In a desperate bid to demonstrate everyone is contributing to Bernie’s new favourite song, “The show must go on”, we are continually presented with bright ideas of how Formula One can be made more attractive to viewers.
However, the show needs to do more than ‘just go on’, if it is to halt the decline in race attendances and those watching the sport on TV.
The resulting push for ‘showtime’ innovation gave us double points at the season finale – the 2014 Abu Dhabi GP – yet having been proven ‘not such a popular bright idea’, this has been dropped for 2015.
Sprinklers randomly turning races from dry to wet, standing restarts following the safety car, a twin engine Formula, allowing the teams to decide which pair of dry compound tyres they run (we quite liked that), getting FOM on twitter and a new website…. Have all been solutions proposed to save Formula One from the terminal decline it appears to find itself in.
Speaking on SKY sport’s ‘the F1 show’, Claire William’s has suggested moving the European races back later in the day may garner a greater TV audience. When asked whether reducing the length of the race would help, Williams replied: “You could cut the two-hour race [limit] to an hour, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll bring about change. I think it’s more important when we’re broadcasting our races.”
“The way that society is now people want to spend time with the family and doing something together, and actually giving up your whole Sunday, which you have to do to watch a Formula 1 race, completely clobbers your whole day.
“If we moved it to later on in the afternoon, you go out, you do your day with your family, you come home and watch the grand prix at 4pm or 5pm in the afternoon. Those kind of considerations are the questions to ask first.”
This may indeed have an effect on those who are prepared to cough up for pay-per-view, but the reality in the UK is around half the races are broadcast live on free to air anyway.
However, as with much of the output from the ‘F1 school of bright ideas’, this latest proposal which would see European races starting later in the day has failed to consider an important factor – Sunset Time.
Since the FIA panel of experts reported on the Jules Bianchi crash, the World Motorsport Council have ratified a regulation that forces all F1 races to be scheduled to start at least four hours before local sunset time.
Currently the Spanish GP begins at 2pm CET (1pm GMT). Sunset in Barcelona on the day of this year’s race is at 8:58pm local time. This would require a start time of 5pm CET (4pm GMT).
Similarly in Italy, the race will be held September 6th 2015 and sunset local time is 7:58pm. This would require a start time of 4pm CET (3pm GMT).
Belgium start times would be the same as in Italy, and Monaco would mirror Barcelona.
In the UK, 3 and 4pm starts hardly achieve the goal Claire Williams sets out – where the family is returning from a day out and switches on the big Formula One event, whilst preparing for dinner.
It is highly unlikely the FIA will rescind the regulations which state the start must be four hours earlier than sunset, due to the grave circumstances surrounding this rule’s incorporation.
Lights could be fitted at the circuits affected, but then the expense of doing this has to be paid for by someone.
Further, will such late finishes see fans opting out of travelling to certain GP events, because they will be forced to take the following day off work if their journey home is more than a few hours.
IndyCar run many of their races at similar times to the current F1 GP’s. 9 of the 17 races for 2015 begin at 3:30pm local time or earlier.
Of course this wheeze is aimed to facilitate better the European TV audience which at present is a substantial proportion of the total worldwide ‘box watchers’.
Yet, do you think Formula One shown late afternoon or in the early evening (worry not about the matter of times zones etc for now) would be better for you as a fan of the sport.