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Formula 1 meets the fans

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Andrew Benson | 16:13 UK time, Thursday, 1 July 2010

Just a day after Formula 1 announced one ground-breaking initiative in their decision to commit to reducing the carbon footprint of the sport and introduce new regulations that will help the world do the same, it took part in another.

The Bafta theatre in London hosted the first fans' forum ever held by F1 - and, as far as I am aware, any other sport.

The event was organised by the Formula 1 Teams' Association (Fota) and brought together nearly 200 fans, giving them the chance to ask questions of people who they normally only get a chance to see on television.

It is intended as a response to a common complaint about F1 - that it is too distant from its audience, who cannot get close to their heroes, or the people who work with them.

mclaren_ferrari_blog.jpg Ferrari and McLaren, more used to meeting on the track, took the stage at the Bafta Theatre

There were no top-line drivers in attendance. But Fota had lined up some pretty serious heavy-hitters - McLaren team principal and Fota chairman Martin Whitmarsh, Lotus team owner Tony Fernandes, Ferrari spokesman Luca Colajanni, Force India test driver Paul di Resta and Mercedes race engineer Jock Clear.

They answered the fans' questions for more than 90 minutes in a Question Time-type format chaired by former ITV commentator James Allen.

The idea for the event came from Allen's website, where readers were posting their views about F1. Allen took them to Fota, and out of that grew the idea of giving the fans the chance to ask their questions directly.

"It's a recognition," Whitmarsh said, "that we're aware that we have to develop the sport and make it more accessible and relevant and more engaged. It's difficult to do because it takes time to do it, but that's what we're endeavouring to do."

To those of us who have the chance to talk to these people on a regular basis, there was nothing startlingly new to impart. But that's not the point - the discussion was about letting the fans air their concerns directly with some of the people who make the key decisions about their sport.

In that sense, it was a raging success. Clearly the fans who attended relished the opportunity.

One approached Whitmarsh at the end to say he thought "it had been a great event, the whole sport is looking outwards now- I'm a long-time fan of the sport and this is the best change I've ever seen".

And the board engaged with the process in the manner you would expect of a group of people who were chosen for their eloquence and intelligence.

The talking points were what you might expect - the fan experience; high ticket prices; rule changes (and the amount of them); the wishes of the teams to be more open and the contractual restrictions they face in being so; overtaking; cost control; the environment.

Nice as it was for those fans who got the chance to attend, though, the event was indicative of a wider push from the teams to change the face of F1.

And while they are all working in tandem, that process will not necessarily be an easy one.

The whole subject is wrapped up in the negotiations over a new Concorde Agreement - the legal document that binds the teams to the sport, and vice versa - to replace the current one, which expires at the end of 2012.

A lot of those talks are about money, and negotiations with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone about the financial split between his companies and the teams.

Ecclestone is the man who has driven the sport to where it is now. It is immensely successful and it has made many of its participants rich. But those participants now want the way it is run to shift.

As Whitmarsh said: "The previous model was to sell to terrestrial television as expensively as you can and to sell to the circuits as expensively as you can. But we need to be more engaged with the fans. There is a lot of appetite to do that, but I don't know how we're going to do it quickly."

He added: "While everyone is arguing about the money split, what we've got to do is collectively look at what is being reinvested back into the sport.

"There is no central marketing of F1, and there clearly should be. There are lots of ideas, and we have to engage with all parties to ensure collectively we're doing a better job to develop and improve the sport.

"The starting point for all these things is that everyone in F1 realises we can do a better job than we're doing at the moment. We can make the TV show better, we can use new media better, we can engage with the fans more.

"If you want to be the optimist, you can say F1 is great, there have been some great races. But it can be a lot better."

There is, clearly, a fair bit of navel-gazing going on - with the very best intentions - about how to make F1 as good as it can be. But it is ironic to some extent that it is happening in the middle of the best season for years.

That's a point that Whitmarsh made at the end. "People want to talk about lack of overtaking or making the show better," he said, "but actually you look at the races we've had this year and following the first race, which wasn't a classic, the rest of them have been fantastic."


  • Comment number 1.

    The part that worries me is Whitmarshes comment at the end - its been a decent year so far, but only four races could be considered fantastic: the rub is that two of those were due to weather, and one because of frail tyres.

    Now, not all the others were as bad as Bahrain or Spain, but FOTA really should be considering how to do better. It worries me that their chairman is taking the position that they are doing well enough already (never mind fantastic!).

  • Comment number 2.

    I was fortunate enough to be there. It really was an excellent event which I feel lucky to have attended.

  • Comment number 3.

    Was there any mention of HD broadcasts?

  • Comment number 4.

    No mention of HD broadcasts SewerSide.

    It's being uploaded to YouTube so you can see what was said. Part 1 is already up, check James Allen's blog (linked to by Andrew above)

  • Comment number 5.

    Youtube Link anyone?

  • Comment number 6.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 7.

