SINGAPORE - Former Formula One world champion Alain Prost says he can see a future where the sport will stage over 25 races per season, with teams requiring two distinct sets of engineers and mechanics to cope with the increased workload.
Next year's F1 season will be contested over 22 Grand Prix races, making it the longest in the sport's history, and many within the F1 paddock have raised concerns about the effects of an inflated calendar on drivers, team personnel and ancillary staff.
"We are already on the limit," the Frenchman told Xinhua at the Singapore Grand Prix.
"A lot of people have families, and if you have more races, it's going to be too much for them and they would prefer not to travel. Maybe we can go to 25, 26 races a year, but then you need another organisation. That means you split teams into two [groups of people going to different races], but it would cost a lot of money. That's what we are going to be facing, in my opinion."
One of the new races for 2020 will be staged in Vietnam, a country with little history of motorsport.
Over the past 20 years, Formula One has sought to widen its appeal by hosting Grands Prix in new territories, to a decidedly mixed reception. Some within F1 have suggested that the sport should focus instead on securing the futures of races in countries with a long-standing tradition of motorsport, though Prost says that F1's continued global expansion is necessary in view of current economic realities.
"When I ran an F1 team (Prost Grand Prix, which operated from 1997-2001), I said we should keep a certain number of races in Europe, Japan, and South America," the four-time world champion said. "But times have changed. [Now] there are fewer sponsors, and the only way you can get more money is with more races, and you are not going to get six or seven more races in Europe, because the economy is not there. It's a compromise."
Having won 51 Grand Prix races across a 13-year career as a driver, in addition to his stint as a team boss, Prost is well qualified to discuss the future direction of Formula 1, whose powerbrokers are yet to decide upon a new set of regulations due to be introduced in 2021.
Let's go back to basics..
Much of the recent criticism that F1 races have become processional and predictable stems from the design of the current generation of cars, with their highly intricate aerodynamics often making it difficult for drivers to follow each other closely and overtake. Having driven in a time where cars were designed with far fewer appendages and accoutrements, Prost feels a back-to-basics approach is necessary to improve the standard of racing, and says some of the teams' expensive testing equipment should be outlawed.
"I would ban wind tunnels, and try to do everything possible to create a much simpler car with more mechanical grip, and much less aerodynamic [grip]. The [current] cars are much too heavy, but that's difficult to change. I would also open the sporting regulations - for example, on the choice of tyres. I would give much more freedom to allow people to change things on the car on the starting grid without anybody knowing."
A recent innovation in F1 has been the increased use of the black and white flag to indicate unsporting behaviour, with the aim of giving drivers a final warning before any punishment is meted out. With race stewarding much more laissez-faire in his era than it is today, how does Prost feel about this development?
Fighting harder is good
"I'm very much in favour of not giving penalties all the time for all sorts of reasons, because for the image of the sport, it's not good," said the Frenchman, who was involved in several on-track incidents over the course of his career that went unpunished.
"On the other hand, you have to be careful about this 'yellow card', because you either have a rule or you don't. But leaving the drivers more open and fighting a little harder sometimes is good, because we have seen too many [penalties] where they didn't deserve any punishment."