#F1 Features: The Generation Game – An Image Problem

Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Jacktheblob

Editor’s note: Jack is a young student, and an avid F1 fan. In the ‘The Generation Game’ series Jack will share with us why F1 has such a problem attracting the next generation of fans.

Over the past few months I’ve read a lot of articles on F1 blogs and websites that all reference the “next generation” of F1 fans. As a part of this generation myself, I felt it was time to set the record straight on a few matters. I am a student, heading off to university in October. These are my thoughts, as a genuine young person, on the current state of the sport and the challenge of captivating the next generation of fans.

#1 – An Image Problem

To start this feature I conducted some highly scientific research – I asked 5 of my friends to describe Formula 1 in one word. The results were disappointing but not unexpected. “Boring”, of course, was the critics’ choice, followed by “repetitive”. Conclusive proof, you’ll agree, that the sport does indeed have an image problem among today’s youth. And when you consider the state of F1 in 2014, this is perhaps unsurprising.

Claudia FragapaneAt the top level, Formula 1 is a sport run by old men, many of whom have a great legacy. And whilst of course I respect what these people have done for the sport, it does make it harder to present F1 as a modern, cutting edge venture. The Commonwealth Games highlighted the extraordinary nature of modern sport, where gymnast Claudia Fragapane won 4 gold medals before leaving high school.

Contrast this with Bernie and Co. and F1 starts to look a little dusty, in need of a good sprucing up. Especially with the recent TV coverage of an increasingly senile old man on trial, once outwitted by a revolving door…

The little man in charge has generated a lot of debate over whether he is good or bad for the sport. Regardless of his past achievements, I’m afraid the perspective from the younger end of the fanbase is that he is way past his best. The age of dodgy dealings has passed, and Formula 1 needs to embrace the modern world.

In my opinion, the sooner the claws of the diminutive octogenarian are extracted from F1 the better. And that doesn’t just mean Bernie himself, but Charlie Whiting and all the rest of his accomplices. Charlie in particular seems to be losing sight of reality… “why not have two starts“…

To a generation where appearances are more important than ever, this is a problem. Formula 1 needs to update its image to one that is vibrant, shiny, and new to attract young people to the sport. And this season was a great chance to do just that, with the introduction of revolutionary hybrid power units and the trial of Mr. E… A golden opportunity to embrace the future and let go of the past.

Bernie-Ecclestone-005But here we are in the summer break, and that opportunity has slipped away. Far from being kicked out of F1, Bernie is now looking to claw back total control of the sport. We can only hope that the grim reaper is immune to bribery.

As for the new era of efficiency and hybrid technology – wow! To paraphrase former PM Herbert Asquith in the 1920s, “never have I seen a [sport] so wantonly and unnecessarily commit suicide“. The teams complained. The drivers complained. Bernie complained. Even the BBC couldn’t make it through their coverage without the periodic snide comment about engine noise. The sport seemed to collectively tell the world “this is sh*t, don’t bother watching“.

Which led us to the recent emergency meeting. Here’s an idea – don’t ridicule the sport you’re meant to be promoting, and maybe then you’d see that there is nothing wrong with the show. This season has seen a wealth of wheel to wheel action, epic drives from the back of the grid, a maiden victory for Danny Ric and spectacular crashes (always popular with the teenage audience).

Clearly there is nothing wrong with the new formula. The problem lies in the promotion, the marketing and the frankly bizarre choices of race venues.

Because, as we all know, Formula 1 isn’t boring. Even in races where there isn’t wheel to wheel racing on every lap, there are still stories to follow. But in these situations you have to appreciate the finer details of what is happening in terms of pit stop strategy, tyre wear etc. This is where the quality of the commentary is really vital, to ensure that the race isn’t too confusing to follow. Like most people in the UK, I don’t have Sky TV, so I can’t comment on their coverage.

That means the BBC have the responsibility of bringing the sport to the casual Sunday afternoon channel hopper. And I think they do an admirable job, especially in their pre race features. However, since Suzi Perry took over as presenter the show feels a little less entertaining. With Jake Humphrey alongside DC and EJ there was almost a “lads on tour” feel to the show that made for great viewing.

