Eric Silbermann doesn't want more races on the F1 calendar, but he does want them spread out more so he can escape the British winter
Bored yet? We’re coming up to the third Sunday since the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi and I’m sure vast numbers of you are already hitting the TV remote in fractious fashion looking for an F1 replay fix. That’s the problem with being a junkie, you know the drug is bad for you, but you think just one more hit won’t do you any harm. Even those of us who advocate a calendar with fewer than 21 races are getting itchy skin and the sweats at the thought of sleeping in the same bed until March next year.
I still wouldn’t want to see more races than we have now, in fact 20 would be my maximum for a well-balanced championship, but I wouldn’t mind going to races in December and January. Just look at football as an example: the UK’s Premier League has a busy schedule of fixtures over the Christmas holiday period, attracting some of its biggest crowds of the year. Germany’s Bundesliga keeps going until a few days before the holidays and then, much to everyone’s disgust, takes a month’s break.
Imagine racing somewhere hot and sunny in late December. You could have a festival of Formula 1 races in Australia and New Zealand, with the penultimate round on Boxing Day and the championship finale on New Year’s Eve. With the race over and the titles decided, F1 then stages a massive Prize Giving and New Years Eve party combined.
It has been done before, sort of, when, from 1964 to 1975, there was something called the Tasman Series, running in Australia and New Zealand throughout January. Admittedly, the teams tended to use the previous season’s chassis with a “Tasman-spec” engine, but these are minor details. Apart from providing a template for my cunning plan to avoid a European winter, the Tasman Series witnessed one of the key moments in our sport, when Colin Chapman’s Team Lotus turned up for the third round of the ’68 Tasman with its beautiful 49 car decked out like a fag pack, a Gold Leaf fag packet to be precise. This was back in the day when apart from the occasional Firestone tyres or Champion spark plug sticker, cars were painted in patriotic national colours. The blazer-wearing fuddy duddies were so outraged at this vulgar commercialism that they tried to stop the Lotus taking to the track, but relented in the end and Jim Clark duly won the race, the Lady Wigram Trophy, clearly not distracted one jot by all that gaudy paintwork. The floodgates were thus opened up to fag money, which pretty much kept the sport afloat for the next 40 years and in the case of Ferrari, all the way through to the present day. As a teenage trainee smoker, keen to secure my place in the British Olympic Tab Toking team, I immediately switched brands, even though at 4/7d (pronounced “four and sevenpence,” that’s around 22p in new money) Gold Leaf were at the upper end of my price bracket.
I know my dream of Christmas and New Year racing will never become a reality, partly because of opposition from touchy-feely team bosses who wouldn’t want to face separating their staff from their loved ones over the Christmas period and partly because the incredible level of technical complexity of everything to do with designing and building a modern F1 car means it is simply not feasible.
Actually, take it from one who knows, having worked for teams in the past, the month of December is a ballbreaker with no sign of anyone sharing the festive fondness for their fellow man. It’s true that engineers and aerodynamicists will be spending a few hours at home on Christmas Day, but only in physical terms: their minds will be elsewhere, still in the wind tunnel, or tussling with an anomaly thrown up by the Cad-Cam gods. While carving the turkey, a suspension designer will break into a cold sweat, wondering if he should have stuck with pull rod suspension rather than push rod, as the festive bird’s wishbone flies across the dining table.
It’s not just the glamorous technical staff who are burning the midnight oil at this time of year: there are budgets to lock down, pesky personnel matters that can’t be put off any longer, while the PR mob are trying to organise a date, time and venue to launch the 2017 car. That might sound simple to you, especially as these days, most launches are restricted to a simple garage roll out prior to the first winter test. But you try asking the Technical Director what time on what day you might possibly be able to have the new car for a photo shoot, so you can book the photographer(s), make sure the stars of the show - the drivers - are blocked off for that day, chase the race suit manufacturers to deliver the overalls on time complete with new sponsor logos, get the press invite ready, reserve a time slot with all the other teams, so there are no clashes with other launches and the list goes on and on. To be honest, racing in the Antipodes over Christmas would be far less stressful.
And woe betide anyone who messes up and delays the arrival of the beautiful and shiny new 2017 car. You’re straight up to the top floor to get a rocket from the boss, or as we like to say at Christmas, there’ll be a “Ding Dong Merrily On High…”