Amidst much rejoicing and more than a little relief, Formula One came under new ownership for the 2017 season with its new custodians claiming to ‘usher in a new approach of consensual decision making and twenty-first century sports business management whilst seeing a great opportunity to help Formula One continue to develop and prosper for the benefit of the sport, fans, teams and investors alike’.
More specifically as one of their targeted fans they want to make me ‘revel in the racing, feel the blood boil, taste the oil, have my viscera moved by the sights and sounds of this amazing sport’ by way of introducing ‘key behaviours to make the spectacle more spectacular and enhance the racing experience and add new dimensions to the sport’.
That sounds like modern-day marketing gobbledygook for the way I felt when I first attended a Formula One race in 1974 which is to say that I was blown away by the sheer excess and vulgarity of it all.
The problem is how exactly are Liberty Media to achieve their aim when the intervening forty plus years have seen a continuous dumbing down of the sport either for reasons of necessity, safety, the changing views of society, environmental considerations and more latterly ‘to be more in tune with our vision of this great sport by removing customs that do not resonate with our brand value?’ Circuit limits are now marked by painted lines inside huge run-offs replacing physical boundaries. Cars can withstand almost any accident scenario but are unable to race one another. They are propelled by power units (engines) that are so quiet as to be almost inaudible over the thumping base and drum emanating from the Heineken Beer Garden in the Fans’ Zone and their drivers are hidden away behind protective bodywork with worse to come for the new season.
Behind the scenes, seemingly all is not well. The new owners have been accused of destroying the DNA of F1. They lost £13 million in their first year of ownership and the proposed new regulations concerning engines, tyres and prize money are causing alarm amongst the teams, drivers and manufacturers alike.
But I know nothing of these things. They are just headlines I read. What I am concerned with are those that affect me directly as a paying customer as I make my plans for the forthcoming season.
Despite talk of new horizons, notably Las Vegas and Copenhagen, the only addition is the re-instatement of the French Grand Prix. A step in the right direction it may be but going back to Circuit Paul Ricard, a legacy of F1’s past, most certainly is not. Its remote location with no proposed public transportation or shuttle services to get there is hardly ‘of benefit to the fans’. As much as I like the place, I don’t fancy the drive down or the cost of hiring a car at the nearest airport/railway station.
Other confirmed changes are a new ‘F1’ logo, cars with protective bars around their cockpits and professional female models formerly employed as ‘grid girls’ and for other PR purposes being replaced by children.
There are now three Formula One Group monikered shirts prowling the pre-race grid instead of just the one. Race start times have been put back to try and encourage more television viewers, T-shirts get shot out of canon into the crowd and drivers are interviewed on the grid immediately after qualifying. But most of this happens around the start-line area so is irrelevant to the majority of fans. And between races we are entertained by celebrities, their faces hidden behind full-faced helmets, being driven around in 2-seater cars derived from a 1998 F1 Tyrrell.
Last season’s US Grand Prix was preceded by spectacle and razzamatazz never seen before in Formula One. It was met with a mixed reception ranging from cringeworthy and comedic to awesome. One review reported it as a fantastic show ruined only by the one and a half hour car procession that followed. I did not see it myself although I was actually in America at the time. During the Sunday afternoon whilst the race was taking place I was touring the bars of Boston where the banks of TV monitors around the walls were all showing major league baseball to the noisy and enthusiastic participation of the patronage. Not one was showing the Grand Prix.
Liberty Media, you have some work to do in your home country.
Formula One’s brave new world has, to date, amounted to no more than a few peripheral tweaks and not all well-received. The new owners need to start addressing the real issues concerning Formula One soon if they are to maintain the positivity and goodwill that accompanied their takeover.
Note: Many of these images are taken from original prints, negatives and slides that are nearly 40 years old and are therefore not reproduced to the same standard as current day digital images. All reasonable attempts have been made to ensure these images are reproduced to the best possible standard, however, in some instances colour casts and blemishes may be present.