Formula 1

Sebastian Vettel Points Out a Glaring Formula 1 Concern: ‘It’s Not Special Anymore’

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Sebastian Vettel of the Aston Martin Formula 1 team prepares on the grid during the Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on Sept. 12, 2021.

Article Highlights:

  • Formula 1 has set a 23-race schedule for the 2022 season
  • Former champion Sebastian Vettel is concerned about the strain on staff
  • The longest of Vettel’s four championship seasons was just 20 races

The average working stiff might look at Aaron Rodgers playing 17 NFL games a season or Rory McIlroy playing 22 golf tournaments a year and accuse Sebastian Vettel of whining about having to drive in 23 Formula 1 races next season.

The average working stiff would be misguided. A lot of sports fans likely missed Vettel’s point when the veteran driver raised concerns about the 2022 F1 schedule.

Sebastian Vettel of Germany prepares on the grid at the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on Sept. 12, 2021. | Lars Baron/Getty Images
Sebastian Vettel of Germany prepares on the grid at the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on Sept. 12, 2021. | Lars Baron/Getty Images

For one thing, Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play road games in Russia, Singapore, and Japan on consecutive weekends. And McIlroy travels with a caddie and maybe two sets of clubs, not casts of support personnel who get very little in-season downtime while maintaining sophisticated technology.

More importantly, those pushing back on Vettel missed his point. He’s not coddling Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, who can show up on a Wednesday, depart on Sunday night, and then take most of the next nine days for themselves. Rather, Vettel is concerned about crew members already routinely working six- and seven-day weeks during a season that’s about to grow to a record number of races.

Formula 1 is in the midst of one of its most memorable seasons in years, and the people running it have decided that the next move should be to expand the schedule to a record 23 races in 2022, beginning with Bahrain on March 20 and ending with Abu Dhabi on Nov. 20.

Everything in between those dates suggests that Formula 1 executives are looking to make up for two years of lost time during the pandemic. Australia, which has imposed some of the world’s strictest lockdown policies and travel bans, is back on the schedule. Singapore is also back, though China is not.

The United States has garnered two race dates for the first time since 1984, but Miami (May 8) and Circuit of the Americas (Oct. 23, pending a new contract) are months apart. Neither works as a back-to-back with the Canadian GP in Montreal (June 19), though the COTA date is paired with Mexico City a week later.

The schedule also spaces out the two Italian races, creating additional travel. Worse, five sets of back-to-backs will strain crews before the break in August. Those four weeks of downtime give way to a Belgium (Aug. 28), Netherlands (Sept. 4), and Monza, Italy, (Sept. 11) tripleheader. After a week off, Sochi, Singapore, and Suzuka, Japan, line up as another exhausting tripleheader.

Vettel held court with a handful of racing writers after the schedule announcement, and reported that the four-time series champion did not hold back.

“This is only my opinion, and it’s not worth anything, but I think we should not have that many races. It’s for a number of reasons. I think, one, maybe it’s too many races for the people to watch. It’s not special anymore if there’s that many.

“And, second, I feel for (the traveling staff). Us drivers, we are at the good side of things. We can arrive on a Wednesday night and leave if we find a flight, etcetera, on a Sunday night.”

Sebastian Vettel

Nearly everyone else in the delegation faces several days of work tearing down operations at one venue and setting up at the next. Factoring in travel, there is practically no time off in between back-to-backs. And when there is a week between races, the teams can find themselves half a world away from the home bases in Europe.

“I think we are in a time where people are growing more and more conscious that they have a life, too, and that the life doesn’t belong to the employer,” Vettel said.

The longest of Vettel’s four consecutive championship seasons consisted of 20 races in 2012. Lewis Hamilton won his seventh title in a 17-race season in 2020, a function of a schedule chopped down by the pandemic.

When Michael Schumacher captured his seven World Drivers’ Championships through 2004, the season consisted of 16 to 18 races a year.

Had the NFL expanded its schedule so aggressively, the current season would be 22 games and overlap the NCAA Basketball Tournament. All in all, Vettel likely has a valid point.

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