F1 calendar: Updates from Spa and Malaysia as competition hots up

Jamie Woodhouse
Max Verstappen takes Eau Rouge in his Red Bull. F1 Spa-Francorchamps August 2022.

Max Verstappen takes Eau Rouge in his Red Bull during FP2 for the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps August 2022.

As F1 president Stefano Domenicali talks of extreme interest levels over hosting a grand prix, Spa-Francorchamps and Sepang have both given status updates.

Formula 1 right now is arguably more popular than it has ever been, with Netflix’s hit docuseries Drive to Survive having spiked a fresh wave of interest in the sport, especially over in the United States.

And with jam-packed grandstands now a regular sight across the F1 calendar, it means that the competition for a spot has potentially never been as extreme as it is right now.

In fact, F1 president and CEO Domenicali, who has stated 24 rounds as the limit for a calendar, has claimed that 32 grands prix would be possible right now such is the huge interest.

“We could already have more than 30, even 32 grands prix, because everyone wants one,” said Domenicali via SportNXT.

And one of the venues trying to defend its spot on the calendar is Spa-Francorchamps, one of the most iconic racing tracks in the world and host of the Belgian Grand Prix.

But, with its contract up after the 2023 staging of the Belgian GP, it means Spa will need to secure a new deal in the face of all this competition to remain on the F1 schedule.

That being said, Spa director Vanessa Maes has delivered a positive update on the future of the Belgian GP at the venue, speaking of growing confidence after a recent F1 visit where the circuit showed off its latest improvements.

“I am much more optimistic now than I was a year ago.” Maes declared to HLN.

“A delegation from F1 Group came by this month for two days, to have a quiet look at all the changes we have made to the circuit to make the next grand prix an even bigger success than in 2022.

“We make the case that Francorchamps now fully meets the F1 Group’s specifications. We are filling in all the conditions. A new meeting is planned soon with the F1 Group people, this time with our chairman Melchior Wathelet in attendance.”

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And while Spa is a much-loved Formula 1 venue still currently on the calendar and looking to stay there, another which fans have long since wanted to return is Sepang, the venue which hosted the Malaysian Grand Prix from 1999-2017.

And Malaysia has also given an update on the venue’s future in regards to Formula 1, a stance certainly nowhere near as positive as the one Spa is taking.

Indeed, Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh claimed that the financial side is making a return for the Malaysian GP ‘quite impossible’ as it stands.

Malaysian publication The Vibes report Yeoh as having claimed that it is ‘quite impossible for the Formula 1 Malaysian GP to be brought back given the high cost of organising it.

‘Instead, she said the ministry would prioritise funding infrastructure upgrades at SIC [Sepang International Circuit] to the tune of RM20 million to attract more local and international events.’

Interestingly, F1 2023 Championship leader, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, is the most recent winner of both the Belgian and Malaysian GPs.

He would take the chequered flag at the final Malaysian GP as it stands in 2017, while his victory at Spa in 2022, despite starting from P14 on the grid, was a highlight of his dominant second title-winning season, victorious in 15 of the 22 grands prix that year.