The Situation With Bahrain

I genuinely hope the positive reports emanating from the F1 crowd of a quiet Bahrain are true, and not because the population has been suppressed by local or Saudi or Pakistani security forces. Sadly that is not the picture emerging from at least some sections of the small country.

We’re being told via Twitter that teams and journos alike are seeing little action on the run from Manama to Sakhir and back save for the odd small fire (and obviously that Force India team incident the other day). However you can expect that road to be heavily protected by the authorities, indeed some journalists counted at least 70 police vehicles along the route.

The reports I’ve seen suggest they are mostly in out-of-the-way villages, journalists had to go and find them, which doesn’t make them any less important but it disproves the theory the country is in chaos. That they are taking place at all disproves the alternative theory that everything is just fine and dandy and nothing is going on. Some protests in the last couple of days have got a bit closer and there’s always a danger there will be a concerted effort to reach the track on race day. The flashpoint was always going to come when the cars took to the track, either on the now-traditional Friday ‘Day of Rage’ or on Sunday’s race day, or both. Thankfully Friday didn’t seem as bad as I feared it might’ve been, even with the sad fatality of a protestor (for whatever reason). I honestly expected worse than that.

Not knowing the specifics of the locality, although I’ve been trying to read up on it a lot in the past week (and indeed 12 months ago), I don’t know if these protests show a sample of a much broader picture. The protesters say the vast majority of the populace supports them. The government says the vast majority of the populace supports the race going ahead, though they have yet to claim the majority supports the government.  I tend to believe the protestors, I can easily believe more people support them than are willing to says so when the government is tear gassing them and firing rubber bullets, this being the same government which a year ago fired live rounds into a crowd armed only with flags, the same government which attacked a hospital.

If the dispute stays within these factions it would remain an internal matter, a desperately sad one with terrible acts committed by individuals on each side of the divide – the official forces have done some horrific things but the protestors are not as innocent as they may like to portray themselves either, the injuries to police show that. If it is self-defence against unprovoked attacks from forces then fine, I agree, do what you can to defend yourselves. But if not? Unacceptable. Regardless, it is a scenario which others shouldn’t be walking into.

It isn’t the fullscale rioting some media outlets are portraying, but neither is it safe, especially when you have a trigger-happy police and army force around. People who beat people to a pulp just because they’ve been arrested.

As a racing fan, my primary concern is the safety and security of the ‘travelling circus’ of F1, GP2 and Supercup teams, drivers and sports media personnel. Quite honestly, if I were a team owner and any single member of my staff were injured as a result of protest action or government response, no matter how indirectly, whether they were the intended target or not, I would take the FIA, FOM, Todt, Ecclestone and whomever else to the courts. There is no way any of them should be in the country right now.

As a private individual, I genuinely hope the Bahrainis work through their problems and in a peaceful manner. Further discussions should be held to progress reform.

After Tianenman Square China went through a long healing process and a period of opening up to the world, there are still huge problems but they are making progress and I am convinced the Olympics played a big part in that. There is the chance the Grand Prix could do something similar for Bahrain and the government seems to be banking on that – but this is much too early. Bahrain has not had that healing period. Another 12 months should pass before a Grand Prix should be held. Sadly it is too late for that now, this race is going to go ahead. I fear for potential lives lost tomorrow.

Positive Thinking

The protest movement is already doing well out of this. The government looks weak, foolish and stupid. Sadly, so does F1 and more specifically Bernie Eccelstone, Jean Todt and the FIA. The teams can (just about) get away with saying they are contracted to be there and would lose millions, potentially their entry to the Championship and thus their jobs, they have no choice.

They protestors now have the eyes of the world upon them. Everyone knows their cause. They have been silenced in the world media by Syria and before it Libya. Now they are front and centre on the world stage – this would not have happened without Formula 1. For better, for worse. They will continue to make the rulers of Bahrain look foolish and careless. This despite the best efforts of Bahrain Government to stop independent news reporters visiting the country.

I am glad some of the F1 contingent remembered they are journalists first and foremost and not press release recyclers, and went out to look for the protests themselves. It was a dangerous move. It paid off.

