- The Inside Line
The politics of schedulingKate Walker September 28, 2013
The F1 circus might be something of a misnomer. Sure, we roll into town, set up our spectacular show for a few days, and then move on to the next location - all under the watchful eye of ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone - but the paddock always makes me think more of a travelling village.
You have the showy motorhomes where the rich teams live, and the slightly less flash ones that play host to the teams with less cash, and out back you can see all manner of rubbish and detritus not fit for the all-seeing eyes of the TV cameras. In these 'back gardens' members of rival teams can be spotted sharing a cigarette, a gossip, or a cup of tea, while inside the motorhomes the media does much the same. All that's missing are the dressing gowns, slippers, and rollers in the hair.
As in any small village, there is no such thing as private in Formula One. Gossip is currency, and it is the exchange of information that creates and maintains relationships.
Over the past few weeks we have been hungering for news of the calendar. There are budgets to plan, hotels to book, and visas to start planning. As you can imagine, it was a relief to finally get a WMSC-approved provisional calendar through yesterday.
Officially, we have seen statements from senior paddock personnel talking about the challenges of a 22-race calendar. We have also heard from paddock sages questioning the practicality of a number of proposed events, not least the Monaco-New Jersey-Montreal triple-header planned for early in the summer.
But unofficially, no one expects the 22-race calendar to go ahead. What was published yesterday was the provisional calendar - the official version won't be ratified until the World Motor Sport Council meets in Paris in early December.
Very few people expect New Jersey to go ahead in 2014. While construction efforts are underway, there is nothing in a multi-story parking lot that screams 'grand prix imminent'. The race organisers have faced more than a few obstacles in their negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone, and while we do expect to eventually turn up on the banks of the Hudson, the odds of it being next year are slimmer than Kate Moss in profile.
In Singapore, the rumoured triple-header was the source of much amusement. According to the jungle drums, Ecclestone was insisting that the race be included on the provisional calendar as an acknowledgement of all of the recent work done by the New Jersey team - a palliative concession, if you will, allowing all of those involved to save a modicum of face.
Which isn't to say the race has gone the way of the dodo. Ecclestone is still desperate to see a race with the Manhattan skyline as its backdrop, and Leo Hindery Jr. et al are doing what they can to make the NJGP a reality. But June is too soon. The weather along the northern Atlantic seaboard can be pretty hostile in the winter, and the construction window is narrowing by the day.
If Mexico isn't ready in time for November, New Jersey has a small chance of taking that autumnal date. But it's a very small chance, as the Mexico City event is scheduled to take place during hurricane season in the northeastern United States. What is far more likely is that New Jersey will drop off the official calendar come December, giving the race organisers until June 2015 to finalise preparations.
And with Jersey gone, that leaves a still challenging - but entirely possible - 21-race calendar, with no nasty triple-headers for the teams to worry about. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day, and nor was the F1 village. Building three villages in three short weeks is a tall order, even in a sport where (almost) everything is possible.