Formula One: F1 could have a record 22 races next year

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton steers his car during the first practice session of the Hungarian grand prix.
Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton steers his car during the first practice session of the Hungarian grand prix.PHOTO: AFP

BUDAPEST (REUTERS) - Formula One could expand to a record 22 races next year, with 24 on the horizon for 2021, under discussions between teams and commercial rights holders Liberty Media.

Teams have to approve the increase and principals told reporters at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Friday that US-based Liberty had canvassed them on increasing the calendar from this season's 21.

Liberty has a potential 22 already after the Catalan government approved a one-year extension for the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya.

Barcelona was out of contract after this year's race and considered one of those most at risk of dropping off the schedule.

The regional government said in a statement they had authorised the signing of an extension for 2020 with Formula One that would "guarantee the celebration of the 30th consecutive edition of this event at the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit."

Germany, which hosted a thriller at Hockenheim last weekend, looks likely to be dropped.

Vietnam is set to make its debut with a race in Hanoi, while the Netherlands returns for the first time since 1985 to make the most of Red Bull driver Max Verstappen's popularity.

Mexico is also out of contract after this year's race and facing a loss of government funding, but Formula One is keen to retain one of its best-attended events.

Monza has a new deal agreed but unsigned, although a calendar without Ferrari's home Italian race would be unthinkable to most F1 fans. Beyond that, Liberty is keen to add races in China and the United States.

"In principle we support the direction of going for 22 races next year," McLaren's Andreas Seidl told reporters, while expressing concern for employee welfare in a season that already runs from March to December.

Bosses also expressed concern about eroding the sport's exclusivity and the possibility of exhausting "triple headers" with races on three successive weekends.

Red Bull's Christian Horner said he was open to 22 races.

"I think in principle, yes, is the answer, but it has to be combined with what other activities are going on," he said, suggesting less testing and an increase in the allocation of power units from three to four per driver for a season.

Haas principal Guenther Steiner said, however, that four engines did not make financial sense for a small team like his who buy them from Ferrari.

Ferrari's Mattia Binotto agreed with that assessment.

"We are supportive on a 22nd race if that means some more revenues but we need to certainly be careful on the costs, the extra costs," he said.

"If you look as well at 2021 at the moment we are discussing for 24 races but no extra engines, no extra units, so I think it's only a path to 2021."

Formula One's current agreements with teams expire at the end of 2020 and the sport is seeking major changes after that to improve the racing, create a more level playing field and fairer distribution of revenues.

More races also means more hosting fees for Liberty, and potentially a bigger pot for the teams to share.