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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Thursday Thoughts: Your Ideal Team

Thursday Thoughts this week comes from Journeyer who asks:

If you were a team boss with 3 vacant seats (2 race seats and 1 test seat), who would you hire?

If I were a team boss in F1 with an unlimited amount of money, I’d want to pick a fast team of drivers but also ones who will get on well with each other. There is no point having animosity in the team leading to a split within the garage, we saw the damage that did to McLaren.

I would also want two potential race winners, perhaps one faster than the other, who would go for the title while the second can back him up should he falter. That’s not to be confused with a ‘team orders’ situation where the weight of the team is squarely behind one man. I actually think the line-up that would best fit this description exists already, at Red Bull. Vettel is marginally quicker than Webber, who is still under-rated for some reason. They would both be free to win races but I’d lean toward Vettel for the title run, just as the team did last year. If I were picking two guys to work together, I’d pick these two and it just so happens they are already teammates.

There are plenty of reasons why you would hire Hamilton, Alonso, Button or Raikkonen (or even Michael Schumacher). The only one that tempts me from that list is Button, the others just seem like too much hard work, too demanding in terms of preferential treatment. Yes, even Kimi.

My test driver would be an experienced hand who’s had a long career but is maybe looking to gradually find his way out rather than stop dead, and also knows how to set up a car. That’s why I choose Rubens Barrichello. He’d be my ‘third driver’. I’d also keep Anthony Davidson hanging around for testing and development purposes, I want to put him in a race seat and if when running him I find out why Mark is under-rated I can easily slot Ant into the seat.

Being a perfect world I’d move these drivers – and Adrian Newey – to Williams. I am a fan of Williams and it is time they were championship contenders again. Rubens can do his year of racing with them and then can move into testing. Of course, if Nico H turns out to be dynamite I reserve the right to change my mind about any of this.

So that’s who I would pick if my talent pool was restricted to current F1 drivers, but that’s not answering the question completely honestly. If I truly wanted my ideal team I’m going to do something radically different.

I’m going to hire Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Again at Williams because JPM should never have left them, and because Ryan is a born Williams driver if ever I laid eyes on one. Montoya’s never-give-up attitude struck fear into Schumacher himself, and if Michael is back I want Juan back. I’ve always been a fan of Juan, right back to the CART days. I think what he’s achieved in racing is fantastic and is criminally overlooked. Plus his new-found experience of tyre-management in NASCAR, where you have to nurse them, will help massively in the new-look F1 this year.

In the second car, Hunter-Reay is arguably the best road-course racer in IndyCar right now and is American too, which is what F1 needs, and I don’t care if it screws up IZOD’s marketing plan. Have him learn F1 for a year or two and then he can take over the title challenge in the 3rd year after Juan gets bored and does something else. RHR would make a brilliant F1 driver.

Thursday Thoughts: New Tracks, Deleting Tracks

This week’s Thursday Thoughts question comes from Dylan of Triple League Racing, who asks:

What Track or Tracks not on the current F1 season calender do you want added?  Also, what current tracks need to go.  And finally, if this isn’t enough, how many Grand Prix’s should F1 have?

To answer the last question first, I like racing, I like lots of racing and the more the better yet despite this I’ve always felt F1 should feature no more than 19 races per year (too many is overload) and no fewer than 17 races (too few means an agonising wait between events), so the calendars we’ve seen for the last few years have had the right number of races for me. I also like having an odd number of races – I don’t know why – so that leaves either 17 or 19.

People lose interest quickly and with too few events I can see interest waning. Yet most of us like to have off-weekends in the summer months to enjoy that time of year properly, so we don’t want to bombard everyone with weekly races. I believe F1 works best with fortnightly events. Back-to-back weekends can work in some seried but I really don’t think they do in F1 more than once or twice per season, so I’d ensure most races were followed by an off-week, with the exception of some of the ‘flyaway’ races.

F1 seems to be different to other series in that it can take a week to dissect the events of a Grand Prix, and then you spend all of the next week building up the talking points for the next GP. It isn’t just ‘oh I’ll turn the TV on to watch the next one’, there’s a whole cycle and that’s why we love it.

So… which races would I drop, and what would I bring in?

Let’s list the 2010 season and mark in bold the races or venues I consider to be essential.

