Not Just F1

Somehow despite this supposedly being a blog about all forms of racing I seem to keep writing about F1 alone. My blog schedule has been severely delayed by a series of events (including moving house and my main computer needing repair).

I will soon write posts about the fantastic new-found positivity in IndyCar, the changes happening in ACO-affiliated sportscar racing, and the interesting changes in last week’s FIA World Council meeting which relate not just to F1 but to a host of other championships.

So if you are a fan of racing other than F1, please do bear with me.

How Would You Change the Public Perception of F1?

This post is part of Thursday Thoughts which this week is hosted by Gridwalk Talk. You can see the full set of responses in this Bit.ly bundle.

If you succeeded Bernie Ecclestone with controlling and owning Formula 1, how would you change the public perception of F1?

In many respects I think what poor perceptions F1 does have is down to the FIA as much as Bernie and FOM. The two go hand-in-hand. The poor stewards decisions of the last several years have had a bad effect on the perception of the series, particularly outside of what you might call the ‘heartlands’ here in Europe, I’ve noticed many IndyCar fans in particular have been quite negative towards it (though you may rightly argue those in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones).

Jean Todt’s FIA Presidency has taken large strides towards fixing one half of the image problem and I intend to write a post soon about the recent World Council decisions and not just those relating to F1. I really do think F1 is moving in the right direction in terms of the officialdom and stewardship by the FIA. Now it is time for the commercial arm to catch up.

One of the things which makes F1 different to other championships is that it is quite exclusive, in some ways I agree with it yet it doesn’t need to be taken to the extremes that have existed for a few years now. It isn’t necessary to have the whole paddock fenced off is it? Teams like Virgin and Lotus have done well to break down these barriers with paddock tours, while McLaren, Red Bull and others offer similar although I think maybe only to fan club members. I am sure there are areas which can be opened up a little.

The driver signing sessions at each GP have helped fan-access too and more of this sort of thing is to be encouraged.

I would also make sure the KangarooTV units were readily available at every race. I attended the Belgian GP and it was very useful indeed, I have no idea how I’d have kept track of the race otherwise because you can’t hear the circuit tannoy over the engines (and the circuit feed is available on it too, so the locals can stay informed too).

Online

Speaking both as a fan and as someone with a blog, the decision not to make better use of YouTube is frustrating. The ‘race edits’ and single-lap onboards at F1.com could easily be re-blogged by many a site with all the promotion that would bring, yet they’ve chosen to keep it locked to their own format complete with threatening copyright notice. There is the danger it could be used by every F1 fan site out there, but isn’t that better than denying the use of any F1 video at all? Many sites often resort to using ‘unofficial’ video, because there are times when you can’t get away with just not including what you are talking about. There should be a means of fans being able to locate and watch clips of moments in history, and for bloggers to be able to use them.

This is already happening elsewhere, all sorts of series, teams, drivers, and even race track owners are getting in on the action but their F1 equivalents have to navigate the minefield of what FOM will let them use. The same for TV companies who don’t have the rights to the coverage but wish to report on the latest happenings, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen reference to current F1 in some documentary or other – even reputable ones – yet they are using stock footage from 30 years ago, from before the restrictions came in. You have people making positive content showing F1 in a good light and they can’t use footage to showcase it. This is absolutely crazy.

The website itself is okay as a structure, could probably use a bit of work here and there. What it really needs is far more video. It should be possible to either watch the race live online or at least on a delayed basis, without commentary if that is a sticking point contractually (I am sure someone can provide it). If there is anything at all that is controversial a replay should be online within 24 hours for fans to review and form their own opinion, or even non-controversial things which are notable, at a director’s discretion. Get people talking about it – even more than they already do – without the need for those pesky unofficial YouTube videos. And upload them to YouTube officially.

Locations

Many complain about the ‘new’ venues in F1. While I am one of them I do like to give circuits more of a chance than some people do. It is worth trying to go to Korea because that is a big tech market, and while I’m sure it is little secret the race only exists because of a major sponsor of the series there is no reason why the Koreans can’t be big F1 fans in time. I have a gut feeling they’ll take to it better than the Chinese, who haven’t.

Ultimately every venue should be given the opportunity to grow and develop. If it doesn’t, it is time to move on.

The cost of race tickets needs urgent attention. F1 is seen as being far too expensive to follow in person. The sole cause of these costs are the fees charged to the circuits, who can only recoup that loss through ticket sales (trackside advertising revenue goes to the F1 Group). Lower the fees to a respectable level, allow the circuits to make a viable profit – even only a minor one – and the ticket prices will fall and the stands will fill once again. It doesn’t look good when even the most well-attended races have gaps in the stands.

I’d also have a word with the teams to get them to stop selling such extortionate merchandise. Who’s going to pay £75 for a fleece or £40 for a polo shirt? Particularly if you can’t wear the thing because it is plastered in bright logos? I’m not saying devalue the F1 association, just allow people to actually buy the stuff.

