We are entering an era of many unknowns, both in and outside of the motor racing bubble. Over time, the Liberty Media Formula 1 revamp should begin to materialise, whatever that may look like.
Bernie Ecclestone’s self-declared ‘dictatorship’ over the sport has concluded, and with it will come faces both familiar and unfamiliar in Ross Brawn, Chase Carey and Sean Bratches filling a seemingly infinite void to fill. Many suggestions have been put forward regarding how to get F1 back on the track it should be on, but are some of the answers lying within racing over in the United States?
A complete ‘Americanisation’?
Liberty has made it clear that it has no plans to ‘Americanise’ F1, and that may well be a wise thing. F1 is a sport which absolutely must appeal to audiences regardless of location, and many things which may appeal to American viewers may be off-putting for someone within parts of Europe or parts of Asia, which are also two critical markets for the sport. Similarly, things which appeal to Europeans may not appeal to Americans or Asians and so forth.
Put the fans first
If there is anything which stands out when watching racing series in the US, with IndyCar, NASCAR and the IMSA Sportscar Series being three vastly different categories as examples, it is that the fans almost always gets a great experience across the day or the weekend. All the aforementioned series can deliver stunningly good races much of the time, and the way the series, the teams and the drivers all interact with fans on and away from the track is something F1 can really learn from. Social media and the internet as a whole will play a massive part in this. Whilst it would be silly to ask for sessions to be streamed live in the future, it would not be unreasonable to continue the ‘F1 Live’ feature involving fans and drivers which was trialled last year, and maybe, just maybe, even some classic races uploaded to the internet. F1 could also look to the Formula E Vegas eRace regarding possibly getting gaming or esports implemented too.
25 Super Bowls per year?
Two striking statements made early into the new era of F1 has been the desire to increase the length of the calendar to potentially a staggering 25 races per year, which is four more than the record of 21 set last year, as well as making going to each race feel as if it is like the Super Bowl. Increasing the length of the calendar may be tricky at this early stage, with so many teams still just about managing to get by, but the idea of introducing an array of entertainment and such at each grand prix is an intriguing (albeit not entirely fresh) idea. Stars have performed at F1 races before (notably Singapore and at Austin) but we don’t necessarily see the level of entertainment seen at the Super Bowl or the Indianapolis 500 for another example. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, it would help F1 stand out from effectively every other category around, and may provide more interest at each venue, provided that it is advertised well.
A few lessons to be learned from IndyCar
F1’s direct US rival is the IndyCar series. There is a long list of features the two series have incorporated from one-another as years have gone by and a few things which IndyCar currently does but F1 does not should be seriously considered. A simple tweak to qualifying by deleting the fastest time for a driver who causes a yellow or a red flag would effectively eliminate any attempts at foul play (something Nico Rosberg was accused of at Monaco a few years ago). F1 could also consider increasing the downforce through ground effect (as IndyCar did with the current chassis for 2012), although in the interest of safety, this should be heavily regulated. Unsurprisingly, adding more complex aerodynamic wings to the car (for the start of 2015) had an adverse effect on overtaking and safety there. F1 has more complex wings incoming for 2017.
Don’t overcomplicate things, and refrain from resorting to gimmicks
Whilst the racing can be fantastic over in the US, some of the regulations can be confusing enough to want to switch off, and some of the rules used ‘to improve the show’ seem highly unnecessary. Ideas such as NASCAR’s Chase format, ‘competition cautions’ and IndyCar’s complex points system should not be considered at all. As we saw with refuelling being in F1 from 1994 to 2009, ideas which work well in one series do not necessarily have the same effect over in another series. IMSA’s Sportscar series seems to have a really good balance on having complex rules (after all, it does house four classes of car and a separate cup within the year) whilst being accessible enough for complete newcomers to be able to learn what is going on without too many problems.
When looking at new venues, consider America’s great racetracks
Some of the absolute finest racetracks around the globe are situated within the United States. From Watkins Glen to Road Atlanta to Road America to Laguna Seca to Sonoma and so many more, there is no lack in variation regarding brilliant places to go racing. Unfortunately, none of these facilities are up to the FIA’s grading requirement for running F1, but perhaps the FIA might want to reconsider the requirements for such status. However, many of F1’s more recent additions to the calendar feel bland, unimaginative and plain dull. Another grand prix in the United States is almost certainly a must, and any of the venues mentioned before would be great for F1, on the basis that no changes are implemented which would ‘sanitise’ the circuit. In the future, hopefully Liberty can help F1 sway way from the ‘copy-paste circuits’ and onto some exciting, new facilities in exciting, new venues.
Bring F1 back into the 21st century and encourage new fans in
F1 under the latter Bernie years saw a dip of one third in TV viewership, and the product simply felt incredibly outdated at times. Whether that dip in TV viewership correlates to the switch to pay TV and on-demand TV, to the quality of the product lacking or the rise of other categories and sports or not is fairly unclear. However, F1’s car liveries often felt corporate and outdated, the sport often felt stuck within a bubble and it took what felt like an eternity for F1 to even attempt to embrace social media and the opportunities which exist there. These things certainly will not have helped at all. It almost felt recently as if F1 was trying to return to a supposed ‘golden age’ of ten to fifteen years ago, despite that era not being without many flaws, and the world as a whole being a place so different to what we knew back then.