Losing Your Audience

I see that Formula 1 has lost a boatload of UK viewers ever since they moved from free TV to subscription TV.  Time for Ye Olde Cluebatte:

If you’re going to require people to pay for something that they’re used to getting for free, it has be something they can’t live without, or else something which is “new ‘n improved” — i.e. that justifies the cost.

And Formula 1 has managed to go down ever since they stopped using loud, balls-to-the-wall engines, and pricing Everything F1 into the stratosphere.  In other words, the product has become tamer, less passionate and shittier, ergo not worth paying for.

I love Formula 1, love it with a passion, always have — but not  always will.  The plain fact of the matter is that after the first corner of the first lap, F1 races are nothing more than a 66-lap procession, where races can be decided on the time and number of pit stops, where refuelling midrace has been outlawed, tire types are restricted, and so on.  F1 has also become technocentric, and techno is expensive — which limits the number of teams which have the money or desire to participate.  As a result, there are essentially only three teams — Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull — who have any consistent chance of winning a given race.  Here are the teams’ points position at the end of the 2019 season, and note the points disparity between the top three and the rest:

It was more or less the same in 2018, and 2017, and 2016… and there are only four actual engines used (Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Honda) by all the teams.

I have some suggestions.

  • Ban all team-driver radio communication.  Let the driver figure out what’s going on with the car, and signal to him only from the pit wall.  Right now, the whole thing is just a techno-chess game, where race decisions can be made in Maranello, Woking or Surrey rather than at the track or in the car.  In fact, very few decisions are now made by the driver, which means that at some point, driverless cars are going to be suggested (and upon that  change, all F1 fans will disappear from sight.)
  • Ban remote engine changes from the garage.  Right now, the team can make changes from the pit wall to the amount of power a car can generate.  Screw that nonsense — let the driver use as much or as little as he’s got.
  • Dump the dual-engine (hybrid) formula and stick to fast, powerful (and loud) 3-liter V6 or flat-six gas engines.  Leave all the electronic stuff to Le Mans prototype cars.  Here’s the thing:  not every auto manufacturer can afford to build a modern F1 engine — but all  of them can make a fast, powerful and reliable 3-liter six-cylinder one, which opens up the race for other car manufacturers to participate.  (And the louder, the better:  F1 fans just love  the noise.)
  • Make the races longer — 80 laps (or 150 miles) minimum — so that the cars have  to stop to refuel their (mandatory) 100-liter / 26-gallon (US) tanks.  (Ignore that “safety” bullshit:  if the sports car teams can manage refueling safely, so can F1.)
  • Let the teams choose whatever tires they want, and drop the “two-type per race” mandate.  If a team wants to race the whole thing on one set of hard tires, and another wants to use three soft sets (for higher speed) or two medium sets (compromise), then let them.
  • Ditto engine changes.  Right now, F1 teams can only use three engines per season (without penalty).  What bullshit.  Let them use a new engine for each race, if they want.  The problem is that engines now cost so much that only a couple teams could afford to do that — which is part of F1’s problem.

There’s a reason that I’m suggesting all the above, and it’s not just a hankering for the old days (as is my general tendency).  As racing becomes all the more technical and much less human, people get turned off by the loss of human interaction. 

In gun terms, it would be like watching a rifle-shooting competition between remote-controlled gun platforms made by only Mitsubishi and Honda.   I wouldn’t cross the street to watch that, for free.  And nor would many others.

Now hold a competition, in any format, between humans shooting Remington, Colt, Ruger, SIG Sauer, Blaser, CZ, Mauser, Winchester and HK rifles… oh man, sign me up now.

That’s the problem, and all F1 needs to do is to bring back the human element into racing.  You heard it here first.


  1. It’s not just F1, it’s most forms of “major league” racing. It’s all this constant emphasis on safety and the hybrid crap. (notice that Formula E (electric) has a effective audience of zero no matter how hard they push it. BORING.

    I don’t want anyone getting hurt, no one does, but without risk, there’s no reward, there’s no interest. Why bother? anyone can do it. This is all the feminization of culture. Little girls do not jump off roofs trying to fly; almost all little boys do. We want/need to do dangerous things, try crazy things, explore the outer limits. But racing nowadays is just meh.

    And look I’m a huge motorhead, if you’re not burning gas, you’re not having fun. But somehow, the major sanctioning bodies have managed to make burning gas not fun.

    and BTW, slightly related topic. I have zero interest, none, nada in an electric car. None. The reason fewer guys are motorheads anymore is because cars are BORING, all the same and cold and appliances. I want a car, not a toaster.

    1. All true. It’s why watching the GT cars at Le Mans remains more exciting than the superfast LMP1 monstrosities at the front. The latter are engineered to go flat-out from start to finish, all 24 hours, whereas the Ferraris, Bentleys and Corvettes cannot: their drivers have to nurse their engines to make them last the race — which is what makes it more interesting.

