The older we get, the harder it is for us to embrace change. And swift change may even be disorientating. Formula One’s commercial arm is run by an 84 year old white male who recently ridiculed the need to engage young people as fans of the sport.
His counterpart at the FIA isn’t much better. Jean Todt has admitted he doesn’t do social media, doesn’t even use email and probably struggles to work out how to turn on a computer.
Both these men at times make the most ridiculous and embarrassing statements, which would see them sacked by a global plc – unless of course it was owned by Donald Trump. Ecclestone’s most famous was regarding women. “Women should be in the kitchen, shouldn’t they?” he told an interviewer a few years ago. “They should wear white, like a domestic appliance, and they shouldn’t be allowed out. You don’t take the washing machine out of the house, do you?”
The French president of the FIA embarrassed himself following the recent Jihadist atrocities committed in Paris. Whilst riding his road safety hobby horse, Todt remarked, “Do you realise that the number of people killed in road accidents is by far bigger than the number of people who died in Paris.”
Expecting these two to embrace change and swift change is like asking Donald Trump to utter something intelligible. Yet change is required if F1 is to survive.
The managing director of twitter UK, Dara Nasr, was recently asked to compare F1’s approach to social media with other sports. She replied, “Yes, F1 is pretty much alone as a sport”. Standing ‘alone’, head and shoulders above the competition is a good thing, but Nasr went on to explain this was not what she implied.
The official F1 twitter account has just 1.7million followers, even the MLS – which for the uninitiated is ‘major league soccer’ in North America, the round ball game that is – has 1.54million followers on twitter. The NBA has 18 million and the NFL has 15 million and neither of these have the global reach of Formula One.
The F1 teams and sponsors have been desperate for years to crack the US market, yet Ecclestone recently remarked. “I’m not very enthusiastic about America. The biggest problem with America is they believe they are the greatest power in the world. Not in reality, but in belief. It’s difficult because they are sort of isolated – they are a big island – and they are slowly starting to learn about what other people in the world do.”
This kind of attitude is holding Formula One back in the states and North America, though Ecclestone is not much fonder of Europe it seems. “Europe is a thing of the past anyway,” he added. “It will be a nice pace for people from China or here in Russia to visit to look at how the old times were. It’s not going anywhere.”
Of course much of Ecclestone’s riches are to be found in the east, where governments pay exorbitant hosting fees for races that lose tens of millions. Next up are the oil rich nations who similarly are proud to pay whatever price is required to take their place on the world stage.
Yet Formula One is falling down. TV figures in the UK were the lowest since the current method of recording viewer numbers began. The escalator in the Silverstone contract for the British GP means the circuit cannot pay their 2015 hosting fee before 2016.
A radical new rethink is required to the global circus that is Formula One. On a recent TJ13 podcast, the panel discussed how a run of 6 or 7 races in the Americas would bolster Formula One’s image – and get the America’s TV audience into the F1 habit.
The USA has more F1 circuits than any other country, but each has fallen away due to the sport failing to deliver for one reason or another. Hembery’s plan would see each of the three series crown a champion racer,
Paul Hembery of Pirelli has extended this notion with a blueprint for F1’s scheduling which he intends to put to Bernie Ecclestone. He told Paul weaver of the Guardian, “I will be talking to Bernie shortly about this. I haven’t worked out the logistical problems. It’s up to the teams to do that. But this is all about getting more interest in Formula One, and particularly in the Americas”.
The new format would see three seasons in one year, with separate series of races in Asia, then in Europe and concluding the year in the America’s. The Hembery plan would cut costs incurred by the stupid scheduling which sees the teams unnecessarily crossing and crisscrossing the world time and again.
Further, this calendar would see a season of races on broadcast live in the America’s at more sociable times than the early morning wake ups for Europe and the middle of the night vigil’s for the Asian races.
At present the America’s host races in Montreal, Austin, Mexico and Brazil, though the COTA event is in serious jeopardy. Hembery believes Ecclestone should intervene: “To lose Austin so soon after getting there – and it’s a good circuit and a well organised show which the fans enjoy – would be phenomenally negative for the sport”.
Add to this a race in California and there is a two month long America’s racing series which would help build the regional fan base of Formula One. “If we carry on making Formula One for European television,” Hembery argues, “we will end up with a Europe-only audience.”
Of course Ecclestone likes to play fast and loose with the F1 calendar. He can reward the faithful and high paying race promoters with favourable annual slots – and likewise punish those who complain or request a discount on the hosting fee.
Pirelli are favoured by Ecclestone for delivering incremental excitement to his ‘show’ and so maybe, just maybe Paul Hembery can achieve the impossible with an ageing gentleman used to doing things just so – a revolution in the Formula One calendar.