    Old Iron: I think you're being harsh, pretty much every race this season has been exciting, with the obvious exception of Bahrain and Spain. I didn't think Bahrain was that bad but that's probably because I find even the most boring F1 races interesting. The thing is, is the teams have spent too long at Barcelona, testing etc. It never throws up a good race. It wasn't a great track anyway. Bahrain has become much less entertaining since the extra section was added. This season has been the best (so far) since 2003 IMO.

  • Comment number 8.

    That was an excellent meeting, so happy they stayed and chatted afterwards, had a good talk with Jock Clear, Luca Colajanni James Allen and Ted Kravitz. I think it can't be a one off, these kind of studio audiences have to be done, no one knows, there might be some amazing ideas out there that just have to be brought to the frontline.

    Loved the comments about the safety car at Valencia and the friendly rivarly Whitmarsh and Colajanni were showing once in a while. Tony Fernandes is an absolute legend, he was great fun, broke the ice he did!

  • Comment number 9.

    I think most races have been really interesting and gripping. Which is party down to the externalities, tyres, weather. But also because of the amount of racing driver. Although i think more overtaking will only make the sport more interesting. Although why not let Lewis give all the drivers some tips because he is clearly the best overtaker.

  • Comment number 10.

    Andrew Benson wrote:

    "It is intended as a response to a common complaint about F1 - that it is too distant from its audience, who cannot get close to their heroes."

    "There were no top-line drivers in attendance."

    Excellent blog, Andrew. But with the quotes shown above, dont you think that there is a little irony or at least indications that, with the drivers, there still is some sort of dislocation?

  • Comment number 11.

    I had an invite but other commitments meant I had to decline early on... yesterday was frustrating to see it happening on the twitter feed and now I have the video's just to show me what I missed.... thanks guys!

    However the big plus from this and other comments is that the business is willing to change and that the legal constraints around the sport are also changing. And they need to... as Martin said the Concord agreement was designed for a different reasons which was to ensure the sport was televised and money was distributed. Today the focus needs to be different, to include commitment to improve the value to the fans, led by FOM as part of their role in F1 Management.

    For this I believe a different/expanded FOM is required.

    If we look at NFL in the US, this sport is completely controlled centrally, like FOM does for F1, but they understand that success is about managing the NFL brand and managing the Fans and forcing the team to understand that supporting the brand requires a different approach.

    The new Concord agreement needs to be more than just about money, but about taking responsibility for say Centralised Marketing of F1 with commitment from the teams to support the new 'FOM centralised F1 Marketing team with personnel and resources' this would be an example of how I see the depth of the concord agreement changing.

    If the bigger picture of F1 does not take on the joint responsibility of the complete show then mediocrity will rule ad really great change needs to be supported by everyone and not restricted by any controlling body.

  • Comment number 12.

    From a racing perspective, there seems to be a new generation of F1 fans (and certain personnel) claiming that the racing is boring and that things must be done with the format and/or the cars to 'spice up the show'.

    F1 has never been full of passing on every lap, except for Monza pre-chicanes and perhaps the old Hockenheim. There was a time when Grands Prix never had pitstops as part of the race and yes, there were some processions… but I guess those were the days when cars used to dance around tracks and it was entertaining just watching drivers powersliding and four-wheel drifting.

    Yes, it should be made easier for cars to follow each other without losing grip, and we all know that reducing the aerodynamic downforce in certain ways will achieve this. But we've had a few years of tinkering with all sorts, from qualifying, Kers, to the cars themselves – and we've ended up with ugly cars wearing dis-proportionate wings that are no easier to pass now than a few years ago.

    On the flip side, I think the refuelling ban (which killed the need for passing on the track anyway) and the tyre rule have helped. When all's said and done, apart from the first half of 2009, I think we've had a great few seasons since 2004.

    What concerns me more, from the spectator's point of view is the tracks. Grand Prix racing is so expensive now, it's alienating spectators, yet they have never been so far from the trackside.

    I would get rid of all the pathetic little chicanes, simply line all the tracks with a narrow strip of grass and a wall with high protection fences and remove all run-offs apart from at the end of long straights. If they can pack the crowds in trackside at Indy and other US ovals they can do it at Grand Prix circutis… imagine Turn 8 at Turkey between walls!

    That would mean drivers wouldn't be able to get away with so many mistakes, it would sort the men out from the boys and it may mean more safety car periods but at least their use wouldn't be artificial.

    I know it'll never happen though!

  • Comment number 13.

    @7: I do partly agree- I'm not trying to say the seasons has been a dud, most races have had at least some entertainment value (and to be fair, the outright flops like Barcelona and Bahrain are invariably lacking). The part thats troubling me is that a lot of the excitement we have had has been for reasons other than the basic racability of the current cars/track.

    Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed watching what we've had so far, but taking Whitmarshes comment as FOTA's viewpoint (whether to try and improve it), it does look complacent. Some races will always be enlivened by unusual circumstances, but its not something to rely on.

  • Comment number 14.

    "simply line all the tracks with a narrow strip of grass and a wall with high protection fences and remove all run-offs apart from at the end of long straights. If they can pack the crowds in trackside at Indy and other US ovals they can do it at Grand Prix circutis… imagine Turn 8 at Turkey between walls! "

    I can't agree with this at all, Last death in formula 1 was senna in '94 how many indy/CART drivers have been killed in the time since? far to dangerous.

