As the F1 calendar swells, more historic races will come under threat


The past few days have been quite turbulent in the Formula 1 world. One team has died, another was told that it couldn’t come back, only for it to then say it will try to do so anyway.

As a result, debates, arguments and sheer dismay have ensued over the current state of the sport, with the financial crisis threatening to cut the grid to a mere privileged few.

Away from this though, the sport’s global expansion only continues, with today’s news being that Qatar is very close to signing a deal to get on the calendar in the next two seasons.

Should all things go to plan, the schedule for the 2016 season could swell to an unprecedented 22 races with the addition of the Grand Prix of Europe in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan? Qatar? These are not nations that boast a great motorsport heritage, nor is a grand prix likely to stir the population to come out in their hundreds of thousands for a race weekend. It won’t be a sell out like Silverstone or Montreal. So why go there?

As with many things in Formula 1, the answer is money. Each track that hosts a grand prix pays a sanction fee to the F1 Group, with the plan being to recover it through ticket sales and the like. Monaco is the only event that does not pay due to its status and importance, but others vary. The Italian Grand Prix at Monza is thought to pay something around the $10m mark per year, whilst other races such as Abu Dhabi and Singapore pay up to five times that amount.

These are huge figures, and perhaps explain why some grands prix have fallen off the calendar in recent years. Financially, it simply is not viable. This is why the German Grand Prix is currently at risk, with both Hockenheim and the Nurburgring struggling to balance the books. The very reason they agreed to alternate the hosting of the race was so that they only made a loss every other year.

There are certain events that arguably ‘should’ be on the calendar: Monaco, Great Britain, Italy and Belgium are just four examples. After all, these are nations that have played huge parts in the history of the sport and have some of the most iconic circuits. Some are no longer on the calendar – Imola, host of the San Marino Grand Prix, for one – and there is often a public outcry as to why.

The newer events that have graced F1 in the past two decades simply have a bigger purse to secure a grand prix. Oil-rich nations such as Bahrain and Abu Dhabi have joined the fray as a result, and even if a loss is made, it can simply be written off. It’s a luxury that many of the European tracks do not enjoy.

Financial backing is key here. The Singapore Grand Prix is one of the most glamorous and spectacular races in F1, taking place at night under floodlights and providing some of the most exhilarating racing of the year. However, it is not a profit-making event. The government is happy to write a check to balance the book though, for it puts the nation of the map and is a great source of tourism. The wider benefits make up for the financial loss.

Bigger sanction fees may mean that we see more races in Qatar and Singapore than San Marino and France, yet it does have a positive impact on the teams’ fortunes. A portion money that is received by F1 Group is pumped back into the sport in the prize money that teams are given. Theoretically, the more that race promoters offer in sanction fees, the more the teams will receive in prize money.

So interestingly, the sport may actually be helping the smaller teams out by agreeing to hold races in nations such as these. At a time of financial panic and uncertainty, it’s not all bad agreeing to let Qatar on the calendar.

The big issue is that it does rob the sport of some of its more iconic venues. If a ‘dream calendar’ were to be put together, it is more likely that races such as the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours, the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola and most certainly the German Grand Prix at either Hockenheim or the Nurburgring would appear than Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. It’s simply a question of finances.

There is a risk of this becoming the only driving force behind holding races though. Over the past ten years, we have seen the sport shift from being largely Euro-centric to one that has a very international calendar. Will we get to a stage when there are only three or four European races on the calendar? Monaco, Great Britain, Spain and Hungary? Who knows…

The United States is a market that Bernie Ecclestone is increasingly trying to crack. Arguably, he has done exactly that with the US GP at the wonderful Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. However, his bid for a second grand prix in New Jersey appears to be dead in the water, with the big problem being that the local government will not get involved. It becomes a loss-making project, and therefore unviable. It’s a big hurdle to get over for prospective host nations.

So in a strange way, the financial crisis currently gripping F1 and the decision to host grands prix in far-flung nations such as Qatar are in fact connected. Bigger sanction fees should theoretically aid these issues.

However, racing fans know what they want: Spa, Monza, Silverstone, the Nurburgring, Imola, Magny-Cours. All of these are at risk or have been scrapped. No sanction fee will be big enough to make up for such losses in the wider F1 picture.

