So, here we are in the days before Monaco, and there is still whining going on about the noise that the F1 cars make. The latest folderol is from the race promoters, who are going around saying that they are going to try to get the sound of the engines changed after a meeting in Spain.
Why? These people are not even capable of sticking together to force the Formula One group to be reasonable about the fees it demands, so why would anyone listen to them on the ethereal subject of engine noise? It’s so daft a concept that one is left wondering what in the world they think they will achieve by dressing up in blue and white sailor suits and warbling from the same song sheet.
They are obviously afraid that they will have to drop their prices if the public doesn’t like the noise… But is there any real evidence that this is happening?
The Australian GP in Melbourne had its largest four-day attendance figure in 2004 when it pulled in 360,885, with the race day audience being 121,500. That fell to under 300,000 in 2009 and 2011 but went up again to 323,000 in 2013, with 103,000 on race day. This year the four-day figure was 314,900 with 100,500 on race day. Not a bad result for what is a very mature event.
What did happen in Albert Park is that a few drunken fans shouted abuse at Ron Walker and threw their earplugs at his car one evening when he was leaving. This seems to have made an impression on sensitive old Ron.
The race in Malaysia did suffer a serious drop in spectator numbers with the crowd around 25 percent down, but as the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak pointed out, the smaller crowd was due to the locals being in a state of shock as a result of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which put a damper on the whole event. There were also questions about the switch of date influencing the numbers because it meant that it was no longer a holiday in some primary markets, notably Singapore.
In Bahrain the crowd increased from 28,000 to 31,000, probably because the race was moved to the evening so that those working in Bahrain, where Sunday is a weekday, could attend and thanks perhaps to it being cooler when the sun goes down… The fact that the race was out of the political spotlight may also have helped.
China had a huge crowd. According to the organisers, the three-day event attracted 180,000 spectators, which was around the same as in previous years, the breakthrough having come in around 2012 when ticket prices were reduced.
The Spanish Grand Prix drew more than 205,000 spectators, including 91,480 on race day. This was down on 2013 when 218,331 turned up over the three-days. Having said that, back when Fernando Alonso was winning more the race day figure went as high as 140,000.
The local economy is also important in Spain because in 2011 the race day figure was just 78,000. Given that Catalonia has an unemployment rate of 22.26 percent and Spain as a whole has 26.03 percent, it is impossible to say whether the small drop this year was due to the noise of the engines, the troubled economy or Ferrari’s failings which made it impossible for Alonso to win.
Overall, therefore, there is no clear evidence that the sound of the cars has made any real difference to the ticket sales at races… We will be able to analyse more as the season goes on, but it seems somewhat contradictory for the promoters to be talking down their own events when there is nothing to support their theory…