With continuing complaints about the dulcet tones of the new 1.6-litre turbocharged engines and faced with free-falling television numbers, Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso wants Formula One fans to help the sport improve its appeal.
“The show that probably we’ve put in this year is not good enough in some of the races,” Alonso said last week.
“Also, when one team is dominating so much as Mercedes, probably the spectators prefer some more action, as probably they like Canada Grand Prix that everyone seems to enjoy. Yeah, we will try to put on a better show in the next races and if the teams or the fans or whatever, they have any ideas, they will be welcome to have a better show.”
Although the Williams of Felipe Massa knocked the Mercedes off pole at the A1-Ring for the first time in eight races this year, Mercedes took their sixth 1-2 finish in Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix. Mercedes has won seven of eight races in 2014 and only a mechanical issue with both its cars in the Canadian Grand Prix prevented a clean sweep.
Two-time world champion Alonso’s request came on the heels of Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo’s call for a summit among the sport’s insiders to figure out its course for the future. That meeting is expected to happen just before the Italian Grand Prix in September.
With one of F1’s marquee drivers wanting fans to speak up, it’s time to get some ideas together, so here are a five suggestions to get the conversation going.
1. Take grands prix off pay channels
In many Formula One-mad countries, its ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone continues to sign deals to broadcast the races on pay channels rather than free-to-air ones. There’s no doubt that this is good for the bottom line of the sport’s commercial arm, Formula One Management, but on the other hand, it’s not good for fans who have obviously balked at the idea of paying to watch grands prix. Pay TV is short-term gain, long-term pain equation for the sport.
2. Stop adding artificial everything Fake sparks coming from titanium plates bolted to the underside of cars during Austrian Grand Prix practice and the failed megaphone exhaust tried out earlier this year are two of the latest in this long line of devices the sport has used to try to fool fans into thinking the racing is good. Also falling into this category is the drag reduction system which has made passing a yawn-inducing experience, the new points system that falsely boost the drivers’ scores, and double points finale that threatens to reward a driver with a title essentially based on his performance in one race. Instead of trying to come up with new gimmicks, F1 should concentrate on coming up with a rules package that makes for good racing.
3. Drag the rights holder into the 21st Century Anyone who posts an F1 video on YouTube knows the drill. Put just about anything F1 on the video sharing site and you’ll likely see it pulled down within hours or days at the most. And then in its next breath, the sport wonders why it can’t attract the younger audience – you know, the kids who want to post selfies of everything they do and can’t help sharing every moment of their lives on social media. Do that with F1, and the rights holder will usually make sure it’s erased promptly. And when that happens, it will also wipe out any reason those young fans had to pay attention to F1.
4. Remember tradition Yes, it’s a business and it must make money, but F1 also needs to remember its roots. That means running on proper race tracks in countries where people actually care about the sport rather than in places like Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, China, and Malaysia. The fact that there seems to be a threat to cancel the race at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium every couple of years signals a huge disconnect between the fans and those running the sport. Spa is the most exciting track left on the F1 circuit and it should be protected at all costs, rather than simply being seen as poor revenue generator by its commercial arm.
5. Balance safety with competition There was a time when the “motor racing in dangerous” warning on tickets meant something. While nobody wants to put F1 drivers in unnecessary danger, there’s a fine line between making the sport safe and making it sterile. Once a mistake meant being beached in a gravel trap, but the pavement areas now covering most runoff areas make it easy to recover and rejoin the race without skipping a beat. There was also a time in F1 when corners like Eau Rouge at the Spa-Francorchamps Circuit and Suzuka’s 130R would strike fear into even the bravest F1 driver. Now they’ve been neutered so much that they’re just another flat out corner, and it’s just not right.
By the Numbers: F1’s global television audience has been falling steadily since 2010, down a full 25 per cent since 2008. According to Formula One Management, 450 million people in 185 countries or territories around the world watched at least 15 minutes of the 27,000 cumulative hours of coverage during the 2013 season. That number was down 10.4 per cent from the previous season.
Although the U.S. audience was up 18 per cent, only 11.4 million people watched F1. Across the Atlantic in the U.K., there was a modest two per cent increase to about 29 million despite the move to Pay TV there for most live races. Italy, Japan, and Spain were about flat when it came to audience.
