Alonso: ‘Screw the midfield teams’

alonso deckchair

“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be” – Peter de Vries

The age demographic of the Formula One fan was clearly identified in two fan polls undertaken in the past year. The Autosport survey revealed that 65% of respondents had been devotees of the sport for more than 15 years.

Bernie Ecclestone confirmed the commercial rights holders’ views on the matter in a wide-ranging interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific magazine where he stated the ‘youth market’ was the wrong for F1 to target. Let’s remind ourselves of this epic diatribe.

“I’m not interested in tweeting, Facebook and whatever this nonsense is. I tried to find out but in any case I’m too old-fashioned,” the 84-year-old F1 supremo said. “I couldn’t see any value in it.

“And, I don’t know what the so-called ‘young generation’ of today really wants. What is it? You ask a 15 or 16-year-old kid, ‘What do you want?’ and they don’t know. The challenge is getting the audience in the first place.

“I say to some of these people who start this nonsense about social media, look at what tobacco companies tried to do – get people smoking their brand early on because then people continue smoking their brand forever.

“You have a brand that you want to put in front of a few hundred million people, I can do that easily for you on television. Now, you’re telling me I need to find a channel to get this 15-year-old to watch Formula One because somebody wants to put out a new brand in front of them? They are not going to be interested in the slightest bit.

“Young kids will see the Rolex brand, but are they going to go and buy one? They can’t afford it. Or our other sponsor, UBS – these kids don’t care about banking. They haven’t got enough money to put in the bloody banks anyway. That’s what I think.”

Yet the truism is that the youth of today become the establishment of tomorrow and unless Formula One attracts a significant number of new ‘young’ viewers, the sport will eventually die. The drastic decline in TV audiences is already an indicator that the current demographic of F1 fans will not sustain the sports popularity.

So new thinking is required. And this is not just about the introduction of another ‘budget engine’. The sport needs to explore new markets and build new fan bases where it has never gone before.

The big drive by Ecclestone to take Formula One to ‘the east’ has been an utter failure from a ‘new fan’ perspective. Global TV audiences are falling despite the record race hosting fees paid in Korea, Singapore and other new eastern regions of Ecclestone’s global expansion plan. The TV broadcast times for these ‘new world’ live races mean the European and American audiences have to get up in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn – and the facts are, fans are not prepared to do this. More racing in the America’s would however provide prime time TV schedules for the European TV broadcasters along with regular TV time schedules for American based motorsports fans.

Whilst the governments of this eastern expansion have been sold the benefits of marketing their countries on the world stage – and charged exorbitant race hosting fees for the privilege – this does not translate into a significant new F1 fan base in these regions. So the trade off has been falling TV audiences for bigger race hosting fees.

Grandpappy Judge used to say, ‘Getting stuck in a rut is akin to digging a shallow grave,’ and this is where F1 finds itself at present. Tinkering with regulations (such as extra tyres) which may or may not make ‘the show’ better, whilst the real reasons for F1’s decline are being ignored.

Greater competition, cost control, cheaper engines, better aero for overtaking, cheaper prices for race spectators, free to air television, more races in the America’s… the list of problems is almost endless.

And such is the wide spread angst, that Fernando Alonso has weighed in with his thoughts on the matter. The Spaniard believes F1 is currently too concerned with assisting the ‘independent teams’.

And THIS is the failing of Formula One.

Alonso believes the fans will return to the sport and new fans will be attracted if we have “bigger engines, more power, more aero, more freedom for the teams to develop and more testing”.

The reality is that 99% of F1 fans watch the sport on TV and a car going 3-5 seconds a lap quicker is not really noticeable.

Fernando also complains about the increasing testing restrictions and that the teams get just 8 days pre-season winter trials unlike the old days.

“If some teams cannot afford to test, it’s their problem, it’s the nature of the sport,” Alonso argues. “Real Madrid can buy some players and other teams cannot. They cannot say sorry for that.

“In F1 there is always the need to protect the small teams and sometimes if they cannot test, they cannot test.”

Ok, so screw the midfield teams eh Fernando? Let’s see a return to when Ferrari spent $100m a year on tyres to win half a decade of consecutive F1 titles.

Alonso’s vision for F1 is simple, he wants a return to yesteryear. “I guess it is [should be] something like F1 was 10 years ago maybe. I know sometimes it was more expensive, which I doubt because now the technology of simulators and other technology increases the cost”.

The plan for 2017 should please Alonso because the cars a reported to be 4-5 seconds a lap quicker, yet the Spaniard is still sceptical. “The expectations are to have a fast F1 car because now we [now] have a slow F1 car. A fast F1 car will be a better show for people watching the race. But to have better races, it’s difficult to know what you need.