Other

‘Casual fans’ and non-fans complain F1 is too boring. This is potentially being addressed by almost-annual major rule changes. They didn’t necessarily work in 2010 when many races were pretty much just as unexciting as 2009 (interesting in their own way, just not exciting), although this year the championship battle was among the best there has ever been. Again, for 2011 there are some major rule changes – we all await the outcome of those. That’s mainly an FIA decision mind you.

I do think the new-for-2010 teams have done a lot to breathe fresh air into F1 in their approach to fans and this has helped F1’s perception as a whole. If the other teams take this lesson on board, and if FOM/FIA do too (which would be a minor miracle), I can see an even brighter future ahead.

It is amazing that F1 has enjoyed such phenomenal growth without such concessions to fans. Imagine what it could’ve done with more openness.

If you succeeded Bernie Ecclestone with controlling and owning Formula 1, how would you change the public perception of F1?

My Blog Swap Post – Pruning the Feeder Series

As part of the current round of the Blogger Swap Shop, I have written about the structure – or lack of it – of the European junior series. Given how often I complain on Twitter and elsewhere about the proliferation of series, you might be surprised to find I leap to the defence of many of them.

Check out my conclusions and suggestions at The Formula 1 & Motorsports Archive.

While you are there you really should read Leigh’s Q&A with Justin Wilson as well, its good stuff in which Justin is an actual human, there’s little of the usual PR stuff drivers frequently trot out.

A Proper Offseason

I’m priveliged to host two posts in this weekend’s VivaF1 Blog Swap, here is the second post which is by Allen Wedge from Grab Bag Sports.

As we set sail into this thing known as the motorsport off-season I can help but want to write a piece on how… boring… it is.
Truly, we don’t need to extend the seasons of Formula One, IndyCar, Rally, and for the love of all that is holy do not extend NASCAR. The problem isn’t the timing of the off-season, but that there is a literal break in action for about 3 months; and let’s not pretend testing and “Silly Seasons” suffice. For now I and many other await the 24 Hours of Daytona.

Do we wait because it’s a great and amazing event? Not really, we wait because it’s the unofficial beginning to the motorsports year, by containing drivers from 7-8+ different series providing almost an All-Star type nature. That’s what we’re missing for the off-season; something that fills the space of November/December/January (possibly even February).
We’ve recently lost A1GP which was out best bet, but it was run so poorly and spread out that I lost its way and died. The Race of Champions is getting better, but its own announcers are unsure of how it operates, rules, and no one is allowed to watch it live (without going the extra mile). In the USA we have major Karting events that pull All-Star type rosters, but the SKUSA Super Nationals were held the week before ROC, so even with these off-season events, we’re still stuck in a lull.

What Do We Need? We need a proper international all-star series. And it needs to not be an expansion of ROC, A1GP or the U.S.’s former IROC series. Instead it needs to pull from all of them, it needs:
Multiple Race dates and locations (happening ONLY during the off-season of major series). A1GP had one thing truly correct, multiple dates touring internationally, with the qualifier that a country needed a “horse in the race” in order to host. It doesn’t need 15 rounds, but anywhere from 4-8 would suffice.
Competition via Nations: A1GP and even ROC has proven this to be the most effective route to make fans/onlookers pay attention to something new/foreign. Anytime you can quickly look and see national flags, it’s easy to pick a rooting interest, regardless of having to know the participants. But there is something neither A1GP nor ROC have done, and that’s requiring the different nations to form a line-up of drivers. Ireland won A1GP using only a single driver, Germany wins ROC using two; essentially it’s not a countrywide effort.  So…
Force roster building and usage: Let’s say there are 7 race weekends involved. At each weekend there are two scored events (14 in all). Here’s the rule, each nation must field 6 different drivers in scoring competitions minimum (no maximum). This means Schumacher can’t run 100% of the events for Germany; at most he could run 9 of the 14. It needs to be more like the Ryder Cup in golf, or Olympics; countries need a strong roster, not just 1 person who holds it all up. Secondarily, it’s also so countries like USA, who have a MASSIVE/DIVERSE set of drivers to choose from, can get many of them in there; this year at ROC we were stuck (again) with Carl Edwards, a debatable-at-best champion, who went a whopping 0-4. This also means that a driver doesn’t have to go to all 4-8 rounds; they can just do one and then let countrymen pick up other dates if they have other commitments.
Competition diversity. This goes along with the schedule, but the rounds should tailor themselves more to helping the many kinds of drivers involved. A1GP was too strong for European drivers, ROC is at least better, but how about a round in the USA that resembles Rally X/Rally America; how about a round in Australia that more resembles V8 Supercars and some dirt buggying? ROC has many cars lying around, as does the former A1GP, which is for sale; and Rally cars aren’t hard to round up.

It needs more drivers/countries. ROC had a whopping 6-1/2 nations represented, not enough. Where were Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, and Brazil!? A1GP at least had that better covered, and it worked great because it let you learn about other countries and their drivers and driver’s backgrounds when they come from other countries.
Lastly, It needs a way for people internationally to watch, without having to pay additional money than what they already pay for internet or TV.