On the other side of the equation, a switch to Pay TV in France resulted in an audience drop of almost 63 per cent. After France, China’s audience plummeted the most at 61 per cent, Poland’s TV numbers dropped 20 per cent, and Germany and Russia were both down 10 per cent. While Brazil lost five per cent, it remains the biggest F1 watching country at about 77 million.
FACTBOX (Source: Formula One Management)
# of GPs
Average viewers per grand prix
Random Thoughts: Many observers have taken Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevy sporting a blue paint scheme care of new sponsor Panasonic in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway as a sign that he’ll be sticking around for a few more years. The Panasonic deal runs to the end of 2016 and it’s likely the agreement includes the four-time NASCAR champion as its driver spokesman.
The Japanese electronics company will be the primary sponsor for two events per year and be on the car in another form for the rest of the 36-race Sprint Cup season. Having the popular driver stick around a few more years is good news for NASCAR, which can only benefit from Gordon being in the field.
It also creates a good storyline for the sport as the active wins leader continues his pursuit of David Pearson for second overall in career wins. Gordon’s 89 victories is the most in the modern era of NASCAR and ranks third overall in the history of top flight U.S. stock car racing.
The 42-year-old is only 16 behind Pearson who scored 105 wins between 1960 and 1986. The leader is Richard Petty, who has an unassailable 200 triumphs over a 35-year career that began in 1958.
Judging by his second place finish on Sunday in his first start under the Panasonic banner, it will be a fruitful partnership.
Technically Speaking: F1 cars are essentially the fastest computers on earth outside the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and while the drivers and engineers get all the glory when the team wins, a grand prix team’s Information Technology departments also play a key role in winning and losing.
Not only do the IT guys develop software tools to manage and analyse the incredible amounts of data coming from the car – about 150 sensors create roughly 25 Megabytes of data per lap – but they also make sure the engineers have the right custom applications they need to set up, simulate and optimise the car for races.
“It’s all about turning data into information and providing more insight to be able to make business-based decisions, but the key here is that time is the challenge,” said Michael Taylor, IT director for the Lotus F1 Team.
“It’s not a decision on something that’s going to happen in a month’s time, it’s going to happen in the next minute.”
The IT group also plays a central role in the efficiency and success of the teams’ computational fluid dynamics and wind tunnel programmes, as well as the manufacturing processes.
Lotus gets lots of help on this front from its technical partner Avanade, which supplies 20 of the 36 personnel in the team’s IT department. This group designs bespoke applications at an incredible rate, topping 2,000 software releases in 2013. The team is well on its way to far exceeding that number this year, Taylor said.
In the end, it’s all about shaving seconds, both on and off the track.
“It’s about freeing up people’s time to be more creative and innovative,” Taylor said. “If we can save each of our designers one minute of admin time per week, when you multiply that by 150 times over the course of a year, it’s a significant amount of time saving that they can spend on designing parts and components to make the car go faster.”
Quote of the Week: “It’s difficult to explain how I feel right now. That was the best champagne I’ve ever tasted. All the hard work that the team puts in shows in moments like this.”
– Williams F1 driver Valtteri Bottas after scoring his first career podium in 27 grand prix starts in Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix. Bottas, of Finland, finished third.
The Last Word: If the ride with Penske’s Nationwide team on Saturday at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., were an audition for Lachenaie, Que.’s, Alex Tagliani, he should get the role of the outfit’s lead driver. Although Tagliani has driven for Penske previously in Montreal’s now defunct NASCAR Nationwide race, he never got into the No. 22 car, widely known to be the top ride the outfit has to offer. Given the chance on Saturday at Road America, he didn’t disappoint.
Tagliani was the class of the field on the challenging wet road course, leading 19 laps and looking to be on his way to an easy win when things went horribly wrong. A miscalculation on fuel saw him run out of gas during a caution period with three laps to go and it looked like all was lost.
After getting a push back to the pits and swapping his rain tires for slicks, Tagliani was 22nd on the last restart after NASCAR added two laps back on the clock making it five to the end. The road racing ace put on a passing clinic in the final few laps on a drying track, scything through the field to finish second. Tagliani’s next start in Nationwide is at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August.
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