Dear Formula 1,
2016 is upon us and I think it’s time to clear the air. We’ve been together for so long, but I think we should spend some time apart. I don’t think we see eye to eye anymore and this relationship has grown a little stale.
And let’s be clear, it’s not me, it’s you.
You’ve changed, and I no longer think we are compatible. My friends say the same, and I imagine anyone who has had the pleasure of interacting with you will agree – something is wrong.
I think I will stop my terribly clever method of expressing my dissatisfaction with F1, and explain why I no longer have the same enthusiasm for the sport I once had.
I loved Formula 1, and I look back on my time as the quintessential F1 die-hard, with great fondness. But that time has passed and the sport that I loved and cherished no longer captures my imagination as it once did.
This has nothing to do with the decibels of the engine or the intricacies of the MGU-K/MGU-H. Sure, my eyes glaze over when I hear Ted Kravitz talking about these power units, and yes, the sport seems a little out of sorts. But those unpopular elements – the hard to understand weirdly complicated regulations – are just symptoms of the underlying cause: the sport doesn’t care about the fans any more.
Nothing sums up this point more than Bernie’s interview with Campaign Asia a few years ago. He stated that the sport doesn’t cater to the younger generation; the sport caters to a demographic that can buy Rolex’s.
“I’d rather get to the 70-year-old guy who’s got plenty of cash. So, there’s no point trying to reach these kids because they won’t buy any of the products here and if marketers are aiming at this audience, then maybe they should advertise with Disney.” Bernard Charles Ecclestone, Campaign Asia, 2014
Yes a lack of competition, dull races and less than charismatic cast of characters can make the show a little lacklustre, but when the sport’s most important person states that the sport shouldn’t be marketing to the anyone who isn’t rich or in the paddock club, then it seems we have a problem.
I have spent a considerable amount of time and money on this sport, and I don’t regret it. I don’t regret flying with my friends to attend the 2009 Singapore GP hoping to see Schumacher return.
I don’t regret watching Lewis Hamilton win the Monaco GP at the Swimming Pool corner in 2008, or watching Daniel Ricardo hurl his Red Bull through Eau Rouge in 2014; nor any of the other 20+ GPs I have attended over the last 15 years. What I do regret is that I no longer look forward to F1 anymore.
As recently as 2014 I ticked off two of the most important items on my bucket list: the Belgium and Italian Grand Prix events. I also squeezed in the Japanese Grand Prix that year, and as I made my way from venue to venue, I sensed a growing malaise at the sport – I was no longer experiencing the euphoria I thought I would feel attending these most hallowed events.
Don’t get me wrong, they were incredible events. But something wasn’t quite right.
When I returned home in 2015 and I geared up for the new season, I realised I didn’t care anymore. It was like my super clever love letter analogy pointed out: I didn’t want to date F1 anymore. Even after I had the trip of a lifetime, where I attended some incredible races, I was over it.
Because the sport doesn’t try to improve the show for the average punter. The entertainment product, that is F1, is stale and detracts from the show overall. When the fans aren’t the focus, what’s the point?
When was the last time a change to the sport had the fans in mind? Improve overtaking. Change the regs and the fans will come back. The end.
That’s about it. The occasional new camera angle or semi-helpful on-screen graphic is as close to improving the delivery of the product as I recall.
And things have been getting worse. Right now, I can’t even watch the sport properly. It’s only available via a pay TV service that doesn’t connect to my house in Sydney. Sure there are work-arounds, but why should it be so damn hard to watch F1?
Even the little things are disappearing. I used to love the live timing app. I could follow the sport on a level that made me connected with the event and the teams anywhere… Till the app kept breaking or it cost a stupid amount of money to “purchase” for the year.
And what about the experience at the track?
When you are walking to a race, you should get the feeling that you are part of a global spectacle, that you are part of something bigger – I don’t get that sensation anymore. And , judging from Bernie’s ongoing comments, I don’t even think F1 really cares if I attend the races or not. That’s the promoters problem.
Case in point: When I was trying to make my way to the Italian GP in 2014, my wife and I were met with a poorly planned and poorly organised event. I am sure veterans of other Italian and European GPs chuckle at this and I am probably spoilt by the Australian GP but this was ridiculous.
Arriving at Monza station there was no clear way to get from the station to the track for the Friday session – the event organisers failed to provide public transport to the track. We had to make our own there, so we walked (I did not trust the dodgy “taxi” operators).
My wife and I got a bit lost. This is bound to happen, we are in a foreign country, but we couldn’t find any assistance from signage or staff – as a travelling fan I felt like an after-thought. Surely some help should be available.
While we couldn’t find much help we could find signs pointing to the Paddock club. I knew where the paddock club was. But I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing at an event that no interest in entertaining me.
“Looking for the Paddock Club? At F1 we will make sure you are looked after. As for the rest of the ‘fans’ – the promoter should look take care of you… damned if it tarnishes the product and ensures your experience is rubbish.” Probably a real piece of marketing at the Italian GP
I am sure people have their own horror stories from around the world, but it makes me wonder why there are so many barriers to enjoying F1? Why is it such a slog?
Until we get a true overhaul of F1 package – on track and at home – this sport will struggle to be exciting to watch. We consume entertainment differently now , we expect more – but the product refuses to change.
Whether it’s more content served through mobile devices and social media or just more effort to make the track experience more enjoyable, this sport needs figure out how to connect with fans.
Things are moving slowly, some things are changing, but I can’t help that feel so long as Bernie is at the helm fans will get an overwhelming sense that their sport doesn’t give a damn. When F1’s octogenarian supremo straight-up tells us that our money and our attention are worthless, that’s insulting.
So until you can sort yourself out F1, I think we should see other people.