Formula 1 announces long-term Qatar deal, putting the future of other circuits in doubt.

Formula 1 has announced the first Qatari Grand Prix, filling the vacant slot in late November. It has also signed an additional 10-year deal to host F1 from 2023 onwards in a yet to be confirmed location.

A long-term Qatari agreement follows the 2022 World Cup held in the country, and the country’s desire to be known for its sporting competitions.

The Qatar GP will be held at the Losail International Circuit, notable for its inclusion on the MotoGP calendar since 2004.

The Losail circuit hosted MotoGP’s first night race in 2008, and Formula 1 will use the circuit’s lights for the season’s second night race.

Qatar has not announced the location for the future races, it is expected a decision will be made following the race in Losail to see if the venue is viable, or a new location will be built.

The Losail circuit may provide difficulty in overtaking due to its medium-speed corners, however its kilometre main straight does provide an opportunity for overtaking. Future regulation changes may ease overtaking if Losail is maintained for 2023 onwards.

The long-term deal places further questions on the future of many F1 circuits. In a previous interview, F1 CEO, Stefano Domenicali, stated 23 races is feasible for the short-term growth of the series, but more races are possible.

In an already bloated calendar, several Grand Prix contracts are soon to be ending, with several circuits looking to join the calendar.

As announced earlier in the season, Sochi is set to race its final year in 2022 before a move to the new Igora Drive circuit in 2023. Whilst the length of the Russian GP’s contract has not been announced, it is likely to follow many other circuits with long-term contracts.

The inaugural Miami Grand Prix is due to be held May 8, 2022, at the Miami International Autodrome in Miami Gardens, Florida. Whilst the Miami race has been separated from the Circuit of the Americas traditional timeframe, the future of COTA is not known. F1 has made it clear that US expansion is “a work in progress”, likely to see COTA or a return to Indianapolis secured in a long-term agreement. Indianapolis may be an option for future races as circuit owner Roger Penske registered interest, stating: “The last time they were there they had tyre problems. We would love to have one at Indianapolis, but we will see.”

Abu Dhabi is out of contract at the end of the 2021 season. Given the previous lucrative long-term contract which featured a high fee to be the final race of the season, in addition to the circuit changes to provide better racing action, it should be assumed the Yas Marina Circuit will stay on the calendar.  

Furthermore, the Bahrain, Monaco, and Belgian races are set to be out of contract soon. Given their history in the sport, and despite the love/hate relationship F1 fans have with Monaco, it would be surprising to see any of the three circuits absent from the future calendar.

Whilst France is out of contract in 2022, it is likely that Paul Ricard will be maintained in the future due to its large ticket sales and the long history of French motorsport. Whereas Mexico has recently lost public funding for the circuit, putting into question the longevity of the circuit.  

The uncertainty over mainstay fixtures is added by ‘COVID step-ins’ which are aiming to secure a long-term contract. Portimao joined the calendar in 2020 and was retained in 2021 to fill the calendar as other circuits dropped out due to the pandemic. Spain has been a fixture on the calendar for 30 years, but its contract finishes this season.

There has been a race on the Iberian Peninsula since 1986, and with a full calendar, only one, if any, will stay. The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has been F1’s pre-season testing venue for many years, providing less than pleasing racing. Compared to Portimao which gained praise for the rollercoaster nature of the circuit, Portimao would therefore preferably stay over Catalunya.

The historic Imola circuit made its return in 2020 after a 14 year absence and re-joined the 2021 calendar to replace the cancelled Chinese Grand Prix. Imola has provided two great races in its return and may be rewarded with a multi-year deal.

Emilia-Romagna’s president, Stefano Bonaccini, said: “I can guarantee the maximum commitment to confirm the Grand Prix at Imola in the Formula 1 World Championship calendar next year and in those to follow”. This would be a move encouraged by fans, given that new circuits lack traditional racing history, which Imola has in abundance.

Turkey returned in 2020 in a chaotic wet race where Lewis Hamilton sealed his seventh World Championship. It returns in 2021 to replace the Singapore Grand Prix, with Istanbul Park circuit owner, Vural Ak, hoping to finalise a longer deal. Much like Imola, if action is half as good as last year, fans will be calling for Istanbul Park to remain on the calendar.

It is almost surprising that there is no German Grand Prix lined up for the future. Germany is one of few countries which has multiple world class facilities, Hockenheim and the Nurburgring. It is equally surprising given Sebastian Vettel and Mick Schumacher’s appearance on the grid. Historically the two circuits rotated, which may well be an option to facilitate a German Grand Prix in the future.  

To add to the headache, former circuits are aiming to get back onto the calendar. In an interview with GQ Magazine, Domenicali has been vocal about expansion outside of Europe into Asia and Africa. Korea is aiming to get back on the calendar in Yeongam, although there would be concerns resulting from the previous races having money issues.

One of the proposed African circuits is South Africa’s Kyalami, although several other African countries have expressed their interest. Kyalami was dropped in 1993 as the promoter filed for bankruptcy, and whilst the circuit has seen rejuvenation, it is currently an FIA Grade 2 circuit meaning updates are still required to meet F1 standards. Given that most of Africa’s history in motorsport is holding rallying events, there will be questions as to whether there is a suitable audience for Formula 1 in Africa.

Formula 1 has a big problem on their hands, there are several races registering interest in a calendar which cannot feasibly keep increasing. There must be a time where F1 says the calendar is too big, and some fan favourite tracks must be abandoned for tracks that will make money.

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