Attracting New Fans To Formula 1
Watching the Russian GP with my lovely Girlfriend/The problem with F1 Twitter.
With two seasons of Drive To Survive streaming on Netflix and the drivers being far more prominent and accessible to the fans on social media and Twitch, there has been a wave of new fans to Formula 1, and this has expanded the demographic to encourage younger viewers to watch the racing. But in the high-tech world that is Formula 1, it can sometimes be difficult to follow some of the things that go on during the race weekend. This isn’t as much of an issue for seasoned viewers (nerds) like me, but how hard is it for someone who is relatively new to the sport to follow the action?
Over the weekend I had an absolutely wonderful time (as ever) with my beautiful Girlfriend, Laura. As part of our weekend, we decided to watch the Russian Grand Prix, the first F1 race we’ve watched together as a couple (we could’ve watched the Tuscan Grand Prix together but oh well). Laura is relatively new to F1; having watched races on and off a few years ago, but is getting back up to speed and has made the effort to watch most of the races so far this season.
One of the controversial moments on Sunday were the two penalties handed out to Lewis Hamilton for performing practice starts in the incorrect position. It was confusing for both of us largely due to the replays that were broadcasted on the F1 feed, because while one of the replays showed that the first penalty was justified, the second appeared to show Hamilton starting in the correct position by the lights at the pit lane exit. Thus making it unclear why Hamilton had received two penalties at the time. In that moment, it would have been helpful for Sky F1 to show an On-board from Lewis’ car and clarify what Hamilton had done wrong, instead of waiting until post-race at the Sky-Pad to expand on it.
The issue of the penalty points on Hamilton’s Super-License also caused some confusion. Ultimately it was the right decision for the penalty points to be withdrawn in favour of a fine, as the team had made the call for Hamilton to perform his practice starts where he did, but that should probably have been the decision the stewards made straight away during the race. These U-turns on stewards’ decisions are becoming more and more frequent, which makes it difficult for even experienced fans to understand what the situation is. In addition to this, the U-turns in decision making are usually for fairly obvious incidents, such as Charles Leclerc’s collision with Max Verstappen in Japan last year and Lewis Hamilton’s yellow flag infringement at this year’s Austrian Grand Prix.
The graphics shown during the races in the last couple of seasons have been a big talking point among fans, although these are largely negative comments regarding their relevance, and I’m inclined to agree. Many of them, in addition to being irrelevant and taking up screen space, give data that is hard to believe. This is largely the case with the AWS performance graphics, who provide information such as the drivers’ performance during mid-speed corners, and the ‘striking distance’ to the car in front (despite the fact that we can see who is fast based on their sector times and we can see the gap to the car in front, as well as the rate of which they are closing the gap). Perhaps the best example however is the tyre performance graphic which, as Lewis Hamilton set the fastest lap, showed Hamilton’s tyres down to just 10% left, which left us both confused!
Another graphic which probably isn’t necessary is the C1-C5 tyre compound graphic before the race start. F1 has made the smart decision to name the three tyre compounds the Soft, Medium and Hard, regardless of whether the actual tyre construction changes from race to race. I don’t believe that it matters too much whether the compounds we have are the C1-C3 or the C2-C4, and instead it should be left to the commentary team to state whether the tyre compounds are harder or softer for the weekend. While on the subject of the commentary team, Karun Chandhok was an excellent substitute co-commentator standing in for Martin Brundle, as he was both entertaining and informative.
In truth however, these points are just nit-picking on my part as the coverage has become more informative and more dramatic over the last few years. Instead we need to look at other platforms and mediums to find the reason that the fan-base isn’t as broad as it could be.
Twitter is the platform where the fans can interact with the drivers and teams the most, making it a prominent place for new fans to stay up to date with the world of F1. Unfortunately, the bi-product of a forum where fans can give their opinion is an argumentative environment, and instead of giving valid criticism, lots of people resort to being snide and vindictive toward others. Sadly, in addition to these “fans” being nasty because of the on-track action, lots also choose to make derogatory comments about fans who are new to the sport. This could therefore be one of the aspects which discourage new fans from getting involved, so with that in mind, here are some of my truths for fans who are new to F1, and for the people who behave that way on social media.
First of all, not knowing every fact about Formula 1 doesn’t make you any less of a fan. While Formula 1 may be a competition, it’s impossible to win at being a fan. Mocking other people for not knowing or remembering everything about F1 makes you pompous, not superior. This is also an issue which concerns people taking their first steps in the motorsport industry, as was demonstrated recently when an experienced F1 journalist belittled Ellie Fish after an article she wrote on DRIVETRIBE.
Secondly (and this should be said repeatedly), women do not watch F1 just because they’re attracted to the drivers! It’s delusional to think this, and absurd that it still needs to be said at all. While it’s true that Formula 1 has been a male dominated sport for a long time, times have changed, and as well as the increasing fan-base of women, it’s also encouraging to see more female team personnel in the garages on race weekends. Hopefully this trend will continue and inspire the next generation, leading to more women in motorsport.
Finally, and most importantly, the fan attendance is Formula 1’s biggest source of income (which is why F1’s income has dropped dramatically in 2020 with the absence of the fans). Obviously then, it means that F1 would benefit from a new wave of fans, and the industry should be doing all it can to cater to the needs of all fans, both old and new. And hot off the heels of Stefano Domenicali being announced as Formula 1’s new President and CEO, it’s worth remembering and appreciating the efforts made by Chase Carey since 2017 to bring a new generation of fans into the sport.
This then, has been an article of two halves. Formula 1’s race day coverage has managed to raise the dramatic stakes without being overstuffed, contributing to the arrival of new fans. But this is just the tip of the ice-berg, and there are other factors which deter new fans from getting involved. Hopefully F1 will continue to take measures to attract new followers, and we, as fellow fans of the sport, should be welcoming and friendly to a new demographic of followers.