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Why F1 remains miles away from "perfect calendar"

Formula 1's 2024 calendar offers a first glimpse of efforts to make its trek around the world more sustainable, but its record 24-round schedule remains far from its ideal of a "perfect calendar".

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W10, leads Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG W10, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF90, Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF90, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB15, and the rest of the field towards the first corner

As China returns to the calendar after years of COVID-related delays, F1 finally has achieved its record-breaking 24-race schedule, the maximum currently allowed under F1 and the FIA's commercial agreements.

The 2024 schedule contains the same 24 events as the original 2023 plans but has seen several tweaks to make the calendar more sustainable by grouping regional races.

"We're working on regionalising the calendar," said former F1 sporting director Steve Nielsen, who has since moved to the FIA, in December last year. "We have a future calendar, I won't tell you from which year, but we have a future sort of perfect calendar, within some years down the line.

"And we're iterating gradually towards that each year, moving an event here or there by a week. So, there's a strategy to get from where we are now, which we're not happy with, to a much happier place in a few years' time. But it's a gradual process."

While clearly efforts have been made to make the calendar more logical, after one look at the 2024 schedule it is equally obvious that - as Nielsen suggested - F1's objective of coming up with a "perfect calendar" is very much a work in progress.

In an ideal world, races are twinned back-to-back based on geographical vicinity, or at least a logical air connection.

It means team personnel and other paddock members only need to undertake one long-haul trip for every two flyaway races, being able to stay out in Asia or the Americas instead of having to fly back and forth after every weekend.

On the other end of the spectrum is the dreaded triple-header, of which the 2023 calendar has two, including a gruelling three-week slog to Austin, Mexico and Sao Paulo, which means teams go three weekends without seeing the factory, or more importantly, their loved ones.

The drivers practice their start procedures at the end of FP3

The drivers practice their start procedures at the end of FP3

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

In addition to the human cost, there's the impact on sustainability, with any air miles saved on its Boeing 777 cargo jets a valuable contribution to F1's cause to have a net carbon-zero future from 2030 onwards.

A good way of checking, if F1 has achieved a more sustainable calendar, is by comparing the mileage personnel would have to travel if they went to every race.

We have added up the distance between every race, assuming most staff fly out of London, return home after standalone weekends and travel directly to the next race in case of double and triple- headers.

The result for the 2023 calendar, which includes the cancelled China and Imola rounds for a fairer comparison, is a staggering 208,075km, or almost five full trips around the world. That is based on conservative calculations taking only direct flights into account to the nearest airport, quite the utopia.

If you do the maths for 2024 the result doesn't look a whole lot better: 194,455km. So why is the distance travelled only decreasing by 7%?

For next year, F1 has made some gains in the Middle East, with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia now back-to-back after being split last year. They both now host Saturday night races too, due to the 2024 Ramadan schedule.

It allows teams to stay out in the Middle East at the start of the season, although with pre-season testing preceding the Bahrain Grand Prix at the same venue, that de facto becomes a first triple-header.

The problems then quickly start to mount. Australia is once again a standalone, meaning teams will make a 34,000km round-trip journey only to then go back to Asia for the Japanese Grand Prix, which has been brought forward from its traditional autumn date and is a standalone event in April.

The good news is that this moves the popular Suzuka round out of the typhoon season but the bad news is that another one-week gap follows ahead of China's return, meaning F1 has brought the two races in the Far East together without actually taking advantage of their proximity.

Next up, Miami and Canada are both standalone events instead of being twinned, having been broken up by the first European races in Imola and Monaco, with Montreal preferring to stick to its June date amid concerns over the chilly weather in early May.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19 leads at the start

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19 leads at the start

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

F1's first grand prix triple-header then follows with Spain, Austria and Great Britain, followed by a more logical Hungary-Belgium double-header to close out the first half of the season.

The second part of the season starts with a Zandvoort-Monza double-header, which remains unchanged from 2023. Next up, Azerbaijan-Singapore is not the worst double-header, with Baku offering reasonable connections to the east.

But after a three-week gap in October, the dreaded Austin-Mexico-Brazil triple-header remains. Teams then get a two-week break to recover until... another triple-header. The record-breaking season closes with a back-breaking run of Las Vegas, Qatar and Abu Dhabi, finally getting across the line on 8 December.

In its Wednesday calendar reveal F1 admitted that due to contractual obligations and concerns about the weather, fixing the calendar won't be happening overnight.

"Formula 1 has made clear its intention to move towards greater calendar regionalisation, reducing logistical burdens and making the season more sustainable," its announcement read.

"By moving Japan to April, Azerbaijan to September and Qatar back-to-back with Abu Dhabi, this calendar creates a better flow of races in certain regions, and this work will continue while being realistic to the fact that as a world championship, with climatic and contractual constraints, there will always be travel required that cannot be completely regionalised."

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali added: "Our journey to a more sustainable calendar will continue in the coming years as we further streamline operations as part of our Net Zero 2030 commitment."

Between 2024's five standalone flyaways and three gruelling triple-headers, it is clear that F1 still has a long way to go on that journey.

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