WHY DO F1 CELEBRATE CRASHES SO MUCH?
Daniel Ricciardo recently opened up about his antipathy for the adoration of crashes on F1’s social medias, but why are these collisions commemorated?
Recently, Netflix released their annual documentary of the previous F1 season: Drive To Survive. One of the major talking points from the show was Episode 9, titled “Man On Fire”. Unsurprisingly, this episode focused on the Bahrain Grand Prix and Romain Grosjean’s horror crash that saw his Haas burst into flames after a 67G impact with the barrier, in which his halo saved his life. The crash was subject to a film-like presentation, starting by stretching the 27 seconds of terror the paddock was under waiting for him to escape the fire to 4 minutes, before showing him being rescued and playing some heroic music in the background. Despite claims the episode was ‘insensitive’, Romain Grosjean is clearly okay with his crash being shown and even jokes about it from time to time (for example calling the barrier “[his] barrier” when driving past it on the F1 2020 game). The problem with the ‘Man On Fire’ episode wasn’t that it showed the crash, but rather that that crash was a big part of the marketing for the show; the crash was featured in the first trailer for the show longer than anything else and the shot of Grosjean’s car going up in flames was a key part of Netflix’s advertising for the series. Drive To Survive’s main goal as a TV show is to get more people interested in F1 and increase F1’s popularity and reach across the world; however, F1 isn’t about crashes, and potential new fans shouldn’t be drawn in by the prospect of life-threatening incidents such as Grosjean’s one off accident.
Netflix aren’t the only ones that use crashes as a way to appeal to non-F1 fans, Formula 1 themselves are guilty of this also. In January this year, F1 uploaded the video “The 10 Most Dramatic Crashes of 2020” to their YouTube channel. This ‘top 10’ format is very popular on YouTube and so F1 use it a lot (such as their recent “Top Ten Battles For The Lead In The F1 Hybrid Era” video) to appear on YouTube’s ‘trending’ tab and get their videos watched by non-F1 fans. The aim of the dramatic crashes video was to entice these potential F1 viewers with the ‘thrill and danger’ of Formula 1. Yet F1 fans will be the first to tell you that the danger of the sport isn’t the appeal to it and never will be. If attracting fans by telling them they get to watch crashes works then these new viewers will just stop watching when they realise that these crashes are very rare. It’s also insulting to the drivers to appeal to non-fans in such a way; the drivers put their bodies through excessive levels of stress to fight for wins or points, having to be absolutely perfect in every move they make in order to not spin, run wide or crash, but it seems like F1 want them to make these mistakes and crash so that they can get a viral video out of it.
Daniel Ricciardo was recently very vocal about his disdain for the “idiots” that run F1’s crash-worshipping YouTube, saying "I think last year, F1 put on their social channels, like, 'top 10 moments of the year' or something, and eight of the ten were crashes, I was just like, you guys are f*****g idiots. Maybe 12-year-old kids want to see that kind of content, and that's cool because they don't know any better, but we're not kids. Just do better, guys. Do better than that."
Is he right?
In my opinion, yes, he is; there were so many good moments in 2020, from Lewis Hamilton’s stellar Turkey drive to tie the World Championship record, to Perez’s win and George Russell’s Mercedes heartbreak. The video Ricciardo referenced decided to omit Perez’s wonder drive and win in Sakhir that arguably earned him the Red Bull seat that kept him in the sport in favour of Daniil Kvyat’s crash in Britain (where he clipped a kurb which caused him to spin into the wall and out of the grand prix). Obviously, some crashes should be in that video, such as Hamilton hitting Albon off the track in Austria and the Mugello safety car restart, as they were either incredibly important moments that arguably shaped a driver’s season (Albon’s crash) or just so unbelievably shocking (the Mugello crash). It doesn’t make sense to not include any crashes in there, but when more than ¾ of the video is full of crashes there is a problem.
So why do F1 revere crashes as much as they do?
In the age of the viral video, it seems F1 are trying to capitalise and go viral themselves. Crashes are often incredibly shocking and by posting these surprising incidents, the F1 YouTube channel has a chance to go viral. In an ideal world, the people this potential viral video reaches look at the clip and then decide to watch F1 because of it, which boosts viewership and makes F1 lots of money. However, this isn’t an ideal world. What is more likely to happen, is that someone who watches the crash clip watches one race, realises that these crashes they’ve came for barley happen and then doesn’t watch again. Even then that’s only if they decide to watch in the first place; just like Ricciardo said, not many people are appealed by these crashes.
Safety has come a long way in the past 20 to 30 years and so crashes that cause serious damage are exceedingly rare, but that isn’t an excuse to celebrate them, they’re still dangerous and drivers can still get hurt.