Will I watch the race? Probably. My feeling is if some protest happens during the race I will be more informed if I watch it rather than if I read about it later. I will better be able to form my own opinions and conclusions. I don’t feel comfortable though and I am fully expecting to switch off – or not switch on at all.

I don’t know that I’ll be paying very close attention to tyre strategies and positions through the field. I may be too busy looking at the corners of TV pictures to see if the cameraman/director is trying to crop something out, the way they do at quiet events when they try to avoid showing empty grandstands.

If I do watch I may elect to withold my usual Twitter interaction and opinion unless a protest does take place, or I may make it exclusively about the situation rather than anything in sporting terms. In terms of racing and sport I am honestly more interested in the London Marathon than I am the result of this Bahrain GP. Even if it does take place in the most exciting F1 season we’ve seen in years.

 

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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?

Thursday Thoughts: The Future of F1 Content

Thursday Thoughts visits different blogs and is hosted here this week, so it is my turn to ask the question. Here is my response.

– What innovations would you like to see in F1 content delivery?

I think most of us by now are aware how far F1 lags behind other motorsports, even other sports entirely when it comes to delivering their product to the end user, the customer, the fan. It is quite frustrating to be told repeatedly how F1 teams use the most advanced technology to create these fantastically fast cars and yet the rights-holders are in some cases years behind the game in introducing the technology needed to provide real insight to the fan.

The rights-holders to Formula 1 are the collection of companies owned by CVC and controlled on their behalf by Bernie Ecclestone, I am not sure which company controls which element but I think FOA runs the races or at least the bits the FIA don’t run, and FOM handles the TV and online offering. For the sake of argument I’ll use FOM.

FOM seems insistent on relying on traditional avenues to get their message across, whether it be TV, magazines or newspapers. They seemingly reluctantly got themselves involved with the web business with www.formula1.com but they only did so in 2002 or thereabouts. Given the web recently celebrated 25 years of existence and most forward-thinking companies have been on it in some for or another since the mid-90s it was a curious oversight.

Why is it that F1 keeps talking about “embracing the internet” as if it’s 1994 and it’s a clever idea? Perhaps get on with it?

Ed Straw, F1 Editor of Autosport, via Twitter yesterday

Two major gaffes have appeared on Formula1.com. There may have been more.

One was the SMS text service. This was a great idea in principle: sign up to the service and you would receive a text message after every session informing you of the fastest drivers, and the points positions after races. The problem was they introduced it with the pricing structure of a decade earlier and the world had moved on, at least in the more developed mobile phone markets.
While I forget the specifics, the prices would have looked reasonable in 1997 when the mobile market was enjoying rapid growth and a plethora of new applications but in 2007 they looked utterly ridiculous and far too high. I would like to see this adjusted so that the more casual fan who isn’t able to watch all the sessions or even all the races can receive updates at reasonable rates. My Dad gets a text message whenever his football team scores a goal. It can’t be that hard.

The other was the web shop, again a good idea in principle – yet the original version was stocked with the wrong goods. Like so much in F1 it was pitched towards the premium customer, the more affluent fan who wants something special. Only in F1 could you buy an official carbon-fibre mouse mat, replete with F1 logo, for £200. Which is fine – I actually like the fact these items are there because I appreciate it helps position the brand of F1 – they just forgot to include things mere mortals could afford, a position they have gone some way to correcting in 2009.

Another aspect website is the live timing. When it works it is very informative, unfortunately it has a lot of glitches. It has been used ever since the site went live and is probably due a rethink. It could be bigger and contain more information. F1 is full of data, let’s make use of it. Again, this year they’ve gone some way to making the info they offer open to more fans by creating the iPhone app which I’ve heard is tremendously useful, if pricey (there seems to be a theme here).

While I’m on the subject of timing, the TV coverage desperately needs to cut back on the “1-stop” graphic and tell us how far apart the cars are! Of course if they borrowed from DTM they could just mark a little ‘1’ on the vertical position graphic that appears to the left of screen from time to time. If I don’t have an iPhone or can’t get near a computer to access live timing, I shouldn’t be deprived of the basic car-to-car gaps, these should be available to all on the main feed and if I want the extra info like sector times then that’s when I should look it up elsewhere. With any luck this data will be rolled out to further mobile platforms in future.

