch extended highlights. There are however a few alternatives, none ideal but options none the less.
1. Get Sky and Sky Sports or Sky HD
So the obvious option is to get Sky and Sky Sports, if you have Sky already then the extra cost is the subscription to Sky Sports, only the complete package comes with the F1 channel. If you don’t have these options though you will have to pay for Sky TV first of all, this may or may not have value to you and the cost starts to stack up.Update – It has now been announced that with a HD package you will get the F1 channel even without a Sky Sports subscription, a clever ploy but a good way to give people the excuse to get a HD upgrade they may have wanted anyway but not been able to justify before.
Cost: around £20 for sky on a 12 month contract plus a further £20 for Sky Sports or £30.25 if you want to keep on watching in HD
2. Watch BBC races only and extended highlights
This option has no cost but of course means not being able to watch all races live; the title decider could well be a race that isn’t shown on the BBC as they have only guaranteed to show Monaco, the British Grand Prix and the season finale. Will you be able to avoid the news and results right up to the evening when the highlights are shown and just how extended will they be? In the past many races could be made into highlights without missing much as between pitstops there was simply a procession of cars on track. From 2011 things are certainly different and you are bound to miss some elements of the race with a highlights programme.
Cost: Nil, assuming you have a TV
3. Get satellite from another country,
EU competition rules mean Sky Sports don’t have the monopoly you may think they have, a publican recently had the EU advise in her favour where she had used cheaper coverage of Premier League football from a provider in the EU to circumvent using Sky Sports, Sky had fined her but it was decided that EU competition rules mean you can buy your satellite TV subscription from whoever you like within the EU. You simply need the right equipment and then to point your dish at the right satellite. The cost of the equipment means that initially you have to lay out a bit but if Sky are showing races until at least 2018 it’s a great long term investment that should save you money in the first season. You may though want to consider which language coverage will be in though you can always put on BBC five live for live coverage though there may be a lag between commentary and pictures.
Cost:£240 or £280- for HD, plus installation
4. Watch it at a pub, sports club, bar etc
Football is well suited to watching in public, the commentary is of little importance so it doesn’t matter when it is drowned out. F1 can be a little tougher to follow and so you may struggle if the commentary is muted or difficult to hear. The important thing is to check before heading out where is showing the coverage and whether it is going to be shown in full including pre race or whether it will be switched on moments before the race starts. Somewhere like a sports club or gym may be a better place to watch than a pub. You could even do a workout while watching the race and listening through headphones.
Cost: A few pints or a gym membership
5. Go to see each race not on the BBC live
The most expensive option by far, much more expensive than Sky Sports but arguably better value. Bear in mind though that the BBC are likely to mainly cover the European races to save on costs so you may find yourself globetrotting.
Cost: £500-£2500 per race
6. Radio five live
Radio five live have great commentary but you will have to picture the action in your mind’s eye, the BBC team of David Croft, Anthony Davidson and Maurice Hamilton, often joined by Karun Chandhok are very good though and many will perhaps choose this commentary over the Sky Sports commentary if it doesn’t come up to standard.
Cost: Nil, assuming you have a radio
7. Get Virgin Media and Sky Sports
Sky’s F1 Channel will be included with Sky Sports packages on Virgin Media it has now been confirmed, this means if you already have Virgin you don’t have to change, or if in a contract have both, it also gives you more choices over other packages of services and of course offers.
Cost: Virgin TV subscription from £6.50 per month plus Sky Sports for around £22.50 per month
- Illegal streaming websites
This isn’t an option we recommend or condone in anyway and it is only mentioned here as it will inevitably be used by many, such sites are popular for cricket and football, often streaming coverage from broadcasts in places such as India. This is illegal and so should be avoided, not to mention the fact that the picture quality is likely to be poor and the service unreliable.
It is 12 years since Malaysia was added to the calendar in 1999, now I remember being incredibly excited about that new race and it delivered. As new tracks have been added since the excitement seems to have lessened every time and each new track has been a little bit more of a disappointment.
Having said this a new race in New Jersey with the New York skyline in the background does excite me a little. At the same time though I hanker for Brands Hatch, Imola and Zandvoort, among others, to be added to the calander again. If thier was a choice between this New Jersey track and Watkins Glen I would go for Watkins Glen every time. Besides I just heard the new Jersey track will be based on a motorway/super highway, visions of the Las Vegas grand Prix in the Caesar’s Palace car park come to mind.
Of course I understand the need for new tracks and the safety issues at some old tracks. I know that Brands Hatch’s development is actually hindered by a motorway, a few hundreds metres further back and it would be a great asset.
I can’t finish this article then without mentioning Tilke, he can build good circuits but they all have his signature and have taken away the diversity of different tracks.
I am a little excited about the New Delhi Grand Prix but not especially excited about any features of the track itself.
Please add your own thoughts:
This Lap Chart has been done to show only Jenson Button’s positions lap by lap from Canada 2011 and shows more clearly just what a race he had. His race back from 21st in only around 30 of the 70 laps, some of which were behind a safety car, mean this race was certainly one that will be seen as a classic in future. The number of passes he had made even before ending up 21st and last, having had contact with Alonso, were impressive. It is hard to work out just how many passes he made as some would have been during a lap where he then pitted or would have been lost again by the end of the lap and of course some places he gained when cars pitted: but this chart suggests he gained places on 37 occasions.