So F1 heads to India this weekend. Many people will naturally ask: why? To be fair the circuit is a pretty good one by current standards, and the locals are a colourful and friendly bunch, but to the general public in India the race is largely irrelevant. Of course, the same applies to the likes of China, Malaysia, Korea and, in fact, pretty much everywhere the circus travels. One prominent F1 journalist believes that F1 races are events of ‘national importance’: despite 40 years following the sport, I couldn’t disagree more.
An F1 race is an exciting event for me, and for all the other fans out there, but in terms of national importance it doesn’t even rank as a tremor on the Richter scale. Take France, where Grand Prix racing first took place: we’ve largely forgotten there is no French Grand Prix, the French government isn’t interested in it, and yet the show goes on. In a few weeks the circus travels to the USA, to the fine-looking new circuit in Austin, Texas. Will it be of national importance over there? Far from it: a pocket of dedicated fans are eagerly awaiting the event – the rest are not in the least bit interested in a sport that has precisely no American involvement. Besides, they have NASCAR.
My point is not that F1 is irrelevant; to those of us who love the sport and watch the races with enthusiasm it is part of life. My point is that those who are closely involved with it tend to inflate its importance in the grand scheme of things. Put it this way, if the British Grand Prix was dropped next year there would be an outcry but, give it a few years, and its absence would largely be forgotten. Just as has happened in France.
I can see, in a few years, the calendar slimming down somewhat; European countries simply cannot afford to pay the cost of hosting a race. The core races in Europe – Britain, Germany, Monaco and Italy, along with Spain and Hungary, will remain. Belgium will likely alternate with a neighbour. Australia should be safe – although its government clearly does not consider it of national importance – as should Japan. Canada is an event that should endure as it is well-supported, but it remains to be seen whether F1 can establish a foothold in the USA at Austin.
As for China, Malaysia, Korea, India and Singapore, how long can they sustain interest? The latter is perhaps the most successful of all and has secured a place for a few years, yet the powers that be are already talking of moving the race from its city centre location. The remaining races are in the Middle East – surely a short term solution – and Brazil, the latter being a certain bet for longevity with talk of a race in Mexico joining soon. Russia, we should not forget, is gearing up for a race soon.
So, when you watch the colour, glamour and excitement of this weekend’s Indian Grand Prix, take this thought: does it really matter where the races are? As long as they are entertaining, my answer is no.