Written by Sasha Macmillen
With the announcement of Formula One's extension to a programme of six sprint races a season, we have only been served further proof of Stefano Domenicali's desire, alongside many of his counterparts in Formula One's elite: to continue the sport's ongoing commercialisation in every way possible.
Despite direct opposition from a large number of fans, Domenicali has insisted that there is positive feedback for the sprints, and thus has justified his decision to expand its programme. He claims that Formula One is yearning for a weekend format that provides exciting action across all three days, despite the sport's remarkable growth in TV viewership and worldwide reach, without making any changes to the racing nor the scheduling. Yet the issue regarding sprint races is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Domenicali's plans, which are mostly centred around a single theme: money-making.
The former Ferrari team principal has recently even proposed the awarding of points for Free Practice positions, something that prompted a large outcry from fans, as well as the suggestion that reverse grids were being tabled as an idea to add to the show of the sprint races. Many fans would justify this by explaining that the essence of Formula One is being destroyed, that the product of your work on and off-track results in your starting position. But seemingly according to Domenicali, the 'show' is the most important thing.
Aside from the racing on track, you don't have to look any further than the 2023 race calendar to spot some blindingly obvious issues. The reluctance of promoters to move their races from traditional points in the calendar year, and Formula One's inability to ensure that the entire calendar is grouped efficiently so as to save air miles, has put their entire future of environmental-friendliness in doubt. Whether it be the number of races in countries that hold concerning human rights records, such as Saudi Arabia and China, or the poor scheduling of its calendar, F1 does not hold a great political record.
Yet should we be surprised by the direction that this sport has taken in recent years? Although Liberty Media bought the sport back in 2017, the symptoms of prioritising the 'show' over the sport's integrity and identity have only begun to bear fruit in the last couple of seasons. Football is an example we can draw a parallel to, with new Chelsea FC owner Todd Boehly proposing the idea of a 'Premier League Allstars' match which would make hundreds of millions of pounds. Football has also seen a number of high-profile matches being played in the Arabian gulf, with promoters in Qatar, the UAE and surrounding countries willing to pay the highest fees to gain hosting rights. Formula One is clearly not the only one ready to leave behind some of its morals and integrity for the opportunity of an extra cheque in the bank.
Whilst the addition of three extra sprint races per season is merely a drop in the pond in the sport's ongoing commercialisation and strive for more 'show', many will cast their minds back to the controversial conclusion of the 2021 championship in Abu Dhabi. The desperate nature of calling the safety car in was seen by many as the sport's absolute desperation for the season to end with a show and a tale to tell, no matter the fairness of the decision. Sporting integrity was brought into question, and Formula One's entire identity was largely at stake as the bosses presided over how to move on from Abu Dhabi.
How Formula One will go about the next years, and whether it will persevere with its current direction of money first, sport second, will be of great interest to its fans. It's integrity is waning with every controversial decision that it takes, and the sport is missing its chance to become a force for good, rather than a businessman's racing club.