I must admit, other than the iPhone timing app I don’t know what else is offered officially for mobile devices because I don’t own a modern smartphone – but soon I and most others will do, I suspect I am already in the minority among mobile-owners.

I see no reason why FOM cannot offer an app offering short video clips to mobile devices, for a small fee. I see no reason why they cannot offer those same videos on their website, although I think most of us expect web video to be free unless it is of some length. On the website I would therefore offer short, free videos to anyone who visits. I would also offer a premium subscription (‘premium’ in name only, priced at a level we can afford!) where you can watch entire races, let’s say until Jan 1st. They could expand that to show classic races and send FOM TV to each test session to provide us with reports from winter testing.

FOM claim they don’t offer these because the commentary and ownership is specific to particular broadcasters, yet the broadcasters claim they can’t provide online coverage because the video is owned by FOM. The only notable exception seems to be the BBC’s iPlayer (an excellent service) and the FP sessions trialled last year by ITV. At the end of every session aired on the BBC there is a particularly large copyright notice stating that the production is copyright of FOM. If FOM owns the video,can they not put it online, even a version with no commentary? Even better, work with each broadcaster to offer the same footage with different reactions. It would fascinating in the week after a race incident to go to Formula1.com and compare the reactions of crews from BBC, SPEED, Globo, RAI, RTL, etc, etc. They could make a montage and sell it for money.

They also need to bring in High-Def coverage to those who will take it and offer that as a quality option for the downloads. There are HD channels in more and more countries and even the little devices support it now. They’ve been using HD cameras for a year or so now but they still won’t release a true HD feed for broadcast or sale, which is crazy, why invest in the technology if you aren’t going to use it?
This is the most technologically advanced sport in the world and it is still in fuzzy-vision. NASCAR has 36 races per year and most, if not all of them, are available in HD in the US (and sometimes in the UK). It doesn’t matter if you don’t have an HD TV or monitor, you still notice a difference. I think Abu Dhabi was in HD and it looked fantastic on my SD TV on the SD digital broadcast.

Conclusion: FOM are applying 20th Century solutions to 21st Century fans. They need to change. Fast.

There are signs that they are changing slowly. The iPhone app. The F1 2009 Wii and PSP games, and the 2010 PC, Xbox and PS3 games. These should be released annually in the way that the FIFA, Madden and other licensed games are, there is a demand for it.

Perhaps they are starting to wake up?

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You can read the Thursday Thoughts of my fellow bloggers by following the links in the Question post!

Thursday Thoughts: Question

For the last few weeks I have taken part in the ‘Thursday Thoughts’ initiative, which calls for bloggers to respond to a question set by a colleague. This week it is my turn to ask the question.

– What innovations would you like to see in F1 content delivery?

This came up on Wednesday at the Motorsport Business Forum in Monaco in relation to Formula 1’s reluctance to embrace new technologies and content delivery systems, and you can read some of the reports from Autosport here and here as well as some excellent entries from Stuart Codling’s new blog here and here. The main point coming from it was people want more than just the TV experience, they want more online and mobile content.

All of which was fascinating from those in the industry but what I want to know is what my fellow fan thinks, after all we are the end users. What sort of online and mobile content do you want to see? How do you want to consume F1 in the near future, say by this time next year or going into the following season?

This question is aimed at F1 but if you want to expand it out or talk about other racing that’s fine. This is a multi-series blog whose remit is to get people talking about different racing (including how F1 relates to various other racing), which is why I included WRC’s fascinating announcement in the links above.

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I will update this post as blog entries come in, please feel free to link to your blog in the comments or if you don’t have a blog perhaps you may like to post your thoughts here. I look forward to your opinions!

Ollie at BlogF1 already wrote about this yesterday;

– A month ago Allen from The Furious Wedge wrote about the online services provided by IRL and A1GP;

– StartledBunny of Another Planet and RubberGoat from Making Up The Numbers both mention joining in with the race while it is in progress, which is an interesting idea;

– Over at Sidepodcast they are already a few years ahead of many of us when it comes to consuming video away from the TV, and Christine considers the only way forward may be to change the man at the top. (Mr C also wrote something on online content recently).

– Dylan from the new Triple League Racing blog offers an interesting perspective on how IndyCar and NASCAR approach things.

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