There was nothing short of an outrage in 2015 when it was announced that the Nurburgring couldn’t afford to host Formula 1 races on its calendar turn. How can a country that is home to the greats like Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and a then-title contender in Nico Rosberg not have a home race?
The question is...does having a home race give the drivers, teams and profile of the sport an advantage or does the success come regardless of where the races are held?
Fast forward to the modern day we see all of the F1 teams have a home race. With half of them based in the UK this is perhaps not a surprise. However, even considering the foreign heritage of Red Bull Racing (Austria) and Mercedes (Germany), all of the F1 teams do have somewhere to call home. This is also not a recent trend. When Tony Fernandez had his controlling stake in Team Lotus/Caterham, the team was technically Malaysian, which as we know was included on the calendar until the end of last season.
Despite this, do all teams need a home race? You would have to argue that for a team and title sponsor to truly back F1 as a sport, they need somewhere to concentrate their brand exposure and corporate matters. The last team to not have a home race was in 2012 when Marussia didn’t have a home round in Russia (although this was introduced two years later in no small part to the Marussia outfit, although Manor had the controlling stake in the then Marussia team at the time of the first race)
What you can say however is a driver loves a home race more than a team or a sponsor. Despite this, we see so many countries on the calendar with no representation on the grid. Likewise there are drivers with no home race, and not just the midfield and backmarker runners.
The first case study is Max Verstappen. Despite being from Holland, a nation with a steep F1 heritage at Zandvoort, the country now has no place on the calendar. Holland, however, has a number of top quality circuits including the Assen Moto GP track which has helped to promote motorsport in the Netherlands. Furthermore, EU's open borders and geographical location has made the Belgian GP at Spa a valuable option for the adoring Dutch fans to support Verstappen.
This is far from a rare case. However, to save time we won’t look at them all. Instead we next look at the locations of the races. Of the 21 races on the calendar this season we see, the entire African continent neglected on the calendar. Despite Kyalami hosting many races up until the 1990s, the track now lacks the required license to host F1 races. This perhaps symbolises the fact we see no African F1 drivers on the current grid even though we have an African World Champ (Jody Scheckter). What makes it worse still is nearly a quarter of the races are in Asia/Middle East and despite all the investment we have yet to see a world champion or even a title contender from this area of the world.
So is the Asian market valuable for F1? While Japan has a steep motorsport heritage and other Asian races drawing a cult following over the years it has seen its fair share of failures. Korea was an unmitigated disaster and India lacked the attendance and finances despite Karun Chandhok and Narain Karthikeyan trying to pull the crowds in. Furthermore, despite the investment and oil Barron event managers, Abu Dhabi remains deeply unpopular amongst fans compared to the traditional finales of Japan and Brazil.
Transfer onto two wheels though and we have seen Japanese and Qatari riders bursting onto the MotoGP grid (and its support series). This has been helped hugely by the continued support to the season opener at the Losail International Circuit, Qatar. This goes to show how the right investment and commitment can lead to the sport progressing to and elite level and develop a worldwide future for the series. So if a host advantage is working on two wheels, why is F1 behind the times?
This could be due to sponsorship. The traditionally less economically-developed nations have lacked the domestic sponsorship to propel a driver up to F1 and despite a lot of these nations growing in financial stature, they are still lacking behind the major nations who have monopolised the sport for the past decades.
Venture off into other series we do see a little more in terms of worldwide representation, Ma-Quing Ha and the NextEV Formula E team have helped to try and raise the profile in China (albeit unsuccessfully). It does seem like a gamble and you do wonder if luck plays as big of a part in whether a single driver boosts his nation's stature or not. However a lack of a race doesn’t ever seem to stop the growth of a driver.
On the grid this season 14 of the 20 do have a home race, despite this fact we only see one Brit, one Aussie and no Brazilians (or South American drivers altogether). Finland however has an incredible record of producing talent despite being much more of a rally nation than tarmac circuit racing. This would seem to show the development in making F1 a worldwide grid. Despite this we see so so many nations hosting races without having any home drivers.
To end this off, we look once more at the calendar. Races such as America can be understood but in the current driver market, nobody from Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Singapore or Abu Dhabi is lurking in any of the feeder series. While sure, globalisation is no bad thing and it is a pleasure to see the calendar grow and new nations arrive, you have to hope this is not a detriment to the other nations and drivers who lack representation.
So what is the verdict. Does a home race matter more to a team than a driver? Does it provide an advantage? And should we try to protect our historic venues and nations? And before you decide remember for every Hamilton and Vettel there’s an Alex Yoong and Yuji Ide.
by Matthew Gannon