Now, with Eddie Jordan only appearing sporadically, the whole thing is heavily reliant on David Coulthard to hold it all together. I’ll be honest, I don’t like Ben Edwards. He seems to always take a stab in the dark when identifying drivers, frequently having to be quietly corrected by DC. And with Suzi Perry there’s always a feeling that she doesn’t properly know what she’s talking about.

(Don’t get me started on Jennie Gow on 5 Live: “he comes into the pits! he stops! he sets off again!” Thanks Jennie.) The coverage needs to be better in order to gain new fans.

Fortunately, this shouldn’t be hard to fix. James Allen always seems a solid commentator on 5 Live and I’d be happy to see him make the move to the main TV coverage, replacing Ben Edwards. Allen McNish also has some insightful comments that make the race easier to follow. No doubt you’ll have your own opinions on the quality of the coverage, so please leave a comment below.

And finally, one of the biggest issues is when one person / team dominates the sport. For my age group this was “Der Finger” in his winged chariot. Even when he didn’t win I knew a lot of people who just assumed he had done anyway.

Whether it be Ferrari, Red Bull or Mercedes, domination is bad for the sport and is a big turn off for those who are discovering F1 for the first time, and need to be hooked in.

I’m not saying I want to see F1 become that which Adrian Newey dreads, but the field has to become closer together. Until then most people my age won’t bother watching, because if the result is a forgone conclusion, there’s no point.

Formula 1 doesn’t have to be the “sport of old men“. The potential is there to captivate a new audience and revitalise the sport. But it will require the right marketing and a new image, and Bernie and Co. will have to go in order to achieve this. And when they are gone for good, hopefully the next person to take charge of the sport will be able to see beyond the short term profitability and appreciate the long term health of Formula 1.

Daniel Ricciardo

38 responses to “#F1 Features: The Generation Game – An Image Problem

  1. An excellent article, with some good points being raised. Once Bernie is gone perhaps we will see some changes for the better….we can only hope. 🙂

  2. LOL at your comment about Grim Reaper! 😀

    Question for you Jack – do you think the rise of younger drivers such as Ricciardo, Magnussen et al makes it easier for you to relate to the sport (compared to Alonso, Button, Raikkonen etc)

    • I think Ricciardo in particular is a great ambassador for the sport, but I wouldn’t say he was any easier to relate to than Alonso – after all, he’s not THAT old! But some of the older drivers are getting a bit past it in my opinion. Can’t think of a race this year where Button hasn’t whined about invisible traffic / personal raincloud / any excuse for his lack of speed. Massa is also getting a bit like this, but his frustration is much more understandable… I think the attitude of the driver is more important than their age.

  3. Interesting views and well written.
    I have been following F1 since 1982, so am probably out of the loop with social media etc but my daughters will sit with me and ask questions throughout.
    Is this problem evident in other motor-sports, such as MotoGP? Or do they have an antiquated view on social media too?
    Is this a Formula One problem because of corporate interest? Last year for example, Alonso was using twitter religiously but Ferrari have practically banned his communication.
    Also, do the younger generation look at F1 as relevant and enjoy the history that I grew up with or is it a case of the teams are irrelevant and it’s only the drivers that count?
    I also wonder, with the growth of extreme sports, is Formula One seen as a dangerous sport any longer with the element of risk nullified. Do other dangerous sports attract the fans because of the element that it is still life-threatening?
    Damn, so many questions…

    • Whenever social media came up in Formula 1, it had one problem. The drivers, using mostly Twitter as a way to connect with fans, either got into problems with their teams, they were involuntarily strange or funny to their fans or they didn’t reach any but their most fervent supporters.

      I remember the comments of quite a few people back when Alonso was on the height of his samurai style tweets. They felt a bit weirded out by the Spaniard and would rather see him behave normally than play such a strange role.

      On the other hand you have a Lewis Hamilton for example, who posted some unfortunate reveal after qualifying once. He definitely got in trouble for that, but for every time this became public, there must have been more occurrences where the stern words from the team leadership didn’t make it to the media.

