A lot of people believe that it was Yoko Ono who broke the Beatles up. In fact, many people blame her for it, as if she was the sole factor. But the truth is that there were already problems in the band long before she came onto the scene. If she is guilty of anything, the maybe it is of hastening their downfall, but to suggest she was the only thing is naive. This is the Yoko Factor.
It’s been a common criticism of the sport that it is going to places it has no business being because of a lack of “racing heritage”. This is possibly my least-favourite phrase in the fan’s vernacular, as it does not really mean anything. It has become a euphamism for something people don’t like. These criticisms came up (again) with the release of the 2011 calendar. There will be twenty races next year, and for the first time ever, the number of flyaway rounds will out-number the European races. To some people, this is a devastating travesty. And while there are some races of varying importance that remain unaccounted for – France, Austria, Portugal and the Netherlands, in (roughly) order of priority – where is this written that this is a bad thing? All four countries are lacking quality circuits.
Consider this: as of 2010, fifteen nations have been represented by the teams and drivers alike. They are as follows: Great Britain (Button, Hamilton, McLaren, Virgin, Williams), Germany (Schumacher, Rosberg, Vettel, Sutil, Glock, Hulkenberg, Heidfeld, Mercedes), Italy (Trulli, Liuzzi, Ferrari, Toro Rosso), Brazil (Massa, Barrichello, Senna, di Grassi), Spain (Alonso, Alguersuari, de la Rosa, HRT), Switzerland (Buemi, Sauber), Japan (Kobayashi, Yamamoto), Austria (Klien, Red Bull), India (Chandhok, Force India), Poland (Kubica), Russia (Petrov), France (Renault), Finland (Kovalainen), Australia (Webber) and Malaysia (Lotus). And that’s without mentioning test drivers – Belgium, China, the Czech Republic and New Zealand are all accounted for. The addition of Sergio Perez for 2011 will take that up to sixteen nations (Mexico), and the possibilities of Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela), Giedo van der Garde (the Netherlands), Paul di Resta (Scotland) and Jacques Villeneuve (Canada) will take that number up to a round twenty; the inclusion of America on the calendar will make that twenty-one. And there’s the possibility that someone I haven’t accounted for will join.
In order to account for this, I’m going to use GP2 Asia as a guide. GP2 Asia was established with teams being encouraged to take at least one driver from a non-”traditional” setting, which is defined as Western Europe and Brazil. GP2 Asia has thus seend drivers from Bahrain, Denmark, Bulgaria, South Africa, Turkey, Taiwan, Pakistan, Serbia, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. This is inconsequential to my point, other than to highlight where the boundary between “traditional” and “non-traditional” lies, which is roughly the line the old Iron Curtain used to follow.
Of the twenty-seven drivers who have raced this year, thirteen different nationalities have been accounted for. However, of these thirteen, just seven are actually European in the “traditional” sense. Mark Webber, Robert Kubica, Vitaly Petrov, Karun Chandhok, Sakon Yamamoto, Kamui Kobayashi and Sebastien Buemi (as motorsport is banned in Switzerland, making Swiss drivers uncommon at best) all come from nations outside the “traditional” boundaries. In fact, a third of the grid is made up of drivers from these non-”traditional” nations.
And now we finally come to my point. Formula 1 has pushed beyond its European homeland for the first time in sixty years. But is this such a bad thing when the grid keeps accepting more drivers from more countries outside this “traditional” sphere? Yes, there are some discrepancies – South Korea and Turkey have races, but no drivers; Poland and Russia have drivers, but no races – yet as the grid gets saturated with more diversity, so too does the calendar. One is clearly driving the other. Is it really such a bad thing to be leaving Europe for the rest of the world? Because when you think about it, Formula 1 isn’t really leaving Europe at all. The long-standing races at Silverstone, Spa, Hockenheim/the Nuburgring, Monaco, Monza, Catalunya, Budapest and Interlagos are all still standing; so, too, are the long-standing races outside these “traditional” areas; Albert Park, Montreal and Sepang are all still on the calendar. Formula 1 isn’t sacrificing anything – it’s expanding.