As if fans weren’t already sick of DRS, double points finale and a host of other gimmicks, the F1 Commission approved something on Wednesday that will make fans even more alienated from the rule makers.
In the name of improving the show, the F1 Commission approved one of the proposals of Strategy Group that allow for standing restarts after the safety car from 2015. One wonders if the drivers have to restart the race from grid itself, won't it be better to simply red flag the race? Red flags will allow marshalls to clear up debris quicker as drivers won’t be circulating the track at all. As compared to this, during safety car periods, marshalls will have to temporarily abort their work while cars pass the affected part of track at reduced speeds.
And how fair is a standing restart for the lead car, whose advantage over the rest of the field has already been brought to nil? What if that driver makes a poor getaway due to a clutch problem, having otherwise driven a faultless race?
This also preludes to another important issue. What if the restart creates even more havoc? Stalled cars, first corner crashes?
The question that now arises is why are the rule makers forced to bring such proposals in the Strategy Group meetings? The answer lies in the continuous fall in F1's TV audience, which is a major source of revenue for FOM, and hence the 11 teams on the grid. Further, a fall in viewing figures will consequently result in lesser money from sponsors - the second biggest source of revenue for the teams.
It is a well know fact that F1’s TV figures fell 10% per cent last year to 450 million and according to Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery, this year’s figure(undisclosed to the general public as of now) is even more disappointing.
Under such circumstances, the rule makers are left with no option, but to find crazy ways to improve the show without realizing that fall in F1’s viewing figures is due to a number of facts and not just dominance of one team.
If F1 can promote itself in a better way through digital media, it can regain lost ground. This can be illustrated through a simple example. A person comes to know about Formula 1 when his country hosts its first Grand Prix. He watches his home race with reasonable interest, but doesn’t give a stuff about other races on the calendar. In fact, he will hardly know the schedule of other races, unless he watches the post-show or searches about it on the internet. But if the same person starts following F1’s official page on any social networking site, he might develop a keen interest in the sport and start watching it on a regular basis on TV. Hence, digitial media, particularly social media, can also be used to complement Bernie's go east policy. One must not forget that F1 lost two key venues in India and Korea and its fair to say that both countries failed to embrace Formula 1. Viewing figures in those countries are likely to decline, now they don't have a place on the calendar.
Unfortunately, F1’s supremo Bernie Ecclestone believes the social media boom is nothing more than a buble which will soon burst and people will re-shift their focus to their television screens.
And while teams disagree on Ecclestone’s assumption, they do complain about lack of monetizing options in this form of media. And while it's true that one can’t earn a penny by running a Facebook or a Twitter page, YouTube allows publishers to generate revenue from ads on their videos. Further, Google’s flagship video service is about to launch subscription only channels, similarly to ones we get on the idiot box. This might be good news for cash-stricken Sauber, who regularly upload insightful videos on their YouTube channel. Similarly, FOM can upload their premium mobile app video content on their YouTube page, along with historic videos.
Formula 1 Digital Media Ltd launched their own in-house mobile app this year and the makers would know as to how many people installed this app on their Android and Apples devices. Further, FOM would also have an idea as to what proportion of people visit F1's official website through social media. Strategy Group meetings must stress on these two facts to prove Mr E that social media is extremely necessary for any form of business.
Ideas such as artificial sparks, trumpet exhaust and standing restarts proves that rule makers have little idea as to what fans actually want. They want to see more races like Bahrain and Canada 2014, but not through artificial means.
We’ve have weirder ideas in the past(sprinklers to create wet races artificially, remember?) and it seems, this run will not end any soon, especially if F1’s viewership continues to fall. Hence, we may conclude by saying that it would be a lot better if online polls, fan forums and other methods are used to determine what fans actually want. While trying to chase new followers, F1 must not forget its existing fan base.