What does a 23-race calendar mean for Formula 1?

13th November 2020

From Lewis Hamilton becoming the new all-time-win record holder to Mercedes becoming seven-time World Champions, it’s been a record-breaking year in Formula 1. It seems only fitting, therefore, that this week Formula 1 announced its intent to break another record with the release of the 2021 race calendar.

If every event is held next year, the planned 23 races will set a new record for the sport, breaking the existing benchmark of 21 races established in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Unlike this year’s predominantly European line-up, the 2021 calendar returns to a much more traditional global roster, with racing planned in all continents bar Africa. Yet, as we approach the end of a Formula 1 season like no other, what does this announcement mean for all those involved?

For starters, it’s a very good indicator of Liberty Media’s ambition but, more significantly, it reflects the financial damage wreaked by the global pandemic this year. This month, Formula 1 posted an operating loss of $115 million for the three-month period ending on 30th September, despite recording quarterly revenues of $597 million.

Fans have only been admitted to a very select few races this season and no fan attendance means heavily reduced revenue – it’s no wonder then that F1 bosses have said that ‘they expect fans to return for the 2021 season’ and that the calendar is packed with as many races as possible.

A 23-race line-up does provide some potential leeway for postponing a race or two, should the situation require it as we approach 2021, and there remains a curious TBA race scheduled on 25 April yet to be confirmed.

Meanwhile, after a challenging season that’s required an astonishing effort from all involved, the prospect of the longest ever race calendar is an interesting proposition for the teams.

Back in 2018, Formula 1’s first ever triple header was widely dismissed as unfeasible, however, the unprecedented circumstances this season has meant teams have already tackled three triple headers, with a fourth in the Middle East still to come.

McLaren Team Principal, Andreas Seidl, publicly warned in July that whilst it was a necessity they needed to get through this year, the triple header must not become the new standard for Formula 1’s future calendars.

Interesting then that the provisional 2021 calendar has two difficult triple-headers scheduled in the second half of the season; the first is Spa, Zandvoort and Monza in August & September and the second features Russia, Singapore and Japan in September & October. That’s in addition to five double-headers.

The news has already led Ferrari and Mercedes to publicly say that they will consider how they configure their race teams going forwards.

And what about the sponsors?

In a typical year, the Formula 1 calendar would be the lynch pin in any activation planning. This time around, however, the global situation and the continued uncertainty means the picture isn’t quite so clear.

In a Formula 1 context, questions remain around access restrictions and whether team bubbles will continue into next year. If so, what implications will that have for a brand looking to activate around a live event? As the calendar remains provisional, so too must planning for 2021.

Yet, it’s all promising progress towards a more recognisable ‘normal’. We can’t be the only ones to take some pleasure in reading a 2021 calendar that feels like a return to the sport we know and love.

Photo credit: © LAT Images for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd

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