14 Jun 2013

I Never Really Loved F1...

US writer Bill Crittenden read "I think I've fallen out of love with F1" and wrote this.  The original article is on Bill's website here.

I read an interesting piece on the disappointments of this year's Formula 1 season by F1 fan Matt at Speedmonkey.co.uk. I'm always saying about racing, "to each their own," and if you're disappointed in one form or another there's always something else on TV. However, here are some ways in which I would improve F1 if I had the chance, based on Matt's comments and the best aspects of America's (and my own) favorite motorsport, NASCAR:

Race tracks - it's no surprise the American race fans will at least watch the Monaco GP, and occasionally our own U.S. GP when it's held, especially if it's at a historic venue such as Indianapolis. Race fans are generally suckers for history. Darlington, Bonneville, Daytona, Indy...we love places more for their stories than technical capacities. This can get annoying at times when racing isn't as tight as it could be or passing is too difficult, but it's always worth another trip around a grand old venue. Formula One should take note, and think about returning to some old tracks or street circuits on historic cities and let the engineers be challenged by that.

Don't Follow the Money - I've heard that the shift in venues has to do with cigarette advertising and the restrictions on such in the European Union. Yeah, well, NASCAR lost Winston (R.J. Reynolds), and they've made more than enough money for themselves this past decade. How? Make the fans happy, and sponsors & promoters will follow. You can replace tobacco with telecommunications only if you haven't alienated too much of the fan base. I've seen a lot of banking advertisements on F1 cars in recent years, and they could step in to fill the gap if F1 would accept making a merely ridiculous amount of money instead of an obscene amount of money.

Slow Down - So the old tracks aren't as fast as the new ones? Hey, if speed were the only factor involved in racing's popularity, why doesn't IndyCar rank as the top open-wheel automotive sport worldwide? Personality and close racing and a dozen other factors matter more than speed...European street circuits are always going to be more interesting than whatever vast expanse of Tarmac an oil sheikh can lay down.

Get Some Personality - Conflict and rivalry drive the best stories, and the best stories pull in the most viewers. Without the personal interest, any form of racing isn't much more than loud machines being driven in circles. In a motor sport that doesn't have much side-by-side racing, an abundance of PR-controlled media relations, a technical hierarchy separating the teams, and a serious issue with team orders, Formula 1 desperately needs a fight to break out. They haven't had a great rivalry since Senna/Mansell. NASCAR has no shortage of outspoken drivers: Stewart, Keselowski, the Busch brothers, Harvick...and that volatile mix stirred up by 24/7 media attention and Twitter means anything can happen at any time.

Get More Personality - there's nothin wrong with the professionals calling the races on Speed for American fans, but they could use a good color commentator thrown in the mix to do for F1 broadcasts what Darrell Waltrip does for NASCAR on Fox.

Scheduling - There's no such thing as too many races if every race is the highlight of your weekend. It's no surprise Matt's dragging a little through the 21-race F1 schedule if he's not enjoying the events. When you spend all week in anticipation, counting down the hours to the next race, no season is long enough. Fix the other issues and F1 fans will wish they had NASCAR's 36 race workload.

Lose Some Downforce - A lot of fans can appreciate the skill required to pilot a Formula One car at speed, especially on a tight track like Monaco, but we still like to see the drivers' skills challenged more visually, and the balance of a team's success in the hands of an awesome driver instead of a well-funded research & development and engineering office. Tune down the downforce, and make the cars slide around a little. Put more of the race in the drivers' hands, and simplify the car designs in the process for the sake of aesthetics.

Celebrity Endorsements - There's nothing wrong with showing celebrities watching the sport, unless such celebs are acting like out-of-touch douchebags in the process. This is one where my favorite examples come from "stick-and-ball" sports, where celebrities sit front row at baseball games and courtside at basketball games. Monaco's weeklong celebration of ostentatious wealth aside, regular folks appreciate their idols and heroes just being regular folks like them. If you're going to show celebrities on a broadcast, save it for the ones who are wearing team colors and sitting in amongst the regular fans!

That's a lot to take in, and I congratulate you on reading this far, but this is a pretty good list of reasons why I'm the most casual of F1 watchers and can name the NASCAR driver list backwards and forwards.

By Bill Crittenden