By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – The French Grand Prix will return to the Formula One calendar next year, for the first time since 2008, as part of an unprecedented triple-header with Austria and Britain.
The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA), published a 21-race 2018 calendar on Monday with France and Germany’s Hockenheim, absent this year, returning while Malaysia drops off.
The race at Le Castellet, inland from Marseille, will be on June 24, avoiding a clash with the Le Mans 24 Hours on June 16-17, followed by Austria on July 1 and Silverstone on July 8.
Formula One has not had three races on successive weekends before, due to logistical reasons, although it has been mooted.
A proposed street race in New Jersey was sandwiched between Monaco and Canada on the provisional 2014 calendar but the U.S. round did not happen for financial reasons.
The season will start in Australia on March 25 with teams then traveling to Shanghai and Bahrain, which will be back-to-back on April 8 and 15, before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 29.
Russia was the fourth round this year but that race moves away from the May Day holiday weekend to an end of September slot instead.
Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona opens the European season on May 13, followed by the showcase Monaco race, before Formula One travels across the Atlantic to Canada on June 10 and then returns to France.
Germany returns on July 22 with a race at Hockenheim, followed by Hungary on the next weekend, with the three week August break maintained after fears it might have to go to accommodate the extra races.
Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps and Italy’s Mona are also back-to-back races, in late August and early September, with Singapore – Asia’s glittering floodlit night race – a stand-alone on Sept 16.
Singapore and China both have asterisks against them as subject to confirmation by the commercial rights holder.
Russia and Japan are paired, as are the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, and Mexico. The season ends in Abut Dhabi, as usual, on Nov. 25.
Sean Branches, commercial managing director for Formula One after former supreme Bernie Eccles was moved aside in January following Liberty Media’s takeover, has spoken of the need to divide the calendar more clearly into regions.
“We’re trying to align these things better by territory: European races, the American races, the Asian races,” he told Reuters this month.
Liberty wants ultimately to increase the number of races in the United States and there has been talk of the calendar stretching to as many as 25 rounds after 2018.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Alison Williams)