      This is, at least in part, an issue of some drivers lacking the education on how to behave properly in front of a world-wide audience. Bernie Ecclestone, the team leadership and the owners behind all of that want Formula 1 to be and act grown up, in short to be the elite of motorsports. Unfortunately this doesn’t fit very well with drivers shooting from the hip on their private social media accounts, without a PR person by their side to nudge them when they’re being dumb.

      • Interesting recollections and good contrast b/w two examples of social media use that weren’t awesomely image-enhancing, but for different reasons: Alonso’s ruthlessly-mocked Samurai tweets, and Hammy’s petulant telemetry reveal.

        Alonso’s warrior-tweets seem very contrived, whereas at least Lewis was being honestly petulant and genuine when he released the data after a bad qualifying…something we can all relate to – or at least understand – even if we claim we’d never do the same impulsive thing…

      • In defence of Alonso’s ‘weird’ samurai tweets, they are no where near as arrogant and self-serving as they appear, the Asturians (he comes from Oviedo, in the Spanish region of Asturia) were a fierce, mercenary, warrior-like celtic tribe, expert in protecting the harsh terrain they inhabited, they were never fully subdued, not even by the Romans, whom they led a merry dance with guerilla like tactics for centuries. Even in recent history, Asturias bitterly apposed the Franco regime,and was the scene of mighty battles of extraordinary defence in extreme terrain.

        So, I rather like Fred’s image of himself as the warrior, whose battleground is the circuit, not the bleak, hard mountains of his homeland.

        Nice article Jack, some very good points, well made.

  4. I dont get all the fuss about the commentators that you guys have. I will do anything that is within my reach of power to watch either bbc or sky. I’ve watched it on many channels by now, belgian, dutch, german, French and English and you guys by far have the best coverage of them all. Especially if you count the pre show. Belgian tv has got little to none, dutch had a bit more but still not quite there, French tv speaks french so they are ruled out. And as for the Germans they only like to cover anything that has something to do with Germany or Austria. Plus they have these annoying commercials at the worst times… and what they all have in common is that they notice nothing when it’s actually happening. We here on the sofa see it before they do..

    • I guess for you it is better than what you have so it’s good while in the UK BBC with James used to be great. We’ve def lost something in James Humphrey but the show must go on.. I’m surprised BBC has not removed Suzie yet though..

      • It’s actually Jacob, or rather Jake as it was being used, Humphrey and not James. But you’re right, he was my favorite person in front of the microphone during Formula 1 broadcasts. David Coulthard is great for technical information and insider knowledge – having lived and breathed the sport for almost 15 years as an active driver – but he doesn’t feel very personable to me.

        • DC’s just not super-charismatic and outgoing in front of the camera, which is why (for me) Jake is so sorely missed – he was a great compliment/counter-balance to DC (and could actually keep EJ in line) and the three of them had such amazing chemistry.

          I remember watching the Forum from Brazil after the final race of the season and thinking how no matter who BBC brought in to replace him, the coverage wouldn’t be as good as it was at that moment w/ that particular three man team.

          Suzi Perry is just bleh/blah and is so fake fake fake and not right for the role, but no one asked me before they put her in the role, so…lol.

  5. Motorsport as a whole will evolve or dissolve. My son is 4 and he loves F1, but I doubt that will stay once he gets older. Cars just don’t matter to kids anymore – not in the way they used to.

    So my hope is on a revival of reality after we get all kinds of virtual things in the near future, but I guess that’ll take time. And maybe roads are then only used for navigation of your ‘flying device’ so it can go all sorts of ways beyond our imagination.

    Wel’ll see.
    But you’re right. It just won’t help. Bernie don’t care, he wants to devaluate the sport to buy it cheap.

    (Parting question: what sport provides a DJ at the stands, instead of a little device – call it fanvision – to be able to follow the event better????? Madness!)

