Damien Marquez is the founding editor of GrandPrixAdvisor.com, a website of free online travel guides to circuits hosting Formula 1, Le Mans endurance racing or MotoGP events. He tweets at @Damien_Marquez.
May 30th, 2012 (F1plus / Damien Marquez).- Last weekend’s Grand Prix de Monaco probably reminded a few of us that it is an anachronism in the current F1 calendar.
The narrow track promoted very little overtaking, and unless you are a Mark Webber supporter, chances are you’ll think this race was a bit of a bore.
Funnily enough, in popular forums, it is not unusual to see a fair amount of people following F1 on TV lamenting the addition of new circuits in “far flung corners of the world” such as Bahrain or China, to the detriment of the Spa-Francorchamps and Silverstones of this world.
But is this a sensible point of view, and who would actually benefit in keeping those classic tracks? Let’s have a look at some facts.
First, just how historic are these tracks? Of the current calendar, there are only four generally considered as such: Monaco, Silverstone, Spa and Monza.
Monaco has remained more or less the same since its inception in 1929, except for the pit lane and the section going from Swimming Pool to La Rascasse which were extended over reclaimed land for the 2004 edition of the event.
Silverstone has had so many changes that the original circuit is almost beyond recognition. Only the Copse corner and Hangar Straight remain intact.
The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza road course has kept most its original shape, however, in its current incarnation, it includes three chicanes and the infamous Parabolica.
The circuit that is most at risk of disappearing from the calendar (read further below) is that of Spa-Francorchamps. It has also experienced many changes during its lifetime. Whilst it remains the season's longest track, it shrank from 15km to 6.9km in 1979. Since then it experienced some changes at La Source, the bus stop chicane and the pit lane entry.
So if it is not its actual layout, is the racing on the historic tracks better than on the new ones?
Looking at the grands prix so far this season, you cannot objectively say that Malaysia, China and Bahrain were dull. Even the more recent Circuit de Catalunya (first GP was held in 1991) provided us with an entertaining race.
Monaco rarely does though but it’s the glitz and glamour aspects that prevail. Silverstone is great for spectators on the ground but is no better than your average GP track on TV.
Eau Rouge might look impressive on TV, howewer, with modern F1 cars now having so much downforce, its driver challenge is disappearing. It is also a rather one dimensional place to watch the race from. The Belgian track is one of the worst in terms of attendance. In 2011, estimates are that of the 120,000 seats available, only 45,000 were sold. Considering the yearly $30m sanctioning fee, it is no wonder the local taxpayer has to foot a bill of $8m. It is also why, in the current European economic climate, the Walloon government would be keen to offload this item from their balance sheet.
Monza, however, being the home of Ferrari and the tifosi, is always well attended and the nature of its circuit provide an unusual driver challenge.
So what does constitute a historic circuit? Let’s say a certain sense of tradition. In which case, we may also add Australian, Spanish, Canadian, German, Hungarian, Japanese and Brazilian F1 rounds. While we’re at it, let’s also include a French, American and Portuguese venue, yet to be reintegrated to the calendar.
For that reason, it might not be economically viable to give a dozen countries the right to keep their grands prix when wealthy new entrants also want to claim a share of the prestige of the sport.
The day the armchair fans start walking away from the sport is the day the powers that be will take a long hard look at their business model, inclusive of where they are racing.
Is it fair to claim all new(-ish) tracks in the Middle-East, Asia and America are bland and not worthy of an F1 race? Probably not.
So let’s rejoice that F1 is getting bigger than ever and reaching out to new fans in new territories who want to share our passion for the sport.