Nineteen-race formula-one calendar approved

Formula one’s team chiefs breathed a collective sigh of relief on Wednesday when the FIA announced next season’s grand-prix calendar will be fixed at 19 races.

The sport’s organisers have come under criticism for creating a punishing schedule this year after the calendar was packed with the highest number of races to date run in one season.

There were fears that the schedule, which this year was packed between March 6 and October 16, would be increased to include 20 races over the same period in 2006 as demand for a place on the calendar continues to increase.

But those plans have been put on hold, at least for next year, and Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner said: “There has not been much dialogue with the teams on the calendar but I think it all looks pretty sensible.

“To have 19 races is a gruelling calendar for anyone, but there are no triple headers, as were feared, and not too many manic back-to-backs. Bahrain and Malaysia to start with will be a tight one, but there are no surprises.”

There have been several changes to the calendar due to other major sporting events taking place, including the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and the Soccer World Cup in Germany.

One of the major moves has seen the British Grand Prix give up its traditional July date, which clashed with the World Cup final, to a weekend in early June that will clash with the opening eight games of the tournament.

That is not a concern to Sir Jackie Stewart, the president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, which promotes the race. He said: “We want to retain the traditional July date in future but we are happy to move for this one.

“England in June can be nice, and it is my birthday on that day too.
We have been aware for some time that when you have the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games, you do not want two major events to clash on the same day.

“You want to get maximum attendance and maximum television viewers, but we are positive, we have been half prepared for this date and we have already started selling tickets.”

The Australian race has also been moved from its traditional season-opening March date to avoid a clash with the Commonwealth Games, and Bahrain now takes its place, with the Melbourne race becoming the third on the calendar.

The calendar has been the subject of much debate, with a track in the Mexican resort of Cancun initially mooted as a possible addition for 2006, but for the first time in three years there will be no new venue in the schedule.

Turkey made its debut this year, following on from inaugural races in Bahrain and China in 2004, but it seems inevitable that the calendar must expand in the future as more and more countries join the queue to host an event.

Mexico is still pushing for a place, Japan is keen for a second race at the Fuji circuit and India, Russia, Azerbaijan and South Africa are among many who have tentative plans to join the fray.

There have been calls to cut testing, something that costs all the teams significant amounts of money, in favour of more racing, and Horner believes that could be the way to go.

“I think we prefer more racing and less testing, and it looks like we will have more racing and more testing now,” said Horner, referring to an apparent breakdown in testing limitations.

“Doing more races is not really an issue if the calendar is allowed to run later, but testing costs us money for little gain. That said, I think we may come to the conclusion that 19 races is enough.”—Sapa-AFP

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