Editors Note: I understand that more than half of the readers of thejudge13 are not UK-based, but this is worth considering wherever you are in the world.
Formula 1 attracts an audience of around 8% of the world’s population, if we are to believe FOM’s figures. Some 515m people watched F1 last year and its place amongst the privileged few place on the global stage of sporting events is now secure.
My love affair with F1 began over 30 years ago but my experience of watching the sport has been predominantly one of loneliness. There are only 20 race events a year and most people are lucky if they can afford to attend one, unlike football fans who may attend 20 or more matches a season.
It has taken 3 wives for me to find one who is nearly as F1 passionate as I am, though I think her love of attending Jerez testing during the first week of February has much to do with the mid 20 degree temperatures, glorious sunshine, red wine and tapas.
Even so, I am a lonely figure trudging downstairs at ridiculous o’clock in the middle of the night to watch the eastern time zone races.
Being an early adopter of social media, I know that F1 has an incredible social media presence, disproportionate by miles when compared for example to English Premier League Football. TV airs hundreds of football games a year while we F1 fans get 20 races. This starvation of the totality of events and the lack of opportunity to share F1 with other like-minded individuals has driven us in droves to the social media. There we debate for hours current issues, argue differences in historical perspective and analyse in the most infinitesimal detail the race action we last saw.
In F1, we the F1 fans are often the real experts and the TV pundits and commentators can struggle to keep up. I have regularly traded tweets and comments with well known media individuals helping them out with information they are missing or are not aware of.
Of course on the interweb we can talk to people anywhere in the world and many see this as a huge social opportunity our forefathers in their wildest dreams could not have conceived. Yet the ‘twittershpere’ and the ‘land of blog’ and forums are different somehow. They are not the same as a good old face to face hearty debate and I believe the reason for this is that the pattern of discourse is predominantly not immediate in response.
You can be having a healthy debate with ‘madmax’ from Australia and suddenly he/she/it does not respond. It’s like being cut dead by the landlord when in the middle of giving a drinks order. Of course ‘madmax’ mother/wife/boss has told he/she/it to go to bed/come to bed/get to work and that is that for the time being.
I digress. So my loneliness as an F1 follower has just become part of my F1 identity and it’s just the way it is. However this week I am truly excited that all this may change. Just as the Samaritans were conceived to be a friend to those who have none, I have discovered the Samaritans of F1. A real life, living breathing group of people, all of whom love F1 and meet up regularly to share their passion.
F1 in Pubs…F1 in Pubs, what a brilliant, fantastic, remarkable, truly excellent, ingenious and thoroughly fabulous idea. Ok, Kris Brown may now be feeling a little overwhelmed with praise, but his idea back in 2008 has developed into an organisation where thousands participate.
His first idea was to use a Facebook page to organise a meet up for F1 fans in London at a sports bar. Resulting attendances were not stellar – in fact I believe they were on a par with the size of crowd attending the Korean GP – but 10 or so previously isolated F1 strangers began to meet regularly and real friendships were forged.
Rumour has it when a new member joined the group it was a customary ice breaker for them to introduce themselves as follows, “Hi. My name is Steve…and I’m a lonely F1 fan”. The group one by one would then respond in kind. Anyway, such is the nature of folklore.
After a while, just as Kris’s Facebook group was really taking off he and his work were relocated from London to Merseyside and the meetings were abandoned.
During the last race of 2011, Kris had travelled to London on business and was reliving old times watching the race with a friend he’d made back in the sports bar days. They reminisced and a few drinks later it was decided to launch F1 in Pubs.
This time the vision was much larger and Kris had the encouragement and appetite to see whether this could become a national organisation. There was a marketing campaign across twitter and Facebook and a website too was created. The response Kris received was truly remarkable.
There are cynical minds who may believe this was an insurgent reaction to the BBC losing full live coverage of F1. Yet I have personally encountered the anti-sky F1 brigade and mostly they refuse at all costs to watch F1 on SKY – believing it to be produced by the ‘devil incarnate’. F1 in Pubs have received great encouragement from SKY F1 with David Croft, lead race commentator, one of their biggest supporters.
The Birmingham chapter of F1 in Pubs has inspired two of their members, Manish Patel and Paul Hadsley, to produce a regular downloadable F1 in Pubscast. These include live comment and tweets from the F1 in Pubs community members as they watch races together. Also on the podcast are interviews with well know F1 personnel, reaction and analysis as the season progresses.
Turnout can vary from location to location, and of course it takes time for any new venue to establish a core community, but attendances in some venues have already exceeded 200 people. Such was the number of F1 fans in the London venue that a screening of a Euro 2012 football match had to be cancelled to accommodate them all. I can think of a headline that would make Bernie most proud.
This seriously is a community on the march. They have held events in London, Brighton, Liverpool, Cardiff, Manchester, Chester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Silverstone, Wellingborough, Devon, Bedfordshire, Bristol, Ipswich, Norwich, Edinburgh, Newcastle and many others. Yet Kris wants to remain true to his vision and says “The thing about F1 in Pubs is that we could advertise hundreds of pubs who can show F1 across the country, but the purpose of F1 in Pubs is to be a social network and it’s important to have one location in eaqch town or city. For now we want to bring all the F1 fans together en masse.”
As with all living breathing social groups there are tales of romances formed, business ideas engaged, prizes and competitions run and community action instigated by the members. Unsurprisingly the inaugural community event was a charity pub crawl at the British GP and there is an end of season party is planned and open to all on December 8th in the Bloomsbury area of London.
I expect to attend my first event for the Indian GP – incognito of course – and I have to say I can’t wait. Okay thejudge13 blog will have to be delayed that day, and I won’t have my usual race analysis toys like live timing, full pit lane radio feed, driver tracker and other all the gizmos I use when writing. But to be able to share the excitement of the race in the company of other passionate fans sends a tingle down my spine just thinking about it.
I think the final word should go to Kris Brown who outlines the ongoing F1 in Pubs mission, “We are revolutionising the F1 fan experience. Motorsport has too often been predominantly the domain of the rich and can be highly exclusive and beyond most people’s reach. We believe that we’re bringing the experience a lot closer to ordinary people and as a result F1 is bringing those people together.”
Full details can be found on www.f1inpubs.co.uk
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