“If you look at his year, you have maybe four or five boring races where nothing happens and then suddenly two races which are spectacular and nothing has changed. It’s the same cars and the same teams. Even with the circuit, one year you see a boring race and the next year it’s spectacular.” 

Well thank you Fernando for that contribution. Besides making no sense at all, his nostalgic view of returning F1 to the sport it was 10 years ago is simply impossible. Of course 10 years ago Alonso won back to back titles whilst driving for Renault – and indeed we are returning to the days when Renault will again have a works team.

Yet the in the preceding half a decade Formula One had been dominated by Ferrari with 6 consecutive constructor titles and five on the bounce for one Michael Schumacher.

Formula One needs a new revolution. The Hembery/TJ13 suggested calendar, proper investment in social media engagement and the plethora of ‘new age’ advertising opportunities that will ensue – are the future for F1.

But for now we’ll give the final word to one of the greatest sports commentators of all time.

“The problem with relying on nostalgia for commentary is that people only remember the good things” – Richie Benaud

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26 responses to “Alonso: ‘Screw the midfield teams’

  1. I stopped watching F1 as live sport a couple of years ago and there is no single reason why that happened. Here in New Zealand F1 is on Sky which is paid set top box as is the way I assume elsewhere. But I stopped watching F1 before I dumped Sky in favour of Apple TV and a VPN to watch US Netflix, Hulu etc. plus some streaming via Chromecast.

    I could watch F1 online if I could be bothered because I watch other sport now that way. The only sport I pay for is Aussie V8’s and I have to cheat and say I am in the USA to do that. The Kiwi’s do okay there I guess but its not about just being Kiwi. The drivers swear, they curse, one or two even smoke. One of the local drivers, Shane Van Gisbergen, does drifting in his spare time. Now there are many interesting characters in drifting

    I love motorsport. I moved from the bottom of the South Island to the middle of the North Island so I could watch more live events. I watch dirt track racing at the track (speedway we call it here) and love it. Local drivers, loud cars, all action. Characters who are real people. Its like drifting around a dirt oval but with more contact.

    In the south I saw Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Jochen Rindt, Piers Courage, Graham Hill, Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon and others I am sure at Teretonga in the old Tasman Series. These were top drivers racing out of season at the bottom of the world. They were easy to get up close to. They seemed to have personalities. Real people.

    Now I watch other racing at the local track (Manfield). I have seen Mitch Evans, Earl Bamber, Richie Stanaway, Dylan Hartley etc in action. I have seen them up close and they seemed real people as well. Its not hard to talk in person to them and they all are happy to do so.

    I remember Aryton Senna. I remember Nigel Mansell, Prost Keke Rosberg, Lauda. I saw the Australian Grand Prix in 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1988 in Adelaide. I have never seen better live sport. The noise, the smell everything. Again the drivers were characters. Okay maybe the passing of time makes it all seem better than it was? Bigger event so much harder to get up close as I have mentioned with the examples above, but still they somehow seemed to be characters, maybe like you would expect to see in an F1 movie.

    Now I find most F1 drivers boring. The cars are okay. Maybe more noise would be better but really I don’t think its the cars. For me the major factor is the drivers and the way the fail to relate to me in any way. I wonder how many people feel anything other than indifference about Lewis Hamilton? I wish Nico Rosberg would throw more caps at him.

    It is not the only reason but for me the only reason I don’t take any more than a passing interest in F1 is because the drivers seem to be indifferent. Or sanitised. Or lifeless. Lewis and Sebastian seem to me to be boring people living in an unreal world so detached from where most of us are that they might as well come from Mars. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on any of the current drivers but maybe Kimi is the only one I take any interest in. Isn’t he a character even if he is dour?

    The other thing apart from the drivers is the tracks and the venues. Don’t they all seem the same? Bland and uninteresting. I can catch a glimpse of the Monaco GP and know where it is. Same Silverstone, Spa, Monza, but how much longer will those three hold GP’s?

    Anyway sorry its a rave but that’s what I think!

    • I think today’s F1 does have characters, not like yesteryear, but it does. The problem is media has become over-critical, we judge their every move, we want them sanitised. The result? They become boring or are afraid to say the things they should.

      Love him or hate him, Hamilton does try to get out of it a little bit. Vettel has a great sense of humour. Alonso can always come up with something controversial. Ricciardo with his smile and desire to beat Vettel at any event. And let’s not forget the up-and-coming Mad Max (Verstappen)!

      We should just give them more freedom to express themselves, stop scrutinising their every move, and kick some of all those PR gurus out of F1.

