Have you ever found a really great little spot for lunch where the food and service were above expectations, yet the cost was surprisingly affordable? OR perhaps a fun little country road with the perfect number of twisty bits and straights, which you thoroughly enjoyed driving? And your immediate thought was, I’ve got to tell everyone about this place or road… then thought against it for fear it might get too much attention and ruin it for you?
Is it wrong to think we might be going down this path with Formula One?
For years, I was the ambassador for many into the world of F1, in my circle of friends and acquaintances and anyone who would listen. You see, I had been following F1 since a very young age in 1978, to my earliest recollection. I was introduced to the sport by my father, a passionate motorsport fan and mechanic by trade. I loved Sunday mornings, sitting with my father watching races on an old 19” black and white Zenith TV on a chrome wire frame stand. It was our bonding time, as he worked 6 days a week and juggled the household while my mother was ill for several years.
I loved the sport too. I remember the switch to colour TV (in 1983); F1 came alive with flashy liveries and stereo speakers, and cable-quality images. Formula One was absolutely bonkers in the 70s and 80s, at least for me, it was. I cared less for other sports, to be honest. I loved cars, and I loved racing, and F1 was my biggest passion.
The later years…
Throughout my adolescence and adulthood, I continued to introduce people to Formula One. I organized annual race trips and watch parties, traveled to races with friends, family work associates, desperately trying to create an F1 community. In North America, it has always been a struggle to find people to chat about F1.
Welcome to the internet…
I later discovered online internet forums and Twitter about 15-20 years ago. It was fantastic! I found platforms where I could connect with F1 fans from all over the world. I have created relationships with people with which I am now friends. Good banter, some trolls, but overall, it has been good. Even though recently, there appears to be a lot more divisiveness, there are still some good conversations and discord amongst opposing fans. Following action in real-time on my mobile device or laptop when I couldn’t watch practice sessions was life-changing. Reading debriefs online instead of waiting for my copy of Autosport to land at my local newsstand. Are you kidding me? What wonderful world was this?
The Netflix effect…
But in recent years, there has been an influx of new fans to the sport. This is thanks to Netflix's special “Drive to Survive.” The series has seen the sport’s popularity explode. No doubt, exactly what new F1 owners, Liberty Media, were hoping for. Like a tidal wave, new fans have flooded circuits, watch parties, podcasts and social media. Just what I always wanted, what I worked so hard for years to try and create… So why do I now wish our little secret remained more of a secret?
Recently, Motorsport.com columnist Adam Cooper wrote, “Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali expects the new Brad Pitt movie to have a Netflix Drive to Survive effect and help to take the series to “another dimension.”
Good grief, it’s going to get worse! I mean better… or worse?
The sport’s popularity has increased tremendously on a global scale, but predominantly in North America. The evidence is in the number of F1 races being held in the United States (now 3), with Miami and Las Vegas recent additions, joining Austin.
Proposed is a 24-race calendar and at least the addition of one more team. Great! You might think. I, too, love the idea of more race weekends. But it might actually not be great for anyone other than avid fans. Those who work in the sport, who cover the sport, who travel around the world with the sport, are at their breaking point. There is less work-life balance, and it’s becoming both a mental health challenge as well as a physical one.
It is the opinion of some that F1 has lost sight of its sporting roots and is becoming more of a business focused on profitability. Too many changes for the sake of the show? Is F1 getting too gimmicky? Some on social media have suggested that even sporting decisions are being made with consideration to the show. Something that our beloved Charlie Whiting would have stood steadfastly against (rest his soul).
The other, more material impact to the casual fan is also the cost of going to a Grand Prix. A topic for another time, but certainly, any of you going to a race today who have been to races in the past 20 years can attest to the absolutely grotesque increase in cost. Not just grandstand tickets but concessions, team kit, hotels, travel etc. F1 is pricing itself out of the reach of most of its true fans. Perhaps following suit with other mainstream sports, I suppose. But it was not always so.