And if we go for the best of both worlds, we’ll end up with an exhaustive calendar. 20 races is already too many to some, so 22 will push this further.

F1’s global expansion knows no bounds. However, it wouldn’t hurt for it to remember its roots from time to time.

Eli Tomac wins Houston Supercross: Hunter Lawrence takes early 250 East lead

Tomac Supercross Houston
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

With his 47th career victory and third of the 2023 season in Houston, Eli Tomac closed to within one win of tying Ricky Carmichael for third on the all-time Monster Energy Supercross list.

Tomac rebounded from last week’s crash by earning the holeshot in both his heat and the Main. At the start of the big show, he couldn’t shake Aaron Plessinger in the first four minutes and actually was in the process of losing the lead as a red flag waved for a crash involving Tomac’s teammate Dylan Ferrandis when he overjumped an obstacle and landed on Ken Roczen’s back fender as they raced for eighth.

“That was a tough race,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien, referencing his loss to Chase Sexton in the heat. “And honestly, I was just beat down after that heat race and was searching quite a bit and was basically losing speed everywhere. I just rode better, straight up in the Main. I felt better.”

In their heat, Sexton passed Tomac at the two-minute mark and then simply rode away from the field. At the end, he had an almost eight-second gap on Tomac.

“It wasn’t great by any means,” Sexton told Jason Thomas. “I feel like the strengths I had all day, I really lagged in the Main event between the whoop and the sand section. I think I could have walked through it faster. It was still a good ride; it wasn’t great. I expected after the heat race he would be fired up.”

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Jason Anderson scored his second consecutive pole, but he was not happy to finish third behind the two points’ leaders.

“We should be thankful every time we get to be up here,” Anderson said. “They’re making it tough on me, but all I can do is give my best.”

Tomac had to withstand a red flag and the distant second place finish in his heat to win the Houston Supercross race. In the post-race conference, he indicated that he did not make any changes to the bike and simply rode better.

Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb rounded out the top five.

Ferrandis was fitted with a neck brace, but still able to walk to the medical cart. He was still being evaluated by the medical staff as the night came to a close.

In 250s Hunter Lawrence entered the 250 East opener as the consensus favorite to win the championship this year with Christian Craig making the move into 450s and his brother Jett Lawrence in the West division. He answered quickly with a huge lead in Heat 1, but it almost went awry in the Main.

Lawrence got a good start, but he was passed early in the race by two-time MXGP champion (2020, 2022) Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut this week. Vialle passed Lawrence on the first lap. When Lawrence tried to pass him back, Vialle scrubbed speed off a jump and pushed Lawrence wide, over the Tuff Blox.

Championships are made out of Lawrence’s response. He kept his composure and did not overcorrect before methodically working his way to the front.

“We had a little off track excursion. I wasn’t sure how hard across Tom was coming so I thought I’ll just go left, but then saw that was the side of the track. Thankfully I didn’t hit the Tuff Blox and got back on track safely. … Good start; put myself in position.”

Click here for full 250 East Main Results

Making a move from the 450 class to 250s, Max Anstie had immediate success. He finished second in his heat behind Jordon Smith and lined up with a great gate pick. He had to overtake Vialle in the opening laps and lost ground on Lawrence, that cost enough time to keep him from pressing Lawrence. This is Anstie’s first podium in the United States

“Honestly, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time to come up on these steps and man it’s a great feeling. I’ve really enjoyed the day and being on this 250, I feel like an 18-year-old kid. Everyday I’m learning.”

Smith backed up his heat win with a podium finish.

“It feels good to be back up here again,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time; a lot of injuries.”

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his debut in the 250 class was not unfounded. He finished fourth in his heat to advance to directly into the Main. During the early laps, he was circling the track in a podium position until a minor mistake sent him off the box. In the closing laps, he narrowly made an aggressive pass on Jeremy Martin and narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.

Martin held on to round out the top five.

Vialle was running in a podium position when went down with a 1:30 left on the clock. He ended his night seventh.

Chance Hymas was also making his 250 debut and scored a top-10 in eighth.

2023 Race Recaps

Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Houston coverage

Houston by the numbers
Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list