      • Stop it, you’re making too much sense. People will start to think you’re losing your mind….. 😉

      • Yes okay they have personalities but I am not sure they are “characters”. Having to toe a certain line and not be controversial is for sure part of it and yes the gutter press have something to answer for. Rosberg throwing his cap (or not) was an example. If he grew his hair ragged style like his father and threw stuff around more I would probably like him more!!

    • Dear Judge,

      The article you wrote is one of the best in years on the topic.

      I remember too attending the 80s and early 90s races where the smell of gazoline was intoxicating, the front line drivers were all characters where each fan could relate to one or the other. Also the original turbo era was much more spectacular to watch, with drivers battling every inch to control the cars and the exhausts blowing fire on downshifts.

      The real question is not the lap times but the behaviour of the cars. Now cars have much better handling than horsepower, thus making the show very boring.

      I understand the governing power wants to go the electric route, but the harsh reality is that E-racing is not remotely exciting or even interresting to most paying spectators.

  2. As an American, someone that doesn’t own a Rolex, and one that has only been watching F1 for six years. I must be a nightmare that Bernie has, and his appliance, I mean wife tells him that he’s not a dirtbag that is mired decades behind many many people. It would be nice if we began to move forward in a logical manner, learning from the mistakes of the past, forging a brighter future and so on. But I’m a naturalized American, jaded, and I know that like the rhetoric the fools spew from pews calling themselves politicians, F1 won’t change for the better.
    I just want a subscription to F1.com that includes as many races as can be mustered from the archives, as well as the current season. Is that really so much to ask?
    Apparently we need to go back in time. I think delusional people only remember the good things.

  3. Yet in that case of schumacher dominated races they still had enormous figures of viewers. But that being said there are races where we never saw a good race. So they should be removed. Fuck those fees. And I am ok with his testing statement. I mentioned it multiple times here too. If you can’t afford it, tough luck. This is the equivalent of what motor racing should be. Don’t like it? Cant afford it? Go race gt cars or something.

  4. You have no idea what Alonso is saying, do you? No more is Formula 1 when V10 were screaming at 19000 rpm that looked the part with winglets that looked amazing. No more is the refuelling where strategies made it interesting. No more is the deafening sound of these amazing drive trains where you would take the car to the limit without having to worry about running out of fuel that is limited by a computer. Now is a 6 cylinder that sounds like a vacuum and revs at 9000. Damn my Kawasaki H2 revs at 14500. Get with it instead of being negative. Being a hater has no value

    • I don’t think you made sense of Alonso’s argument because you just posted a drivel about the engine noise. Alonso’s argument is that it’s not the cars that are bad but the rules the prevent unlimited testing. To support this argument he argued that even current era the same race track can have a great race one year and a bad one next year, suggesting that the actual car has little to do with the issue of racing being interesting. When he said returning to the state of affairs from 10 years ago, he referred to the testing rules that were different back then.

  5. What rubbish.. Alonso is right ..“bigger engines, more power, more aero, more freedom for the teams to develop and more testing”. And put the damn sport back on Free to Air TV right across the globe.. Like all sports Promotion and in your face excitement attracts .. This sport lacks promotion . And more races across the globe not lumped in the U.S. where it will deprive a lot of fans in Austral Asia viewing at reasonable times..

  6. I have stopped watching live, partly because I have too much to do but partly because it’s just become dull. These days, I am happy to record on Sky and I can flick forward the dull bits. I didn’t even bother to watch Austin, Mexico or Abu Dhabi at all.

    Whether anyone likes it or not, F1 has become too safe and (as Gahari says) sanitised. The real issue is that there is too much money in the sport and too much for the “owners” of F1 to lose, so I can’t see that there is any way back to “who it used to be”. We should also remember that we think of the racing in the 80s and 90s as being very different to now, but in reality, there were just as many dull races. What made it different then – that’s the real question? I’d say the people, the danger and the accessibility.

    I can’t see the sport surviving beyond the next decade.

  7. I would add just this – in stead of free to air TV, just put it on Netflix. Let me pay 10$ to see a race. I don’t own a TV nor have any interest to buy one. More often than not I’m with my kid playing outside Sunday afternoon; I’d like to see the race on the phone. Do that and take my money 🙂

  8. I watch this debate with some amusement. I’m nearly 70. I’ve been interested in F1 – to a varying degree – since I was at school. Living near Goodwood and coming from a working class, not to say fairly poor family, the closest I got was clambering over the fence at the end of the Lavant straight and peering from behind the banking at cars testing. Even up until recent years I watch many of the (invariably tedious) races on (free to air) TV if I have nothing better to do. I would never consider subjecting myself to the ludicrous inconvenience and discomfort of attending an F1 race, even if it was a few miles away! I find the politics, technology and intrigue at least as interesting as the racing.