  6. And what about the way that kids been tricked by movies. A while back I had this discussion at work with a kid who genuinely thought that a Nissan 350 z could out race a f1 car. Because those fast and furious movies made them believe that with nitrous and led lights your car suddenly can shift up 40 times. They believe that a pimped out car can do more than a full blood race car. And if they are proven wrong they just say that is no fun unless someone is drifting. They don’t care about racing. They need actions that you can’t have in f1. He even said, I can do all the things the f1 drivers do because when I’m on my playstation, I always win. If they stick me in one of those cars I’d be the next best thing since sliced bread. They don’t really get how hard it is in reality I geuss.

    • LOL! plenty of drifting for the young un’s this year they should be packing them in droves if that’s all it took.

      I think a change in commercial leadership will help but you are also fighting the team’s top down hierarchical control (which extends to drivers, FYI) and secret nature. The exact opposite of which is required to succeed in social media.

  7. Excellent piece from a new writer. Well written.

    Currently in UK cinema’s is an awesome trailer for the English Premier League. F1 should be doing this, and it could be truly epic….

    To describe Ecclestone as the sport’s promoter is farcical.

    • “To describe Ecclestone as the sport’s promoter is farcical.” < < < +1!!

      He's more like the sport's rapist! Bernie exists to take money out of F1 like a smut king exists to break the souls of naive girls and steal their virtue… 🙁 m'kay?

    • Are talking about the sequel to the American football coach who discovers that football in England isn’t quite the same as he is hired to coach Tottenham ? Because those two commercials are really funny

  8. I have no problem with the commentary team on SKY and I do notice it’s not quite as good if I have to watch the BBC, but I would still watch the race even with no commentary at all. One thing I have been thinking lately is that the race feed TV director is missing a lot of the action and it seems to be getting worse. My main bugbear is cutting to a pit stop when a car is lining up an overtake, I mean a pit stop is not why I watch the race. Why can’t F1 use picture-in-picture when there is action on 2 parts of the track? A little box in the corner of the screen could show the pit stop/winner crossing the line and we could still keep up with the action. Seems so simple but one that is too advanced for F1!
    Something else that I’ve been wondering is whether F1 drivers have been forced into being too boring, keeping their private lives out of public. The main exception being Hamilton and he gets blasted for sharing too much and living the celebrity lifestyle. Whatever your opinions on him, he is the only driver keeping F1 in the front and back pages of newspapers. Hopefully the new generation can generate interest from more than just the sports sections to increase exposure.

    • Something else that I’ve been wondering is whether F1 drivers have been forced into being too boring, keeping their private lives out of public. The main exception being Hamilton and he gets blasted for sharing too much and living the celebrity lifestyle. Whatever your opinions on him, he is the only driver keeping F1 in the front and back pages of newspapers.

      Great observation.

      Hamilton is subject to routine persecution by a hostile media and he suffers shabby treatment by lots of hypocritical F1 “fans” who criticize him for actually being a human being and living his life in the public spotlight – which only happens b/c 1) the same critical, unfair media covers him, ostensibly b/c 2) the public wants to see/read/hear that kind of coverage in the first place! lol

      Hammy can’t win!

  9. Really excellent article, very interesting insights for an old fogey (early 40s!) like me. Thanks very much, and hope to read more from you soon ☺

  10. A truely great write up, I really enjoyed reading it and I have to say I agree with all the points made and I’m no student (oh for a time machine), I don’t know anyone in person who follows F1, I watch every race alone, on the odd occasion my misses will watch 20minutes with me she thinks it’s too complicated to follow and goes off to do what ever F1 widows do on a Sunday afternoon.

    I fear Bernie has an agenda all of his own when it comes to slating his own product to the world, as do the individual race promoters, anything to get a reduction in the exorbitant fees the wee little gnome from Suffolk asks of them year on year. Until these parties (FOM/Bernie, race promoters, teams and even drivers) decide to all pull in the same direction instead of being self-serving then there will never be a world wide revival in popularity. This fact alone hangs heavy on my heart, as the thought of life with no more F1 is a future I do not wish to contemplate.

