no French GP in 2023, Spa and Monaco threatened… Historic circuits towards the exit?

Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali announced Thursday the absence of the 2023 calendar for the French Grand Prix. Several historic circuits, starting with Spa in Belgium and Monaco, fear to suffer the same fate in the face of the imperatives of promoter Liberty Media.

A team (Alpine), two world-class drivers (Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon), a historic tradition of motor racing in France… However, the ax fell, severe, Thursday August 25: the Paul Ricard circuit will not be on the calendar of Formula 1 in 2023.

« There will be no French GP in 2023 », Stefano Domenicali, president of Formula 1, clearly announced during a press conference attended by several media including the Team and AFP. Before blowing hot and cold on the sequel: « We are still in discussions with the Federation and even the government because, more and more, the future is also linked to promoters who see this as an investment for the country, for the community. »

The late campaign launched by Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon last July to save their national Grand Prix was therefore not enough. So here is France in the closet, like Germany (64 editions) which has not had a Grand Prix since 2019 despite its long automotive tradition. Returning to the Paul-Ricard circuit on the calendar in 2018, ten years after the last edition at Magny-Cours, near Nevers in the center of the country, the French GP was the sixth most contested Grand Prix in F1 history. since 1950 with 62 editions.

The French GP pays for an already overloaded calendar with 22 races scheduled for the 2022 season, the busiest in the history of F1 on a par with 2021. Places are getting expensive, especially as Stefano Domenicali affirms: « We will not exceed 24 races per year. »

Spa and Monaco also threatened

The internationalization of F1 and the proliferation of applications got the better of the French Grand Prix. Factors that also threaten Spa (Belgium) and Monaco, still not sure of their registration next season and whose contract expired this year. « History is not enough », hammered Domenicali about the possible disappearance of these two mythical circuits from the calendar.

Spa-Francorchamps, where the drivers are going next weekend, is however well threatened. The latest edition, in 2021, had turned into a masquerade. Due to terrible weather conditions, the race only started after numerous delays and the drivers only completed four laps behind the safety car. Despite this circus, the fans who came to the stands had not been reimbursed for the – expensive – price of the ticket. To survive, the organizers try to adapt the circuit and the conditions of access.

On the side of Monaco, the problem is quite different. The race is considered unspectacular. Indeed, with its urban layout, it is almost impossible to overtake in the race. Victory is decided more on Saturday, during qualifying and the fight for pole position, than on Sunday and the race itself.

« There are a few races – Monaco, Silverstone, Spa, Monza – which are the most important, the most historic, and I think we should protect them. It’s good that new venues are coming and there are the interest, but we have to keep this story », defended Christian Horner, the director of the Red Bull team, recently. “It would be as if the ATP Tour existed without Wimbledon. I think they are part of our history and our DNA.”

Big budget new entrants

Since the acquisition of Formula 1 by the American group Liberty Media in 2016 – and effective in March 2017 – the queen discipline of motor sports has experienced a second youth. With the broadcast of the Netflix documentary series « Drive to Survive » (« Formula 1: Drivers of their destiny » in French), a new, younger audience is passionate about each Grand Prix. And with this newfound popularity, new investors are claiming their Grand Prize.

Under the impetus of the new promoter, Grand Prix are now held in Azerbaijan (since 2017), Qatar and Saudi Arabia (since 2021) or even in Miami (since 2022).

“It is true that we are working with other promoters to see if they are ready to commit. We want to find the right balance, at least one third in Europe, one third in the Far East, and the other in America/Middle East Of course, we are talking about a sector where investments and financial contribution are very important », noted Stefano Domenicali.

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It is obviously through money that the shoe pinches. When destinations such as Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Qatar or Saudi Arabia are able to pay between 40 and 60 million dollars for each of the races hosted with 10-year contracts, the so-called historic GPs only offer half less and simply cannot afford to match.

Besides the Middle East, Formula 1 is also looking with appetite to the United States. Liberty Media’s image renovation strategy paid off. While Nascar and IndyCar have long been the most popular disciplines across the Atlantic, Formula 1 has made a strong comeback. And Liberty Media intends to offer him his money’s worth: during the 2022 season, two GPs took place on American soil. In 2023, there will be a third destination: Las Vegas, which promises an unprecedented circuit commensurate with its glamour.

Rotation, the solution?

To fight against these new entrants, a solution is beginning to make its way: to set up a rotation among the historic circuits to allow them to continue to exist in Formula 1. The director of the Grand Prix de France, Éric Boullier himself even pleaded for this solution last July. So does McLaren CEO Zak Brown.

“We have some great venues that have arrived: Vegas, Miami…I think we all love historic circuits, so hopefully there will be room to keep everyone on an adaptable and flexible schedule in the future. “, had declared the master of the orange stable. “I think there will probably be a time when we have to consider rotating races because if we have the demand, and there are great tracks and great countries, then I think we should try to adopt. »

Stefano Domenicali has confirmed that the Formula One group is looking into this possibility. It will be too late for the 2023 calendar, expected in October, but it could well materialize for the 2024 or 2025 seasons.

« This kind of rotation would allow everyone to be part of the calendar. It was a request from some local promoters. There are sites that are discussing among themselves to submit a proposal to us in the coming months.

« Cash is King », mocked seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton when Formula 1 forced its drivers to compete in Australia at the very start of the 2020 season as the Covid-19 was preparing to paralyze the planet. The adage hasn’t changed when it comes to choosing between tradition and big bucks when it comes to scheduling.

Among all these basely economic considerations, however, there is good news. Formula 1 is determined to bring back a GP to Africa, which has been orphaned since 1993. The proposal is notably defended by Sir Lewis Hamilton himself.

« We want to have a race in Africa. Today the most likely place for that is South Africa. What we are looking for is a very solid, clear and long-term commitment. This takes time. We will clarify this situation in the next few days. We want to make the commitment to be in Africa, but we want to take it correctly », affirmed Stefano Demenicali.

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