    2. Volkswagen smoked the overall record at the Pikes Peak Hillclimb in 2018, and they did it with an electric car. It was boring, no drama, no noise, just a hum.

  2. …and all F1 needs to do is to bring back the human element into racing.
    It occurs to me the lack of a human element is a problem with many things today, especially architecture.
    Modern buildings are made in factories by machines, not by skilled human hands, and having no detail only possible with human hands, they no foibles, no whimsy, no imperfections, no depth or texture; they lack soul and are off putting or boring.
    Same with today’s kids and social interaction. I had four teenagers from Sweden and their mother, a former exchange student of ours, as guests for ten days during the holidays, and they had no curiosity about their new environs, didn’t ask a single question of their hosts, didn’t leave the house unless I dragged them out, and stayed plugged into their smart phones and ear buds even when I did. They even came to the dinner table plugged in, but I drew the line there and made them put the damned things aside. Mrs. and I couldn’t wait to be rid of them.

  3. Didn’t F1 eliminate the Grid Girls a couple of years ago?
    Loud, fast cars and gorgeous girls just go together like peas & carrots.

      1. A few of my problems with F1:
        1. Grid girls gone: https://www.bbc.com/sport/formula1/42890261
        2. Ayrton Senna dead
        3. Michael Schumacher Gone

        A friend of mine like the E1 (electric version of F1), wimp.

        Outlaw bandits are great, but requires a subscription to watch the races, Argh!
        World Rally Car racing is cool. Crazy fans lined up at the edge of the roads, yikes.

  4. Some of us have said for a couple decades that F1 needs to go back to their roots.
    Ban aero devices, with the possible exception of a rear spoiler (not a wing, but attached and contiguous with the bodywork) of a specified, maximum area (the front wings have become monstrosities that cause more problems than they alleviate as do the barge-boards and other devices hung between the axle-centers).
    Ban turbos and other devices that change the exhaust noise (noise, & superchargers are good).
    Engines should be only regulated by capacity, and perhaps by the numbers of cylinders.
    Have a reasonable minimum weight w/driver so that good engineers can build a safe car, and poor engineers won’t build an unsafe car.
    90% or more of the “Sporting Regulations” need to be consigned to a dumpster.
    If any radio comms are allowed, they should only be one-way: Car to Pit.
    Let the pit guys monitor engine functions, but that’s all. If they want to tell the driver something, haul out the old pit-board.
    Let the drivers RACE!

  5. The same can be said for NASCAR with it’s selective “politically correct” sponsorship and three hours of advertising interrupted by commercials.

  6. Agreed…… Best Race I ever attended. Last Bridgehampton Can- AM. Rules?? We don’t need any Stinking Rules. The ground was shaking from the noise at the start. Everything was at that race, Bruce and Denny in the McLarens. 12 cylinder Ferrari. Chaparral 2E high movable wing. Lolas, the Shadow , and the Porsche -Audi 917 predecessor to the 917-30.

    I refuse to even tape a Formula E event. ( and I drive a hybrid SUV )

    Bring Can – Am back and I’ll even attend another event. Until then, I still have most of last season’s F1 events in the que on my DVR – Unwatched until the snow is too deep outside.

  7. Sorry, Kim, but I disagree that not being on free TV is the issue. Informal polling indicates that the problem is that to get F1 you have to buy the whole Sky package. People would be happy to bung a fiver F1’s way once a month. Ironically, the rest of Europe can get F1 over the internet but the UK has to wait a year or three.

    That said, I do agree with the rest of your points, Too many tracks are indeed boring to watch. I blame Herman Tilke. But there are enough exciting tracks to keep me interested. The big issue with refuelling IIRC was not fire per se but drivers leaving their pit box with the fuel hose still attached. This, of course, spills fuel all over the place which puts a lot of people at risk of fire.

    1. And drivers still leave their pit box with a loose wheel – and this with electronic sensors on the impacts that signal the pit board when everything is tight.

      1. Both are hilarious for the TV viewer, but neither is a joking matter. F1 wheels are massive and being hit by one can cause serious injuries.


        > Webber’s right rear wheel came off as he pulled away from his pit box and hit cameraman Paul Allen, who suffered a broken shoulder and cracked ribs.

  8. I’m just glad Smokey Yunick isn’t around to see this. But then again, he figured the more rules there were, the more ways were available to cheat.

    1. F1 drivers have traditionally been small guys. Jimmy Clark, Jackie Stuart, Phil Hill all 5′ 10′ or smaller.

  9. > now it’s tiny little girly men

    You know why that is, don’t you? It’s because the weight of the driver is included in the total maximum weight. Soon we’ll be following Saudi Arabia where they have child camel jockeys.

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