I am a part of a blessed generation when it comes to motorsport. I grew up with three legends: Valentino Rossi in MotoGP, Sébastien Loeb in WRC and Michael Schumacher in Formula One. The latter remained as “the mister in red” in my mind for a long time until I eventually stored his name in my memory at the age of 4. It shows how much I have loved this sport since my early childhood even before I could speak.
For the last couple of years, I have felt betrayed by this sport, even though it is a part of me. I am not going to talk about the numerous debates agitating Formula One since 2010: safety, women, pay drivers, one-team domination, instead I will focus on the fact that Formula One is slowly turning into a circus without an audience.
I am French and in 2013 Formula One started being broadcast on a pay channel. Despite the fact that there were more French drivers on the grid than we have had for a long time, I became part of the “illegal fan-base” since I began watching Formula One on 280p streaming, with a good one-minute delay and connection problems every now and then. If I were not extremely passionate -or a masochist, I’ll let you pick- I would have given up a long time ago, as a lot of the French fans did.
Many have stated that Formula One is moribund, obsolete, and that it need drastic changes. The FIA who are in charge of the rules that govern Formula One, with the agreement of team directors -which is important- decided to change what is perhaps the only good thing left in Formula One: the qualifying system. They decided to change it for an elimination system. I was already sceptic before the first race: to me it seemed like a token decision, the kind which seems good on the paper and is catastrophic in reality.
The qualifying session of the 2016 Australian Grand Prix was really catastrophic. An Australian friend of mine said that she had spent more time on her phone trying to follow live timing than actually watching the race track. These qualifying sessions have been unanimously criticized by the drivers, and the team directors who agreed for this change. The next day, FIA announced the come-back of the former qualifying format for the next Grand Prix in Bahrain. But it was too late.
This last Wednesday, GPDA members, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Alexander Wurz, wrote an open letter to Formula One stakeholders. They evoke their sadness of seeing their sport collapsing under their feet because of the wrong redistribution of money. They also remarked the fact their voices are not heard enough by those running the sport.
With a remarkable cynicism, FOM announced the very same day that Sky Sport F1 will have live broadcast exclusivity starting 2019 in the United Kingdom. The Twitter account of Motor Sport Magazine submitted a poll which shows that 75% of answering people said they would rather give up on watching the sport than pay for an app or subscribe to Sky. I understand completely. For 360£ per year, I would rather keep the money to go to Silverstone.
Let’s take a moment to talk about Formula One tickets prices shall we? When I tell my family that, a general admission ticket costs around 150€ in Europe, I have never had anyone congratulating me for choosing an accessible sport. How many fans feel left out by this sport because they cannot afford go to a race? And how many of them will not be able to watch Formula One anymore on TV?
Formula One is slowly turning into a rich person’s sport. I am now going to quote our dear Bernie Ecclestone when he says he is “not interested in young people” because they can’t afford buying a Rolex and this is the most important thing in Formula One. Of course it is simple to invite pretty ladies in the paddock and their wealthy husbands to watch cars driving rounds while drinking champagne and showing off their expensive pieces of jewelry. Between a couple of wealthy men who have no particular interest in Formula One and millions of fans all ready to spend a bit of money, I think Bernie needs to think twice about it.
As another proof of cynicism, two days ago, FIA announced the polemic qualifying system will be instituted back in Bahrein. By this, the federation completely disgrace GPDA and all drivers who might get on strike as they did in 1982. As we say in French, Formula One today goes “one step towards, three steps backwards.”