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How F1 can attract new audience to the sport

1.75K   //    02 Feb 2015, 05:53 IST
Sebastian Vettel

Having covered the domestic motor racing scene in India during the latter part of last year, I noticed how the crowd went buzzing with donuts, show runs, crashes and engine start noise. This kind of stuff fascinated them more than actual wheel-to-wheel racing.

I drew comparisons with Sebastian Vettel’s donuts on the during the 2013 Indian Grand Prix and watched plenty of YouTube videos (was sitting in the media centre when a certain German was celebrating his fourth world championship in a row) to justify my assumption.

I concluded that F1 hasn’t done itself enough to establish its foothold in Asia. Bernie Ecclestone had embarked on his Go East movement with the assumption that taking Formula 1 to new venues would automatically generate new fans.

Understanding what the customers want

The promoters of the sport, however, has failed to do the market research to find out what new fans actually want. They also forgot what non-F1 fans think about the sport. Result: Falling TV audiences and plummeting ticket sales.

During a class discussion about racing, I saw my classmates appreciating how quick the pit stops were (they of course didn’t know about the term pit stop and merely spoke about how quickly the ‘pit crew’ changed tyres). Speed fascinated the guys who brought their own cars to college while others were concerned about the risk to lives of drivers.

This was a small survey about people who’ve never seen any sort of motor race before. So I took one of them on the outskirts of Delhi to the Buddh International Circuit for a domestic race jointly organised by JK Tyre and Volkswagen India.

He was fascinated by the noise of the engines(The Formula BMW cars used were much quieter than F1’s current V6s, so we better stay on the current topic) and the stunt show(which included donuts) by a couple of VW Polo cars.

Looking at the main grandstand, it was clear that others had a similar point of view about motorsport. Even marshals who’ve now covered multiple domestic and international event couldn’t disagree.


Racing is good as it is

During the last few years, in a bid to ‘improve the show’, F1 has brought in a number of gimmicks that directly impact racing. DRS, double points finale, standing restarts(glad that idea got abandoned), to name a few.

But last year was a testament that racing is good as it is. All F1 needs to do is to add value to the tickets by improving its pre and post show.

All race organisers host some sort of events before the lights go out - be it concerts on cultural programmes. And while they are successful in keeping the fans entertained, do they increase the appeal of the sport? A person who is watching his first Grand Prix will not be fascinated about motorsport by these stuff.

An F1 official show car for donuts and display

Instead, if an official showcar can be introduced that will lap the circuit after the chequered flag, that is likely to keep the crowd buzzing. This 2-3 year old car can be powered by a V8 engine and may perform donuts at several parts of the track, particularly around the pit straight. At one side of the straight, we have the main grandstand and on the other we have the Paddock Club. Both pay a handsome amount for their respective tickets.

With tighter gearbox regulations, drivers are likely to refrain from post race donuts. This means a major attraction - used by many teams in their own show runs across the world – will be eluded from fans for the forthcoming seasons. FOM needs to step in for the common good of all.

Note: A number of teams do demo runs across the planet. However, these show runs are held at public places and general admission is free. Our idea is to utilize this concept at GP weekends.

Does it make sense? Think from a casual fan’s perspective

Of course it does. Have you thought what fascinated you the most when you were new to Formula 1? Did you know that Eau Rouge was a fantastic corner that can be taken flat out at 300 km/hr?

A common man has no clue how vigorous training drivers go through to bear up to 5Gs every lap. Such technical facts won’t attract new fans.

We ought to see from the eyes of casual newcomers. Once we are successful in converting them into fans of motorsport, they’ll automatically cherish wheel-to-wheel racing.

Why the hell would FOM spends millions with no direct monetary return?

Now for those wondering how the sport’s commercial boss will ever agree to this idea , there’s an explanation. This show car may carry sponsorship from FOM’s official partners Fly Emirates, Rolex, DHL etc. Further, local sponsors can be attracted for one-off events to increase the revenue.

To keep the costs low, this could be restricted to newer venues such as the upcoming race in Azerbaijan.

Further, this show car may be displayed at iconic venues across the country, apart from shopping malls which attract sizable audience.

A ticketing counter should be erected wherever the show car is displayed to directly increase the ‘conversion rate’.

Here is the video of the crowd enjoying Sebastian Vettel’s burnout donuts: