There is a tendency in life to look at the things that are wrong and to complain about them. We all do it and sometimes it helps to get things working properly, but if there is too much negativity things suffer, people become disenchanted and lose interest.
Right now, one gets the sense that an awful lot of F1 fans are in that position. They don’t like having to pay to watch the sport on TV, they don’t like the ticket prices, they don’t like the lack of engagement of the powers-that-be. They want change, but there seems no way that change will come.
To be brutal, I have never seen much value in the FIA World Council. Perhaps there is open debate there (perhaps we should be allowed to watch it?) but I get the impression from people involved in these things that not everyone involved has even read the dossier and they simply vote with everyone else. It has even been suggested that a seat on the World Council is more to do with patronage than ability. Would it not be fun to have a snap-quiz for delegates before the next WMSC to see if they really do know what they are talking about?
Having said that there are plenty of things that the sport can do, which would not cost much money. Social media in F1 is about 10 years behind the rest of the world and someone still has to explain at Princes Gate that “engagement” rarely involves the payment of a fee. Social media is free advertising. Engagement is good. Making people feel good about a sport increases your chances of getting money from them… If you look at what is happening across America you can see this in action. Promoters are tearing out seats to make way for nicer ones (as American bottoms are, on average, larger than they used to be). They are creating better facilities and hope that this will lead to better experiences for the fans. The better the experience, the more likely it is that the fans will spend more money and will return and do so again in the future. F1 promoters are still struggling with smelly, horrid toilets, muddy pathways and things that should have disappeared in the 1990s.
Improving the Grand Prix experience is a good place to start. At the moment only the richest promoters (usually strong governments) can afford to do much in terms of keeping the fans interested and engaged. The Formula One group takes money from support race promoters and if no money is on offer there are no support races. This is crazy. Similarly, it makes no sense to have no parades, dancing groups, marching bands or whatever. That is all part of the art of promotion. Bernie Ecclestone blames the race promoters for this, but the reality is that if they have to pay so much that they respond by cutting budgets and screwing teams for every tent, truck, table, chair and whatever, not to mention disgraceful Internet access charges for media.
People don’t like being squeezed, but they will happily pay if they think something is worth the investment. There is a fine line between the two.
The public do not see enough of the drivers. The heroes appear on the back of a truck, having been told to look interested. Why are they not introduced to the crowd with a little hoop-la such as one sees in NASCAR? What is wrong with “Here he is, ladies and gentlemen, the meanest, nastiest sonofabitch in the Western Hemisphere”? It all helps to build up interest and character. Why is there not more build-up before the races, to get things wound up? Old style tub-thumping promotion has always worked well. Why does F1 not do it? It is just showbiz and what is wrong with a bit of that (off the track). Cheerleaders, fireworks, acrobats, team principals holding hands, you name it… Engagement.
A point that I saw raised recently by SkyTV was about winning. OK, we are not allowed to know that X won X million, although money is always a great promotional tool, but when the World Championship is settled, why on earth is a big trophy not wheeled out and given to the World Champion there and then? At the end of the World Cup one does not expected to see the teams wander off to the dressing rooms and the Cup handed to them weeks later in a private function in Paris, with a bunch of lizards in lounge suits. Where is the value in that? The FIA Prizegiving can be about handing out gongs to one another but it is daft not to share the thrill and emotion of becoming a champion with the TV audiences and spectators. Live, up close and personal. If you stop and think about it, what we do now is just plain daft. If you are going to have a dull old prize giving, at least try to turn it into the Oscars on motorsport. Sadly, the FIA lost out on that years ago as Autosport stepped up to the mark and grabbed the “real estate”.
Maybe giving Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone “a mandate” is a positive thing. Who knows? But it is not quite the same as the couple of buxom blonde twins handing over bags of gold to the winner of the Twin 100 races at any speedway on a Saturday night.
F1 is not about Chardonnay, canapés and share certificates… It is also about beer and pies.