If we listen to Bernie Ecclestone, the discredited Briatore, a chorus of sycophants around them, virtual journalists looking for things to make up and a bunch of grumpy old men fans who know how to complain online, F1 is a broken sport and in need of fixing. It’s not like it used to be. Yadda yadda yadda…
Really? So why, after months of in-depth analysis, considering all the available options, did a smart global company like Renault decide to spend more money to increase its involvement in F1? These are not stupid people.
Why do Mercedes, Ferrari and Honda stick with this apparently rubbish sport? Red Bull people whinge and gripe (although, thankfully, Helmut Marko has shut up for a while) but the drink company is still there in F1… flogging its pop. Gene Haas spends untold amounts of money to come into F1 because he sees its value. Why are promoters falling over one another to hold races, willing to pay daft sums in fees?
The answer is very simple: F1 fans are passionate. And there are an awful lot of them… The biggest asset F1 has is its fans. Most of them are part of the silent majority. They are not out there tweeting negativity every two minutes. They are not always asking negative questions and thinking it makes them look smart. They are not making up fantasy stories to get clicks in the hope that they can dance on the yellow brick road with Judy Garland.
Despite all the negativity, there are still more than 400 million of them who watch F1 each year. Compared to other sports, F1 viewing figures are holding up well, at a time when the viewing habits of the world are changing and everyone is losing TV viewers. Much, if not all, of the loss of F1 TV viewers is due to self-inflicted payTV deals. These deals pay more. The “promoters” of the sport don’t care beyond that… Across the board, in all activities, viewers are not disappearing, they are simply changing the way they consume content. Online digital video is booming. YouTube is the new PayPal. The Internet is not a great business model, perhaps, but it is a brilliant advertising medium and ultimately, when bandwidth is wider than Meatloaf and able to go the last mile, sports will go direct to consumers, without middle men, and will make infinitely more money, by charging a whole lot less… Premium priced PayTV is the Nena and the 20-teens, a one-hit wonder, whose red balloons will be only vaguely remembered in the years ahead. The future is more likely to be low-ball, a world of buck-a-bang deals.
The technology in F1 is astonishing and useful. Grumpy old men talk about the need for more noise (maybe they don’t hear so well) but it doesn’t matter that much. Fans will come to races no matter what the noise, if the price is reasonable and the promotion is effective.
The sport has always had cycles of domination, but you can be sure that the minute Ferrari and Mercedes start to slug it out on the race tracks, the whinging about the spectacle will stop. That’s how it is. F1 now is still a spectacle and the races are brilliantly subtle and close, perhaps they need to be more unsubtle to please more people. Bread and circuses, and all that…
But race promoters struggle because of the financial demands of “the promoter” who demands more and more because it can… It’s not necessarily a sustainable business model, but the grey City men don’t care. It is business. There is no passion involved.
Does anyone, apart from the fans, really care about the sport? Is it all just politics and money, or do some of these people care and feel the passion and want the sport to do what sport is supposed to do? Lift us up, inspire and amuse us, give us thrills and dreams in life?
I like to think so… For me, it is the job of the FIA and the media to uphold, preserve and protect these values, traditions and heritage against all those who seek to exploit the sport. Are we doing that? The media is a mess right now. The FIA is standing back, watching, probably hoping that the promoter has lost the support of the teams and so, at some point, there will be a conflict and the Formula One group will be unable to fulfill the terms of the 100-year commercial deal agreed. Then the whole thing will fall back into the lap of the federation, which is legally the owner of the right to create World Champions, a right that is recognised, so they say, in all the secret paperwork. Logically, this could then lead to a new structure, built along the lines of the Premier League in soccer, with the competitors and a regulator, without the middle men. So do we simply need a Jesus figure to come and kick the money changers out of the temple?
In the meantime I refuse to let all the naysayers get me down. F1 remains a fantastic show.