F1 pencils in record 23 races for 2021, includes Saudi Arabia

Imola (Italy) (AFP) –


Formula One has put a brave face on the coronavirus pandemic by publishing a proposed programme on Friday of a record 23 Grand Prix for the 2021 season, including one in Saudi Arabia.

The previous record for races in a season stands at 21. Twenty-two races were slated for 2020 but the pandemic reduced that to 17.

The programme reveals several sets of three races in successive weekends, something which is likely to stretch the teams.

"It would represent a huge job for the mechanics," said Christian Horner, team principal of Red Bull.

"This is 23 weeks away from home. We are approaching saturation point at which we would need two teams," said the Briton.

While the drivers would need to be at every race, other teams are also thinking of switching their mechanics.

"We hope to set up a rotation system so that no one has to go to all the races," said Williams team principal Simon Roberts.

His AlphaTauri counterpart, Franz Tost, is of a similar mind while Guenther Steiner of Haas suspects that coronavirus will have the final say yet again.

"There is a chance, with the pandemic, that races will be cancelled," said Steiner.

"Twenty-three GPs, it would be hard for the teams. If it continues, we will have to find solutions such as shorter weekends."

Two-day GPs, as is the case with this weekend's race in Imola with a single free practice session on Saturday morning instead of three on Friday and Saturday, are the options proposed by Red Bull driver Alexander Albon and championed by Horner.

The sport has already come under close scrutiny over the staging of a GP in Bahrain and the addition of Saudi Arabia is sure to raise the volume of dissent from human rights watchers.

While most preferred to claim ignorance of the subject on Friday, world champion Lewis Hamilton spoke of sport in general as "a powerful platform to initiate change".

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto also spoke of the "power of unity" and "change" that sport can have.

Horner said he had confidence in the governing bodies of F1 (its promoter Liberty Media, and the International Automobile Federation) to "make the right decisions".

"Whatever their decision, we will be there," he said.