Pit Stop

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 May, 2010, 12:00am

Praise the Lord and pass the engine oil - Formula One is back in Europe. It may please fans in other parts of the world to see races close up, and it may add to the cachet of the 'world' championship, but for teams being so far away from home is frankly a pain. When you add the recent volcanic ash cloud into the mix the logistics can start to look insurmountable.

Luckily the ash relented and there were three weeks between China and Spain. The two-wheel brigade of MotoGP weren't so lucky and had to postpone their trip to Japan.

Of course the F1 teams aren't hapless holidaymakers: large-scale logistics is one of the myriad of things a team has to master to be successful. Before the race, some British-based teams were rushing transit vans with parts over the English Channel to fly out of Paris before the flight ban spread.

Getting out of China was a tad trickier, although it helps if the team owner also owns an airline. Lotus's Tony Fernandes flew many of his team to Kuala Lumpur on one of his Air Asia fleet. The ash cloud did highlight the strains fly-away races put on teams, and how even small disruptions can cause big problems. Teams send freight containers full of equipment by sea to each far away race months before the race; but air travel remains key to the operation.

Cars, parts and personnel all fly. Although teams deal with a lot, the sport has an agreement with logistics giant DHL. It's not a small commitment either. A typical race can see five jumbo jets and 35 sea containers pressed into action. As well as cars and technical equipment, thousands of other items have to be taken, even the VIP tents and all that goes in them.

It's a lot simpler once the teams are into the European season. Each team has a small armada of articulated lorries to carry their stuff across the continent. They are much more in control and much more in their comfort zone.

This is why teams have waited until this race to start bolting on improvements to their cars. It's simply too difficult to do when the factory is in Europe and the teams are half a world away.

So team members who are re-acquainting themselves with their families after weeks away will probably not be happy to hear that the globetrotting is set to increase in the next few years. Korea makes its debut later this season. Next year India is added to the list, and no other venue is being culled to make space.

As Bernie Ecclestone, the F1 commercial supremo put it: 'We're not dropping anything; 20 races - getting ready for 25.'

For race enthusiasts in this part of the world that is good news, as it was the Chinese Grand Prix that had its neck on the block. Losing money, out of contract, and poorly-supported, it didn't seem to have much of a future.

Yet Bernie is backing it, despite some harsh words for the promoters. He pointed out that in downtown Shanghai you wouldn't know there was a race on.

However, is Ecclestone's latest pronouncement good for the sport in general?

Those enriched by the sport will undoubtedly get richer still. But you can't help wondering if you can have too much of a good thing. At the moment each race of the 19 is keenly anticipated, a key moment in the season and special in its own way.

Even now some are more special than others. May in Monaco, the speed of Silverstone and the Tifosi's flags gleaming in the autumn sunshine of Monza.

Make it 25 races and you are in danger of creating a football feel to the sport. The English Premier League may be the richest football league in the world, but it's only the top clashes that ignite universal interest in what can be a long and sometimes dull haul.

Wigan versus Bolton on a rainy Tuesday evening anybody?

Ash clouds aside, that's the danger of adding too many races to the F1 calendar.

Perhaps less really is more when it comes to the Formula One calendar.

Killing the goose?

This is the number of Formula One races that Bernie Ecclestone hopes to stage - up from 19 at the moment.: 25