Now… someone with a lot of money, go and do this! I speak broadly above, but hashing out these details are not hard, I’ll do that work, just ask me to, we’ll all be a lot less bored if it can be done

Trop de Course?

This guest post appears as part of the latest round of the VivaF1 Blog Swap, and is written by Maverick from the host site itself.

One group who currently seem to have no fear of being snowed under with Too Much Racing seems to be the French, with no sign of the return of the French Grand Prix and the motorsport industry in general, in the doldrums. That said, you could be forgiven for thinking that as long as they have 24 Heures du Mans, they’ll remain happy.

Often considered the original Grand Prix, having first run in 1906, the French Grand Prix (or Grand Prix de l’ACF as it was) missed just one season of the Formula World Championship in 1955. That was, until 2009 when the race was cancelled with organisers citing economic reasons. Since that announcement at the end of the 2008 season, the French Grand Prix has shown little sign of returning regardless of the number of proposed locations, most notably at Flins-Les Mureaux where plans for a new circuit were eventually abandoned. Despite Magny-Cours recently expressing confidence that a series of improvements would see the race return in 2012, the already crowed calendar would seem to prevent that prospect for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the longer the race remains absent from the Formula One calendar, the less it can rely on playing the “historic race” card.

It’s not only France’s international status that has fallen in to decline. In 2003 the French Formula Three series merged with its German counterpart to form the Formula Three Euroseries as entries dwindled. While the Signature and ART Grand Prix teams have produced a strong French showing in the series, its notable that the French only host a small proportion of the series and just one of this year’s nine meetings took place on French soil.

So Le Mans remains strong but the Grand Prix has gone, meanwhile the third part of French motor racing’s triumvirate, the Pau Grand Prix has become a shadow of its former self. The Pau Grand Prix, the first race to carry the title “Grand Prix” back 1901 was for a period a non-championship F1 race before becoming the jewel in the crown of Formula 2 and then F3000. However, it has gradually lost its lustre in recent years before being suspended altogether this year. It remains to be seen whether the ambitious invitational event for F3 cars planned next year can revive this grand old lady of motorsport.

It’s not only the motor racing though but the whole associated industry that appears to be in the doldrums.

French motorsport as a whole may end up as wistful as Rene Arnoux at the 2003 Goodwood FoS

While there are sparks of optimism, notably Peugeot’s Le Mans exploits while ART Grand Prix has been a force to be reckoned with in GP2 and F3, the inflexible labour market has prevented teams from being competitive with outfits from other countries. If you consider that Renault F1 is fundamentally an English team funded by the French (and now only partly so) then the last French Formula One team was Prost Grand Prix which folded at the beginning of 2002 with debts in the region of $30 million. Prior to that, AGS and Larrouse suffered similar fates while the DAMS F1 project got little further than building a chassis.

The result of that has inevitably filtered down the feeding chain in the form of a lack of support for up and coming, home-grown talent. In recent years, Romain Grosjean, Sébastien Bourdais and Franck Montagny have quickly come and gone and the last French drivers to make a substantial run in F1 were Olivier Panis and Jean Alesi whose careers came to an end in 2004 and 2001 respectively. Perhaps, the few prospects for the future are this year’s British Formula Three Champion, Jean-Eric Vergne, who tested with Toro Rosso in the recent young drivers’ test, and Ferrari test driver Jules Bianchi. However, a few years ago the same would have been said about Grosjean. Unfortunately, the question is whether any of them can secure the necessary financial backing to fund their way to the top echelon of open-wheel racing in a climate of French motor sport apathy.

Still, Le Mans carries on shouldering a nation’s motoring pride (alas, Peugeot’s self destruction spoilt the party this year) and while the French Grand Prix’s absence continues, that reliance will only strengthen in the hearts and minds of the French.

Overall, it’s a sad state of affairs that the country that gave motorsport to the world finds itself in. The French created the Grand Prix and for the early decades of racing their blue cars dominated. Yet that appears to be part of the problem: A look at the racing calendar of French circuits sees classic car races predominant. In short, French motorsport gives the appearance of being content to dwell on the glories of the past with no plan for the future.

Appearance on the latest Sidepodchat

www.sidepodcast.com

Sidepodcast

Late on Friday night saw the recording of the latest in the occasional ‘Sidepodchat’ series at Sidepodcast.com, and I was one of the lucky people to appear. The concept is a short 10-minute show in which Christine and Mr C chat with a small panel of guests about a particular topic or theme. This week’s other guests included some of your other favourite bloggers like Gavin and Lukeh and SPC commenters Steven and Bassano

This Chat’s theme was the Renault F1 team and specifically the driver line-up for 2011. Who will join Kubica? What is the future of the team? It was fun, it always is! Keep an eye out for future editions, who knows you might even appear on one soon – anyone can.

Be sure to check it out here, at 12 minutes in length you have no excuse not to.