F1 facing calendar talks after double-header GP ‘jackpot’

Saudi Arabian and Bahrain GP chiefs are poised for further discussions with F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali over a permanent calendar shift after noticing “a huge difference” this year with a change in their weekend timetables.

Due to the holy event of Ramadan commencing on March 10, the Saudi Arabian GP was switched to Saturday. Running as a double-header with Bahrain, the season-opener was also brought forward a day to guarantee enough time between races.

This meant both events ran qualifying and the race on the traditional Middle Eastern weekend of Friday and Saturday, with the impact significant.

‘It’s a good idea’

Bahrain GP CEO Sheikh Salman bin Isa al-Khalifa remarked in an interview with RacingNews365 that the sold-out success of the weekend, and greater economic impact, would lead to a conversation with Domenicali over a permanent change.

Saudi Arabian GP CEO Martin Whitaker has confirmed that initial discussions with Domenicali took place in Bahrain, with further talks planned.

Asked by RacingNews365 whether the Saudi Arabian GP could permanently switch to Saturday, Whitaker said: “Absolutely.

“We’ve actually had this conversation. My chairman, Prince Khalid, spoke with Sheikh Salman and Stefano in Bahrain on this very point.

“It’s a good idea. The teams find it easier, it’s good for them, with a lot of the personnel back home on Sunday.

“That’s one of the beauties of being in the Middle East in that you can get a flight at two o’clock in the morning and be at Heathrow at six o’clock, or Paris, or wherever you want to go to in Europe.

“There are a huge number of benefits in running the event on the weekend of the country. I think we’ve got something which could work, and there’s no doubt, looking at Bahrain this year, I’m absolutely convinced by that.

“I’m sure Sheikh Salman will tell you this, but that race was the success it was, and I suspect they hit the jackpot in terms of the numbers, because of the weekend issue.”

‘Buzz in town’

By the metrics associated with the Saudi Arabian GP, Whitaker confirmed that in running the event from Thursday to Saturday, there was “a huge difference”, a factor he had also noticed with Bahrain.

“I was in Bahrain on the Friday, and I thought the atmosphere at the circuit was absolutely tremendous,” said Whitaker.

“It is always good, but I just felt it was a step up, and the reason why I felt that was because I’d been in town that morning, and the buzz in town was completely different.

“Because it was a weekend, everybody felt ‘Actually, this is our weekend. We haven’t got to worry about going to work on Monday or leaving work early to get to the race, or leaving the track late on Sunday night, which is a working day, and feeling groggy the following morning for work’.

“So I think that made a huge difference, and the same can be said for our event, too.”


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