If there’s one thing that the majority of F1 fans will agree with Chase Carey on it is his admission that the season ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a non-event. “Abu Dhabi puts on a great show and a great event,” he told an audience at the BRDC Awards earlier this week. “But the race in Abu Dhabi was not what we want in the sport today. And I think there’s broad-based agreement amongst the teams.”
Ignoring the fact that for once there is “broad-based agreement amongst the teams” – something he’s unlikely to see much of from here on in – from this point in his speech Carey appeared to lose his way.
First he went in to the marketing mode so beloved of the Liberty men.
“Obviously on specifics there’ll be differences,” he said, “but there’s broad-based agreement on things we need to do to make the competition better, make the action better, make the sport more captivating, have other cars have a chance to win, have the unexpected happen, and have events happen on the track that really live up to what makes F1 so special.
“Everybody knows the initiatives we have in terms of engines and costs and rules and the like. We’re all driving to achieve that.”
At which point it got worse…
“Probably the people who have been with it the longest, and are the hardest core fans, probably they’re the ones that have liked that what they’ve grown up with,” he said. “They are the foundation of the sport, so our historic fans are tremendously important.
“But we want to bring new fans in, and to bring new fans in we have to continue to find ways to respect the history and what’s made the sport special, but also find ways to entice and engage new fans. We’ve got to bring in a new generation.
“It’s a great sport, with great stars, a great brand, great heroes,” he continued, Marketing Man now clearly in control. “It is an incredibly captivating sport which combines competition with state of the art technology, that I think shocks and awes fans. It’s great, but we can make it much better.
“And it starts with the sport on the track. We can make the competition better, the action better, and then around it we want to make sure it’s a sport that captures everybody’s imagination, an event that captures people’s imagination. We’ve used the word spectacle, and it should be.”
Putting pretty much all of the marketing rubbish to one side, the fact is that Carey makes a grave error right at the very start.
He says that the hard core fans “have liked that what they’ve grown up with”, but the fact is they haven’t.
For some time now the sport has been losing its way, in many ways deliberately, thing is those hard core fans have stuck with it.
Over the years they have seen their sport – a niche sport at that – go the way of so many others and become a business.
Whereas it was previously about the racing and the taking part, it is now about profit… which is exactly why Liberty bought the business in the first place.
At the same Award ceremony, Lewis Hamilton, not known for his love of the history of the sport, was highly critical of F1, insisting: “There’s no reason why a GP2 race, or F2, or whatever you want to call it, should be louder and sound better, and be able to have better racing, and follow closer. And that’s what we’ve somehow got to make in F1, while it’s still faster than the other classes.”
Tellingly however, he added: “Why did Jackie (Stewart) have big tyres back in the day and we’ve got smaller tyres? Maybe a little less downforce, maybe we can race closer.”
And in one sentence the world champion summed up the views of so many hard core fans.
What Bernie Ecclestone once described as “natural culling” will in time see the end of those hard core fans, but in this age of instant information with all types of entertainment provided on various platforms can Formula One really hope to attract new fans. We think not.
We have said it before and we will say it again, the Liberty team, despite its best intentions, is well outside its comfort zone in terms of F1, which is exactly why Ross Brawn was brought (back) in to the fold… he is the conduit to the sport through which Carey and Co hope to operate.
However, earlier this year, as part of its extensive research into the sport as it continues to try and discover what makes an F1 fan, Liberty came up will all manner of categories, nearly all of which race fans will be unable to identify with.
The likelihood of another two seasons of Mercedes domination will only inflict further damage on the sport, not to mention the outright hostility that will erupt when Liberty reveals its plans for the financial future of the teams.
Consequently, Liberty must ease back on attracting new fans and instead work flat-out on keeping existing, hard core fans on board.
Enough of the soundbites and promises, F1s want action, and based on that one speech Lewis appears to have a better handle on this than Liberty’s ever expanding team of ‘experts’.
While he jokingly refers to himself as poacher turned game keeper, fact is when he was a poacher Brawn was a major part of the problem, he was one of the driving forces behind the technologies – particularly aerodynamics – that have compromised the sport over the years.
While there is an element of nostalgia about the good old days of F1, fact is fans have been unhappy for some time now, and despite the promises – which were forthcoming long before Liberty entered the picture – for the most part things haven’t improved, far from it.
The data analysis and information forensics so beloved of this sport should apply only to the cars… not the fans.
Bottom line… you cannot tell fans what they will enjoy, they will tell you; and they’ll do so by cancelling their pay-TV subscriptions, stopping attending races and buying the merchandise.
How ironic that a sport that prides itself on being the most technologically advanced appears to think that the people that follow it are idiots.