Thursday Thoughts: Fan Attendance

Thursday Thoughts this this week comes from Adie at F1 Tailpipe:

What can F1 do to enhance the experience of fans in attendance at the circuit? Does the ‘exclusivity’ of the sport add to the mystique of F1 in general, or has F1 set itself too far apart from your Average Joe?

I can’t really answer the first question because I’ve never attended a Grand Prix in either a grandstand or general admission so I don’t know what is currently on offer – though I was lucky enough to watch the 2003 Monaco Grand Prix from a balcony over Ste. Devote! Perhaps the only thing I can suggest here is to lower the ticket prices. The cost of attending a race is just excessive. I’m going to the Belgian GP this year and it’s costing a lot of money, €340 for a 3-day ticket at Eau Rouge (which admittedly is one of the most expensive areas of the track). Imagine taking a family – well you just wouldn’t would you?

I suppose the subject of pricing leads into the other question, the reason for the high prices is the air of exclusivity. Bernie and FOM/FOA have deliberately spent the best part of the last 15-20 years turning F1 into an exclusive club of high-rolling teams, creating the Paddock Club for people to spend thousands to ‘be seen’ among the higher classes (and even that doesn’t grant access to the main paddock). I don’t have a problem with these – it was the right thing to do to move away from the the no-hopers filling the field – though I miss Minardi – and I hope we aren’t returning to the days of cars multiple seconds off the pace and threatening to fold.

What seems to have happened at the same time is a relentless rise in ticket prices for the general fan. While I appreciate that watching quality teams and drivers is worth paying a slight premium, we are past the point where this was a reasonable and understandable rise – and I mean a long way past, say ten years.

This has mainly come about because Bernie had the circuits sign up to high fees with an annual ‘escalator’ clause, and the only way they could get their money back was to raise prices. The problem is that while facilities for teams have improved, facilities for spectators in the main have not. At many race tracks you are still presented with a basic seat or an earth bank, a portable toilet, and a burger van. For facilities like that I wouldn’t expect to pay over £70 for a weekend and we’re being asked to part with much more.

I would say either the prices need to come down, or there needs to be ‘value added’ to make the money worth paying.

There are signs this is already happening. Many races offer concerts on the Saturday and/or the Sunday of the weekend which I think is a really good idea. For some of the names they bring in you’d normally pay £40 or £50 per ticket for a gig.

As I suggested in a previous Thoughts post, there needs to be more fan involvement in the GP weekend. Drivers should be made to hold a joint signing session in a public area of the grounds, or even more than one area, and preferably once or twice per day. There should also be a pitlane walkabout each day, whenever it can be scheduled in.

I am not sure what else could be done in terms of things that could be laid on as extras at no extra cost. More support races perhaps, but only the die-hards would care about those unless they were aimed at being ‘fun’ – let’s say we make the top F1 drivers race the top GP2 drivers in some production cars or perhaps in the Porsche Supercup cars. Do it at 10.30am Sunday, late enough for people to get to their seats but early enough that it doesn’t get in the way of GP prep-time for the drivers.

All of these are simple things that could be achieved with only a little effort and thought while retaining the cachet F1 should always have.

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