Back in the early 1980’s it was not difficult for fans to wander across onto the infield at Silverstone and around the back of the pits to see the cars and the Formula One mechanics at work. Amusingly many of the ‘grease monkeys’ smoked cigarettes in the garages even leaning on drums of fuel stacked and ready for the cars. There was a liminal fee to access this area but equivalent to the cost of a couple of beers.
The TV coverage was then provided by a national broadcaster and the number of F1 personnel at the circuit was minuscule when compared to current times.
How times have changed because Formula One is booming.
Exclusivity principle abandoned
Bernie Ecclestone saw the value in exclusivity and even decided the race promoters would no longer decide which sponsors were promoted, they would have to sign contracts with Formula One to market their wares.
Over the years as the popularity of the sport grew, we’ve seen what were every race norms evolve into luxury experiences with luxury prices attached.
This year’s inaugural Miami GP sold out in around 30 minutes and because the promoter decided to restrict the number of tickets for the first visit of Formula One to the Miami Dolphins complex, the ticket prices were at a premium $640 for the cheapest grandstand seat and the resale values rocketed by 3-400%.
The much anticipated Vegas GP ext season will see the most expensive ever grandstand prices for a Formula One event. General admission for 3 days is limited and priced at $500 in the MSG area but for a seat in the same zone will set fans back $2000 for the weekend.
Eye watering paddock access prices
Paddock Club prices have not been announced yet for Vegas, but to sit in the PH1 Skybox shared hospitality will cost $10,000.
Yet despite the eye watering cost of the VIP experiences which include access to the paddock, fans are flocking in their droves.
At the recent US and Mexico City Grand Prix, the paddock area behind the garages and between the teams’ hospitality buildings was Mayme at times.
But it appears all was not well as a section of the fans were accused of behaving in a mob like manner.
Ricciardo calls for guidelines
Yet Daniel Ricciardo takes a more moderate view than some over the new throngs of supporters flooding the paddock.
“I think there are two sides to it. The paddock used to lack atmosphere. I remember eight years ago, 10 years ago, the paddock was actually a pretty dull place.
“So I do like having an atmosphere, I think it should be a fun place to be. But there should also be boundaries. I think it’s a privilege and you also should act with some maturity and respect. That hasn’t always been shown this year. People lose their minds.
“I feel like they should at least have some guidelines like ‘these are the kind of the rules inside the paddock’. I don’t want security [staff], to be honest, I don’t want to be walking in a huddle and just walking through people. I want to be able to have photos and sign.”
Gasly’s bag opened twice
Yet Pierre Gasly revealed his personal bag had been opened more than once which contained his passport and other personal belongings.
“[We have] people coming in garages before qualifying and asking for pictures when they are not even from our team, and we are working here,” the French driver revealed.
“We [want to] give time for the fans when we can, but this weekend I didn’t dare coming out of the hospitality because otherwise you just know that you’ll get mobbed.”
Sky F1 showed images of fans following an Aston Martin driver through the back door of the garage and down the tunnel before being repelled by security.
Wolff praises fan’s passion
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff complained getting the drivers from the hospitality to the garage is becoming a pain.
“I think for us in a daily routine, it’s more complex to get to the garage, or [we] use scooters, but they jump in front of the scooter. That is an experience that I didn’t get before.
“But we need to be so grateful and humbled that we have such a strong following. I remember times when there was no one interested in the paddock a few years ago, and here we have great enthusiasm and passion and emotion. The downsides are people trying to get a little bit closer than what you would think, [but] I’d take it every day of the week.”
Carlos Sainz was more sanguine over the apparent mayhem, though the distance from the Ferrari hospitality to their garage was minimal for the drivers’ to traverse.
“I love having the fans around me,” said Sainz. “I love having everyone around us cheering us, especially I guess because I’m Latin, we have a kind of a special relationship.
“I only ask everyone to stay calm, that we are in a paddock, that they don’t push or don’t shout too much.”“I think if everyone’s just says, ‘please, thank you,’ and shows a little bit of respect, then we’ll keep obviously giving them that in return.”
LeClerc suggests different paddock logistics
Ferrari team mate LeClerc. Believes the paddock should be reorganised better.
“There are loads of people in the paddock, It’s good because it shows how much more interest there is in F1.
“It’s always been crazy here, but especially this year. Maybe we need to find something [to allow] us to walk a bit easier in the paddock.”
Daniel Ricciardo claims he’s doing his bit to remind the fans of how they should behave.
“I honestly do catch myself calling people out way too often for not saying please or thank you. They just run up, don’t say a word, do what they have to, and then go. For that, you feel like a little bit, honestly, like ‘used’.
“I think if they set some guidelines, maybe that helps, because there aren’t any at the moment. So if it’s just a bit of awareness, then maybe they’ll be a little cooler. I don’t want to see it change. I just think adults need to act like adults.”
F1 drivers need proper preparation time
Further, the drivers at times have commitments to their team’s guests in the paddock minutes before an F1 session is about to begin on track and few sports in the world allow the fans to mob their hero’s while they are trying to focus on delivering their best performance.
Daniel concludes, “Certainly the sensitive moments when you’re about to go into the car, I think as well people forget this isn’t an ordinary sport. We’re jumping in cars, we’re going the speeds we go, we require a certain amount of commitment, concentration, and all that sort of stuff. And that’s just the truth.
“So especially the fact that as well, it’s not an ordinary sport, there needs to be some distance before the time we go into the car and compete.“
F1 paddock change urgently required
Things need to change. Given the current logistics Formula One is either at or over the limit of supporters they should allow into the paddock area behind the teams’ garages.
Either that, or the corridor that sits between the rear entrances to the garages and the teams’ hospitality units should be closed by moving hospitality up to the rear of the pit lane buildings.
While this is possible at a number of circuits where the hospitality buildings are temporary in nature at other tracks with permanent structures this will not work.
Cleary fans are being charged many multiples of the general admission or even the cheapest grandstand prices to access these area and this means the promoters and Formula One can make more money from having fewer bodies at the track.
The drivers’ on the whole have not complained fiercely about this, but given it has been most prominent at the last two race events, we’ll see if it continues whether their attitudes harden.
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 4, 2022