Is Formula One Fan Friendly?

Is Formula One Fan Friendly?

In a word, I would have to say “no”. It is a particular bug-bear of mine and it refuses to go away. What has prompted this recent suggestion that Formula One does not do enough for the fans is Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren’s CEO, who has gone on record and stated the same; he feels Formula One is too secretive and that those involved have not yet done enough to cater for all the different types of fans the sport has. His comments are interesting and worth discussing.

It wasn’t too long ago that Ross Brawn, while on sabbatical from Ferrari, noted that television coverage of Formula One was poor in his opinion. Being forced to watch the races at home, Brawn noticed that much of the information available to the teams was not displayed to the viewers, thus limiting the spectacle for everybody. And when you consider that Brawn was, at the time, still under a Ferrari contract of sorts – one of the most secretive teams on the grid, it says an awful lot about what we the viewers might be missing out on.

Martin Whitmarsh made his statement to Autosport today after speaking to winners of a KangarooTV contest, the prize being a free handset for the British Grand Prix this weekend. KangarooTV is an exciting development for Formula One and essentially means that while at a grand prix in a fixed seat, you don’t miss out on action that is happening at others parts of the track. Users can assign themselves just one car to follow or move around at their own will. There is also commentary and a whole host of other information available; moreso than what we, the general public get when we tune our TV set into the local broadcasters channel.

There are enthusiasts that are interested in the gladiatorial contest of the drivers, like Kimi Raikkonen v Lewis Hamilton wheel-to-wheel, there are those that are interested in the team game and the competition of McLaren v Ferrari, there are those that are interested in the technological battle, and there are those that are fascinated by the tactics and the strategy going on over a race weekend.

The more we can reach out and educate the people who are watching it, the more they can enjoy it. There will be some fans who are not interested in all those things, and in some senses these factors get in the way of a straightforward and simple interpretation of the event. But the reality is that within the fanbase there are a lot of people who find that fascinating. And understanding that is something we need to do a better job of. Martin Whitmarsh.

Martin’s statemant is accurate. There are many different types of fan and not all will want all the information cluttering up the television screen. However, many do and when I watch a grand prix, my laptop is tuned into Formula One’s live timing, broadcast over the ‘net and invaluable to me, especially during qualifying.

Whitmarsh spoke of the secrecy element in Formula One, explaining that in the past their radio transmissions would not have been freed-up to braodcasters through fear of a competitor gaining insights into their race strategy. However, if everybody opened up their radios, then everybody would be in the same boat. Because Formula One is so intensely competitive, the need to retain information is vital, but when the cars leave the grid and start the race, the sport falls out of the business domain and into the fan’s. Without us, the sport simply wouldn’t exist.

A few years back the FIA asked members of the public to fill in a survey. I remember it being quite a long series of questions but I happily filled in mine, naively believing that I, along with thousands of others, were finally getting their say. Unfortunately I later realised it was a complete waste of time. Little has been done about what the majority of us wanted, and to add an insult to my injury, Suzuka was dropped from the calendar. For this, I don’t believe I can forgive the FIA/FOM, and even though the circuit has been reinstated on a rotary-basis with Fuji, the mere fact that the circuit was removed for what amounts to a relatively minor reason was unforgiveable. The fans were not listened to.

I think what F1 has to get better at is providing the proportion of the fanbase that wants it with that extra data and information. Year by year you have to try to create more interest, and the more insight they have, the more they are intrigued, and the more they’re likely to come back next time.

Those of us who have the information in front of us get used to it, but if you find yourself in front of a television without it, Formula One isn’t as interesting. Martin Whitmarsh.

It is great to hear employees of the sport speak up about this, and Martin adding his words to Brawn’s from 2007 only furthers to the fore the fact that fans are not nearly being given everything they could potentially have. 2008 marked the first time Formula One was broadcast over the Internet, but it is only available (legally) to residents of the UK. I’m sure this will be expanded in the near future, but one has to wonder why it has taken so long to even get to this stage?

Clearly FOM could do a better job, and as Whitmarsh says, if you improve the interest by providing more information, the sport is better likely to grow in popularity. With environmental concerns becoming more and more prevalent in people’s minds, the sport could easily suffer on this and other counts. Formula One has to develop, but the very people whom the sport is for must be considered.

I’m interested in the views of others because this topic does divide on some levels. Some fans are perfectly happy with the current level of information and feel that broadcasters and FOM have done a good job at improving the whole show. However others, like me, feel that more could be done and we should be listened to more. The comments are open for your opinions and thoughts…

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2 comments

  • I feel that the TV coverage at the moment is excellent and I suppose they can only squeeze so much into 2 and bit hours coverage.

    On the other hand, there needs to be more interactive services. During Wimbledon, viewers were able to view any match they wanted. Why can’t this be done with Formula 1?

    Maybe this is something the BBC is actively looking at? However, F1 news seems very sparse from camp BBC. So I guess we’ll have to wait until 2009 to see what they have in store for us… or will the race start moments after the program does!

    On a similar note, I went to the Silverstone testing last weekend and was shocked that I could not enter the infield. I’ve been to many other events at Silverstone and this was a first for me…

    When Force India said the “Public” could view their pit garage, what they ment was VIP’s could. Totally different!!

    Cheers
    Stephen

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