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It’s clearly summer break in Formula 1 when Indycar driver Juan Pablo Montoya (JPM) starts lecturing Formula 1 on how to fix its issues. According to JPM, F1 needs to be more like American Indycar in order to cure its ills. AUTOSPORT has the call:

“[But to get fans engaged,] they ought to look at IndyCar. I think IndyCar does the best job of looking after its fans.

“It’s very different [for fans], just walking around seeing the cars. In the garage in NASCAR, the drivers are never there.

“The cars are there but the drivers are always in the motorhome. F1, [the paddock] is always closed. It’s so complicated. There is no right answer.

“But the people that best understand it … NASCAR is the best at understanding that at the end of the day it’s a show.

“Formula 1, being very European, they think it’s a sport. And it is a sport. But the way it’s played … the fans have to like it.”

I’m not sure I could disagree more, JPM. I would argue that F1’s attempt at becoming a “show” is the very thing that’s hurting it. It is a sport and should be treated as such. I would go as far as to suggest that growth for growth’s sake in F1 is not really something they should be looking at when the series generates over $1.1 billion in revenue with a massive take-away by the commercial rights holder for its investors.

F1 is also about TV revenue. With twenty races ran in far-flung corners of the earth, it’s biggest revenue and series impact isn’t really fan access to paddock areas, garages and more. Not that any of this is bad, mind you, but that isn’t the reason F1 is losing viewers. At best you could argue its contributory to some of the reason for waning viewers but not the biggest confluence of issues.

One thing JPM did say is that F1 needs to fix the sound of the cars and I do believe this is a bigger issue for many but not all. The new format just isn’t resonating and as we mentioned on our rantcast, whether this can contributed to a lack of thorough explanation on F1’s part or not is up to you to determine.

My hunch is that the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) program may be one of the few that truly set out to be a show and succeeded in it’s goal with large viewership—although that’s now waning as well. Other sports that have tried to leave the sporting aspect in the penumbra of “the show” have seen a decline. NASCAR amongst them.

To Indycar’s credit, they’ve avoided the artifices and show-spicing concepts that have damaged other sports—although they have their own issues that are hurting their sport. They do give fans more access to the series whether that be paddock access or online content.

JPM isn’t wrong in that there are things to be learned from Indycar but he isn’t right either. F1 is a different beast with dramatically bigger stakes and F1 should look across all motor sport to see what is and isn’t working. They should start, not with Indycar, but the WEC for clues.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • Tom Firth

    Hmm, I see JPM’s point about indycar and fan access, trackside and the WEC also delivers that to fans quite well, from my own personal experience. I think it would be good for F1 to allow abit more access. I don’t see his comment about being European means motorsport is closed off from its people, Touring cars, superbikes, F3, WEC, ELMS. Most series in Britain have open paddocks to access by fans as part of the experience.

    That said I also see your point Todd and as Paul so brilliantly put yesterday, F1 is sold on the concept of exclusivity, and for its own purposes that works, I’m not convinced it technically grows audiences either by allowing people closer, It would maybe make them return more often for having a more unique experience perhaps.

  • I think the word “show” is what scares a lot of people off and rightly so. That being said all racing/sporting events are shows. You should make the racing as compelling as possible without gimmicks, but also try and make any race weekend a transformative experience for any fan that does attend. That’s where the sound of the cars really hurts, before there was no sound like F1, It would be something that you could always remember hearing for the first time.

    Honestly if they just said hey lets do everything possible to pack the stands for every race, even if that means cutting into our profits for a year. You know what would happen? A lot of people would see the full stands and think “I wonder what it’s like to be there”. Then you can worry about the party, the attractions tours of the paddocks and making drivers more available or visible to the fans. Does any of that change the product on the race course? Not one bit, but it improves the show.

    Formula 1 thinks it’s on par with Football or Soccer where having the biggest games is good enough, it’s not. You need the whole package for racing especially in this economy to ask someone to watch a sporting event that they can only physically see a fraction of.

  • IndyCar does do a decent job of taking care of the on-site fans. They have to because they almost outnumber the TV-viewers! Snide jibe aside, IndyCar does put on a good race weekend, but so do many other series. NASCAR gave up its claim to the sport label decades ago, and F1 is flirting with the same stupidity in creating sporting and technical regulations not meant to preserve the integrity of the sport, but to improve “The Show”. (DRS, crazy tyre specs, STANDING EFFING RESTARTS)

    I don’t agree with temporary deep discounts of ticket prices. The problem with that is first time people will come and say, “Wow. This is pretty cool.” and then be sticker-shocked when they see the price double the following year. It’s not a policy that encourages growth. I would support sustainable price reductions. Yes, F1 is an exclusive product, and as such the cost to attend an F1 event will and should be greater than to attend an IndyCar or sportscar race. It should at least be attainable for a large fraction of the fanbase, however.

    Taking care of the on-site fans should be a priority for F1, and there are some lessons that can be learned from IndyCar and various other series. I think JPM is obviously using examples from his own experience (F1, NASCAR, and IndyCar), so I don’t read his statements as stating that IndyCar exceeds F1 or anything like that. He’s just looking around at the environment he’s in currently and comparing that to what his experience in F1 was like. Some things, though, can be more easily done when you’re a smaller operation. Fan access at your local dirt track on a Saturday night is pretty good, too, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that F1 should take some lessons from the dirt modified crowd.

  • PM

    My problem with drivers giving suggestions is that they view their series from such a narrow lense. Jpm probably only sees the fans as people who come watch the races, because that’s what he sees at each race. He fails to take into account that 90% of people watching are watching on TV.

  • charlie w

    This news item was posted on Google+ and it quickly derailed into a Indycar vs F1 debate. Many were unaware of some things F1 have borrowed from Indycars. I have been both Indycar and F1 events in the past year and from a fan’s perspective, Indycar did it better. I had the added benefit getting a pit lane walkabout for the Indy race. It’s about accessibility at the track. The fan fun area was at the track, not downtown miles away from the track(COTA). The mechanical paddock area is accessible to all fans at Indy, not just the ones with special color badges. The drivers were available after every practice for autographs. In F1 at COTA, some teams did autograph sessions after practices. FOTA sponsored a drivers’ Q&A session last year. That won’t happen this year because FOTA folded.

  • MaxCO2

    Indycars are a boring bad joke of spec cars with no character. See gordonkirby.com for a dissertation.
    How many autographs from drivers do you get at F1 events? Indycar events? NASCAR is more fan friendly that either of those even if their rules are stuck in the 20th century..