• Battle is on to keep place in a 20-race programme
• Bernie Ecclestone approves of Sochi developments
Russia is to join the Formula One circus in 2014, which gives the green light to the race no one wants to win – which cicuits will lose out in an overcrowded programme? The schedule for next year for the first time includes a race in Delhi, pencilled in for 30 October. That takes the number of grands prix to 20 and many in the sport, including the commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, consider that to be the optimum number of races that can be staged in a season.
Next week South Korea will stage a grand prix for the first time and F1 will return to the US from 2012; a new track is being built in Austin, Texas. The news that Russia will be coming aboard – it has signed a six-year deal to stage the event at the Black Sea resort of Sochi – means the calendar is starting to look overcrowded, and there is still talk of a race being staged in South Africa within a few years.
The good news is that the classic venues are safe. Silverstone has signed a long-term contract which will keep F1 there for at least the next 10 years and today the track gave a tour of its improved pit, paddock and conference facilities. Monaco, Monza, Spa and Montreal, all close to the heartbeat of the sport, are in no danger of falling off the itinerary. But the same cannot be said for China, Japan, Bahrain and Turkey, while Korea could yet turn out to be a one-year wonder. China, which staged its first race in 2004, already seems to have lost interest, and the opening race of the season, in Bahrain, was a soulless and largely deserted affair.
The crowds at Istanbul in May were better than expected but still disappointing, while the European grand prix at Valencia is thought to be vulnerable. Malaysia, however, has recently signed a new deal.
Japan has not signed a contract beyond next year but the fast track is already thought to be one of the best on the circuit and Formula One would be diminished without it, which is not something that can be said about some of the others.
Russia attempted to get on the schedule in 2002, when Moscow was put up by the mayor Yuri Luzhkov, but he failed to do a deal with Ecclestone. “I sincerely hope Formula One is going to play a big part in what I can see happening in Sochi,” Ecclestone said. “I’m sure the circuit can be a super circuit. It’s all the things we need and wanted, and we are very happy. They are trying to build absolutely first-class facilities both for the Olympics and the Formula One.”
Russia will have to pay an estimated m a year (£25m) for the privilege of hosting a grand prix. But it may not get a chance to see the Russian driver Vitaly Petrov, whose future at Renault is the subject of considerable speculation.