    As for the demographic assumptions I seem to fit the existing mould however I’ve also been an intensive IT user both professionally and domestically since 1983. Despite which I regard both Tw@tter and FaecesBook as symptoms of a disease, Quite how these are supposed to revive the fortunes of F1 I have no idea. Which isn’t the same as saying that the internet isn’t relevant – the question is how best to utilise it?

    A major underlying problem is: what’s an appropriate structure for F1? The current assumption seems to be that it has to be on a gigantic and ever-expanding scale in order to generate gigantic and ever-increasing revenues on behalf of a microscopically small number of extremely greedy and unprincipled people. Which requires ever-increasing audience size. Which, overall, is the ruling economic model for the entire planet and an absolute guarantee of global devastation. I guess that in the dreams of Bernia CVC et al the model is Football. Which is quite amusing when one contemplates the moral status of the grandees of both enterprises. But Fi is never going to have an appeal anywhere close to football, it’s simply far too complex.

    Personally I don’t care how big the audience is or how the demographic breaks down. The racing needs to be entertaining. It also needs to be in some genuine sense “the pinnacle of motorsport”. Marketing F1 is a secondary problem – I’d say the first task is to find a way to sustain the existing demographic and then worry about how to expand it.

  9. I am totally bored with F1 right now, there is no racing any-more and the ridiculous gap the the merc’s have has made it utterly boring. Just about every race is over by the first corner.

  10. I think the bottom line is:
    Bernie Ecclestone did great things for Formula 1 …………… In the eighties …

  11. One last try, then I’m gone if this doesn’t publish. TJ, my last 4 or 5 comments have not shown up and there was no insulting or obnoxious stuff in them. If you are cherry picking comments by not posting those you don’t like you are making a big mistake and owe your readers an apology and an explanation. I’ve been reading this site and commenting for years under the names ‘SteveH’ and ‘Gomer’ but if what I think is going on is, I’m gone. I emailed the site with some concerns and questions and never received a response. Not good.

  12. Isn’t it funny. The TJ13 readers are an as much diverse band as any other. And we will complain and have differing views.
    But I’ll tell you this. If you had Alonso and Hamilton at Merc, or Vettel and Hamilton, noone would have been complaining now. It would be WW3.
    I see people supporting Alonso’s ideas. So, go back 10 years during the Ferrari dominant years? Are you shitt!ng me? I nearly quit watching F1 forever during that time.
    All we have to do is embrace the change, there’s no going back. Try to find the right balance; bigger engines, but think of the smaller teams too; use social media, but not just that, explore all marketing avenues to engage the future ‘older’ generation; do more races in the US, but don’t forget Australasia and for goodness sake, NEVER forget Europe; let more freedom for aero, but also for engines, don’t want one or the other to dominate like aero in RBR years and engines now; make the cars faster, but push for fuel efficiency too; and above all, LET THE CURRENT F1 PERSONALITIES SHINE, don’t stifle them!

    • See I knew why liked reading your comments and it’s not because you’re a member of the Hamfosi…😉😉

    • I agree with you on this. Back in the Ferrari days there was always Mika but it wasn’t the greatest.

      I agree never forget Europe and keep the Australian Grand Prix no matter what. There is truly nothing like being there in person, well that was true in the late 80’s anyway, and if they keep going to places ending in ‘stan and dust bowls in the desert more F1 fanatics will lose contact with the sport and drift away as well.

      I agree more freedom for the cars. If the income from F1 was spread more evenly among the teams and not loaded in favour of Ferrari, Red Bull and whoever else for no reason other than the past then costs would not be so much of an issue. Now the design criteria are put into a computer and we get 10 nearly identical cars. Nothing will ever come again with fans, or 6 wheels, or ground effects. There will be nothing different!

      I enjoy motorsport in general because I like cars. I sometimes catch a NASCAR item on the news because someone has stood in the middle of the track and thrown a helmet at another car of there has been a big crash. Its exciting isn’t it?

      So is it the drivers do not let their personalities shine forth, too many tracks have no character and the cars lack differentiation one to the other and they chance to excite??

  13. Strange to hear Alonso complain, seeing how he is a product of the very system he criticizes. If F1 actually was the pinnacle of motorsport, it would demand tougher pilots for cars without limit on cornering speed. Instead, we are left with this circus where winners are subtly chosen and changes of the guard happen every few years. Marketability to excite rich NAMBLA members has turned what was once something about racing into a delicate boy’s beauty pageant.

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