Sakhir, Bahrain
Melbourne, Australia
Sepang, Malaysia
Shanghai, China
Barcelona, Spain
Monaco
Istanbul, Turkey
Montreal, Canada
Valencia, Spain (European GP)
Silverstone, UK
Hockenheim, Germany
Hungaroring, Hungary
Spa-Franchorchamps, Belgium
Monza, Italy

Singapore
Suzuka, Japan
Korea
Interlagos, Brazil
Abu Dhabi

That’s 9 essential races out of a possible 19, call it 18 if we discount Korea because it hasn’t held a race yet, so that’s half. That’s much better than I thought before I started, but still not enough. If Formula 1 is to keep calling itself the world’s premiere racing series then *every event needs to be unmissable*.

Some on the list have the potential to be better if the car tech specs are changed, yet there are others that will never be good. What’s immediately for the chop with no reprieve?

Valencia – the circuit is too long, too boring and uninspiring and runs through a dockyard. I’d tell the organisers this:  change the layout to run past something interesting like the Arts & Sciences building, any kind of landmark at all. While you’re doing that you can think of a circuit that does not involve 25 corners in 3.5 miles, which is as guaranteed a creator of bad races if ever I heard one. Or drop it completely – if we’re to have a second Iberian race, how about the new Portimao circuit in Portugal? Okay it’s in the middle of nowhere, but so is Silverstone. If Valencia can’t be changed let’s go to the Algarve.

Shanghai – nobody in China cares, and the races are tedious. I can’t suggest an alternative in the region, so let’s use this slot to bring back the United States Grand Prix at Indy, run on the current MotoGP course rather than the previous F1 course.

Hungaroring – the circuit has invested in upgrades continually since it first held a GP in 1986 and the circuit today is FAR better than the one we saw back then… but really, I think we’ve had enough. Let’s go to Brno instead, that’s a fantastic course.

Nurburgring – given the choice of the two emasculated German venues, I’d choose Hockenheim. Nurburgring doesn’t generate good racing, and at least Hockinhalf is wide enough for passing. We need a German race and Hockenheim is it. Plus the atmosphere in the stadium section looks awesome – it has dropped off in recent years, expect the place to be packed again this year with Schumi back and in a German(-badged British) team.

Let’s be controversial – I think there is an argument for retaining Bahrain, some races have been boring but others have created great overtaking so let’s leave it in – ignoring the proposed new fiddly loop. I also think it is too soon to make a judgement call on Abu Dhabi despite the dire race there last year – I’d give it one more year before ejecting it.

I also retain Korea on the schedule because we have to give opportunities to new venues – though we’re all sceptical because of the maps, I’d like to wait until we’ve seen a race there before we completely slate it as I have no doubt we will. I’d keep it for 2010 and be ready to remove after a couple of years.

Also unchanged of the non-bold items:
I quite like Sepang and contrary to many Tilke circuits it has evolved a character and is reputedly developing bumps, so it isn’t ridiculously smooth any more. It has always been an interesting challenge in its own right anyway and it remains my favourite of the new-generation circuits.

Barcelona stays in because we need a Spanish race and I can’t think of anywhere else suitable. The racing is not great at all, I know that, but where else do you go? Jerez doesn’t seem suitable, the Ricardo Tormo Valencia circuit is a bit Mickey Mouse for my liking and I’ve already ditched the street track..

Singapore – Today they announced they were reviewing the circuit layout for the 2011 event to make the circuit faster. I like that kind of thinking and they’d already made good changes between 2008 and 2009, so they can stay. I’d probably tell the F1 personnel to stop being so silly in staying on European time when they run on Japanese time the following week.

I’d move the races around to be more like a journey around the world, mainly to aid personnel travel. Start in Australia, stop in Asia a few times on the way back to the summer in Europe, with a quick visit to North America, before flying back out to Singapore/Korea/Japan and ending in Brazil. I’d also separate the two night races, one early in the year and one at the end.

Rules:
Albert Park to start the year and Interlagos to end it.
Monza always follows Spa.

My schedule would look like this:

Melbourne, Australia
Sepang, Malaysia
Sakhir, Bahrain
Abu Dhabi*
Portimao, Portugal
Barcelona, Spain
Monaco
Istanbul, Turkey
Montreal, Canada
Indianapolis, United States
Silverstone, UK
Hockenheim, Germany
Brno, Czech Republic
Spa-Franchorchamps, Belgium
Monza, Italy
Singapore
Korea*
Suzuka, Japan
Interlagos, Brazil

* to be replaced in 2011/2012 should it prove to be boring

Thursday Thoughts: Borrowing Ideas

This week’s Thursday Thoughts question comes from the intriguingly-named Turkey Machine:

What features or regulations from other racing series would benefit F1, and why?