    Forza F1…………

  11. Let me share my thoughts

    here in Brazil we have F1 coverage since early 70’s, reached the top of it on the early 90’s, for obvious reasons, and after Ayrton, and ratings, despite being the highest per country, according to FOM, are dropping, aside from 2006, 2007 and 2008 when Massa excelled and almost won the title

    given those facts, last week a famous motorsport magazine spread a rumour saying that Globo, the largest network and F1 official broadcaster, had jumped the ship and was going to transfer their broadcasting duties to their subscription Sportv channels, leaving F1 with no space at their free channel

    during the week, the information was exposed as false, which was clear, ’cause, despite the ratings, Globo earns a staggering GBP 120 M per season only in sponsorships to broadcast it, and to confirm theri commitment, they put Bernie to comment, so it’s obvious that something has to change, mainly one the social media, F1 has to allow the drivers and teams to interact more, otherwise will happen what we watched yesterday on MotoGP, despite great track action, the grandstands were appalling

  12. @ ageistblob

    “The Commonwealth Games highlighted the extraordinary nature of modern sport, where gymnast Claudia Fragapane won 4 gold medals before leaving high school. Contrast this with Bernie and Co. and F1 starts to look a little dusty, in need of a good sprucing up.”

    False logic. The people at the top, who were running the games were mostly middle aged. Don’t confuse the athletes and drivers with the folks performing the bureaucratic functions. Yes BCE seems to have lost it, but the issues are much greater than one individual. There has been a societal change in western youth, who are being fed with a diet of fast change short events. So expectation is that everything will follow that format. Download a track and not an album, text rather than email or even talk, snack or fast foods rather than meals, microwave meals rather than proper cooking. But that is only because people tend to follow the crowd. If you were in the music business in the nineties, urban music was the future for the ‘young crowd’. Now guitar bands are back and dominating. Facebook and Twitter are losing young users at a rapid rate, because they worry about the privacy concerns. So trying to pigeon-hole the youth market is wrong and insulting. F1 is a very technical sport and it needs explanation. F1 journalism in the broadest sense, is mostly personality and gossip driven. Of course the teams are PR obsessive and secret. Broadcasters fall into the trap of dumbing down their coverage at every opportunity. The BBC is a prime example. If you ask them why, they reply that the youth are tech-savvy, and nobody is really interested in science or engineering. As an engineer I find this to be the polar opposite of my experience. Young people are not technically literate just because they can operate a cell phone or use a computer. In the UK there is a lack of science and engineering. But if you engage with young people, they are really interested in how things work, and the short attention span proves to be a myth. Sailing, even at the lowest level, like a Laser dinghy, is quite complicated. But that doesn’t discourage young people from participating and watching the sport. Of course we don’t have any journalists who can either explain the complexity of F1, or have the airtime or column inches. It’s really something, when people think that the supposed ‘authoritative’ sources in F1 technical journalism, are a few web sites where it’s just buzzword bingo time.

    • ” F1 is a very technical sport and it needs explanation.” Agree with that Ian. For someone to appreciate something and find it interesting they need to understand how it works, those will be a life-long fan, like me if I may say so 🙂

      However, does Mr E and his CVC buddies see it that way? Do they want a sport for rapid consumption (full of gimmicks to attract passing interest) or do they want to build the next generation of life-long F1 fans? From everything I have read so far I don’t think they know as they are only focused on the short term and making money. If they were to focus on a long term strategy of building F1 the money would become the scorecard to tell them how well they are doing.

      IMHO they are building a massive domino skyscraper with their current model… intentionally?

      • Do they want a sport for rapid consumption (full of gimmicks to attract passing interest) or do they want to build the next generation of life-long F1 fans?

        Oops! I now see you answered your own question later in that same paragraph!

        Carry on. 😉

    • While I agree with much of what you say, I disagree with the “fast change short events” argument.

      Soccer/football lasts more than 90 minutes – plus 15 more for half time. Movies last more like 2 hours or more. And how long can be spent on video games at one sitting.

      I know there are MANY arguments about why those things are all different or more enticing than f1, but I don’t believe duration is one of them.

      • @Don & Tim.

        BCE is quoted recently, as saying that he wished it wasn’t all about the teams, and that he wanted it to be all about the drivers. Previously he wanted all the cars to be the same. Oh oh!

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