  • Comment number 15.

    I agree with comment 12 by MacauBlue about having less car-park sized run off areas and putting walls closer to the track. Mistakes are meant to be punished, not made to look as if it doesn't matter.

    Putting that aside, this season has been terrific so far. I honestly don't know what some "fans" are moaning about when they talk of boredom. Good gracious, since when has F1 had 10 million overtakes every lap? NEVER!!!!! My guess is they must only have recently started watching, but as they keep appearing again and again to state their opinion, it shows they're somehow kept hooked on the show...

    This season has been great, as had every year since 2004 (the last year of crucifying Ferrari and Michael Schumacher dominance). And apart from Bahrain and Spain, every single race this year has been TERRIFIC! The Barcelona circuit really needs to be dropped.

    We're so lucky to have had so much excitement in recent years, and long may it continue.

  • Comment number 16.

    In response to "Kíllìnghölmê_Clᥠ(aka Charlie Cheesecake)" I did notice the irony of there not being any drivers present. Of course this weekend you CAN get close to the drivers - many of them are at Goodwood where the paddock is open and you can run into many famous drivers past and present - I know I have! I'd recommend it for anyone who loves racing.

    Perhaps if there is another forum, a more prominent driver will be brought along.

  • Comment number 17.


    I can understand your point but Senna was killed by a wheel, not the wall itself and I don't recall any recent Inyd/CART deaths. F1 cars are a lot safer these days, including wheel tether precautions… witness Weber's crash at Valencia and Kubica's at Canada a couple of years ago.

    Death is a part of motorsport no one wants, but if the tracks continue to morph into supermarket car parks as most of them appear to be doing, we'll lose the spectacle as well as the driver's challenge. I thought that's what motorsport was all about!

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    If Alonso was in Lewis's place would he have slowed down behind the safty car i think not he has just got sour grapes i think he needs to look back to when he held lewis up in the pits when they both drived for mclaren; buts that typical of Alonso and Ferrari in that its one rule for them and not others

  • Comment number 20.

    Sorry MacauBlue...I cannot agree with you further...If you look at Webber's crash you will see that the front wheels did come off his car...the tethers are only to stop certain impact loads but will not support further than 20Kn as far as I know.

    There is no need to put walls up, gravel traps and grassy run offs were deemed OK until Monza when the marshall was killed, and when Wurz rolled at Canada. This is when they thought tarmac runoffs were much safer.

    In this case, I think spectators getting closer to the track isn't necessary. What's the point in spending money like that when seats at Istanbul haven't seen an arse in 4 years! The issue comes in promoting the individuals and getting more corporate. I love the NFL, but never get into Nascar or Indy, but the promoters for all of these are right, I hate the idea of corporatism but if it sells then why the hell not?

    The key is promoting your drivers and teams like hereos...hereos who sell out and spend time opening supermarkets and launching a new brand of toilet bleach! This is how you get closer to them, instead of letting them get their pay cheques from the likes of Vodafone who pay them so they do a TV advert once a year, then get on with staying as far away from the press as possible. I don't care for knowing whether Lewis is with or without Nicle Scherzinger, it's not that press we need, but we would like a lot more promo events. Goodwood is just about the only time you get to see these guys up close because they spend a lot of time cowering away from the limelight.

    Bring in sponsor's events and that will empower the drivers to become more talked about as household names!

    As for the racing spectacle, I have watched F1 since I could open my eyes and I've never tired of it...Baring in mind I turn 23 today this isn't very long, in some of your eyes, but I still appreciate how the spectacle has deteriorated. I grew up watching Schumi dominate races, and to me this wasn't entertaining so I ended up getting into working out sector times for closing driver's and when they would likely be on the same piece of tarmac etc. aged 11...but for newcomer's they want to see racing, overtaking, powerslides...there are solutions for this that make the sport interesting to non fans, who always ask 'why not watch rallying? they don't go round in circles there'

    IMO KERS overtake button is a good idea, the moveable rear wing is not. Why be punished for leading the GP and have to wait until you lose 1st place before being allowed to operate it yourself? Give the drivers a KERS boost, extend the time allowed to use it each lap, but also make it non specific so you can use it to defend as well as attack, whoever uses it most effectively will be rewarded. Also increase the ban on 'detrimental' aerodynamic parts (double diffuser etc.)

    Andrew, great blog...any idea how we would get invited to another forum like this?

    Also...I found that article from BBC Oxford to be one of the better F1 articles I've read on the BBC all year...perhaps have a word with getting the writer on board?

  • Comment number 21.

    just a pity it had to be in london a lot of people would not be able to make it.esp us up north how do u find out about when a forum is going to be held. i myself is an avid f1 fan. i was lucky last year to go to silverstone my husband treated me for my 50th birthday pity i did`nt get to meet any of the driver`s the atmosphere was awesome i throughly enjoyed it. any way not having a go here just having my say.

  • Comment number 22.

    Great blog post!! I think most races have been really interesting and gripping.I think more overtaking will only make the sport more interesting.Thanks for sharing this.Trucks for sale


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