Sounds like my kind of question! Generally-speaking F1 does a good job, yet there are areas from other series it can learn from.

Openness
F1 is notorious for its secrecy. On the one hand it has been an integral part of the game for many years. On the other, we are in a different era now and fans expect a certain degree of openness, and thankfully some F1 teams and drivers are responding, with Twitter accounts and roadshows and so forth. But what at a GP weekend? BMW had the Pitlane Park, and I think it was Indianapolis that pioneered the pitlane walkabout at an F1 race (it having being commonplace in US racing for years).

Other series are still far better at this than F1. I recognise this is semi-deliberate in order to retain F1’s percieved ‘superiority’ and ‘exclusivity’ compared to other series, yet I feel it can be more open while still remaining top of the pile. How?

Let’s have a pitlane walkabout at EVERY Grand Prix, and on EVERY DAY of that GP. There isn’t a packed race schedule at most events (exceptions I think being Albert Park and Silverstone) so time can be found. You can mandate that teams must leave their garage doors open and unobstructed during the walkabout – because as we already know from past walkabouts, some teams put up screens. Some time before an ALMS race starts they line the cars up on the pit straight and allow the fans to walk up and down the straight, taking photos and meeting team personnel and drivers. I’m not necessarily suggesting going that far, but it could be an option.

Then let’s bring in mandatory driver signing sessions in an area outside Bernie’s security wall, with a fine for those who don’t show. This seems to go down very well in IndyCar and NASCAR. I’ve read reports of murmurings from some drivers that ‘extras like this aren’t part of their job’. If any drivers still feel this way, they need to have their attitude adjusting. They are paid millions in order to show their teams and sponsors off to the paying fans, they should give an hour of their time on a Sunday morning to meet them and let the fans get to know them. I argue that if a fan gets to meet their favourite driver they are more likely to associate themselves with that driver’s sponsor/s, whereas if the driver brushes them off that fan may decide to lessen their support or even drop it completely.

Media
HD TV needs to come in and it needs to happen immediately, from Bahrain onwards. No more testing the systems or whatever they are doing. We’ve been promised it every year for the last three or four and the excuses are wearing thin. IndyCar, NASCAR and even World Touring Car are in HD. Admittedly the other series that have gone HD have close relationships with broadcast partners, and F1’s coverage is produced in-house by an subsidiary of FOM – yet surely FOM makes enough revenues to be able to make this investment. I know, because they’ve blogged and tweeted about it, that the broadcasters are pushing hard to have an HD feed released to them – they can’t show what isn’t there. HD channels are currently ‘upscaling’ the standard feed.

The F1.com website needs improving. It is getting there, yet other series sites have tons of photos and videos available, either free or paid-for. Live timing is reasonably good though there’s room to include more information as some other series do.

Consistency of Rulings
Okay, I know you’d be hard-pressed to find a series anywhere that has consistent decision-making when it comes to things like penalties for blocking or running someone off-track. Wishful thinking. It would be nice if they could keep the decisions consistent, whatever those decisions are.

Finally, I’d make the numbers on the cars bigger. Maybe take up the whole rear-wing endplate like in IndyCar. Have you tried identifying drivers by looking at helmets? It’s not always easy.

TM went on to expand to a further question, let’s see if we can answer that as well:

If you can’t think of any that way, what about vice-versa, i.e. what’s F1 got that would benefit other borefests (sorry, motor racing series) around the world?

Certainly with IndyCar and NASCAR I’d bring in the yellow flag rules – don’t throw a Safety Car out there just because a car slowed down for 10 or 20 seconds and cleared the track immediately. I can see why you would do this on ovals where the speeds are so high and laptimes are 25 seconds – on road courses you definitely shouldn’t be going to a full-course yellow unless there’s a car in a dangerous position. It seems both IRL and NASCAR apply their rules to both types of track rather than making adjustments for each, which is a mistake. On a road course you usually have a bit more time and a bit more leeway to let the incident develop and see if it clears itself.

I wouldn’t necessarily take F1’s safety car procedure though, F1 has never really got the hang of when to deploy the car, or run the wave-by.

The producers of the TV feed for most series could probably learn how to cover a race, certainly a road course race, from the FOM crew. The way F1 races are shot is generally very good these days, this has been one of the biggest improvements F1 has made over the last ten years I think and that’s all down to bringing it in-house, not relying on ‘host broadcasters’ as we used to.

Great question. There’s bound to be plenty of other suggestions, feel free to add them either here or in a blog post of your own.