Christmas has recently passed, and many of us engaged in the ritual of unwrapping gifts protected in packaging that, in certain circumstances, is more attractive than its content. Can this image be applied to the current state of Formula 1? Is the Circus truly an ornate box with little inside? Some think so, and we are gradually reaching that conclusion.
2023 has been a year of records. In 1988, the McLaren Mp4/4, driven by two absolute champions like Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, won 15 out of 16 races and surrounded them with 15 pole positions and 10 fastest laps in the race. A result that was thought impossible to replicate and that even the Mercedes team with 15 titles in 8 seasons couldn’t achieve, although it came close in 2016 when it left only two victories to Red Bull: one for Max Verstappen, the other for Daniel Ricciardo.
The Red Bull team has swept away those records in a championship where it only missed the Singapore Grand Prix. Looking at the last two years, the ones with the new generation of F1 cars, the Milton Keynes team has won 37 out of 41 races. Max Verstappen alone won 33 of them. These indicators highlight the failure of Liberty Media and the FIA, who worked, not always with common intent, to create a balanced and unpredictable category.
Despite the dominance that induces compulsive yawning and even though the pillars of the revolution (budget cap, Aerodynamic Test Regulation, and ground-effect cars) have not had an impact, actually favoring the maintenance of the advantage of the sole emerging entity, Formula 1 still gains global approval. There has been an increase in average viewership recorded in recent years, which now, it must be emphasized, has begun to experience some setbacks.
F1: Marketing wins over technical-sporting aspects
If the system created to level the playing field has failed, and if there is only one driver dictating the rules, what attracts so many fans, the content of the package or how it is wrapped and presented to the public? According to Alexander Wurz, president of the Grand Prix Driver Association, it’s all a matter of marketing: “The great popularity of F1 is due to marketing, not changes to sporting regulations,” the Austrian exclaimed to Motorsport Magazin.
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“During Covid, people had to stay at home, and we reached them with Netflix and social media. Liberty Media must be careful not to put too much pressure on the system. The number of spectators is declining for all sports, although F1 is experiencing a smaller decline compared to others,” Alexander Wurz emphasized, confirming that after the great rise, the declining phase of the cycle has begun.
The conclusions of the former Benetton driver are a summary of clarity that should be analyzed in Englewood, the headquarters of Liberty Media Corporation: “Success was not given by the sport or sporting regulations, but by how we attracted new fans. We all agree that it’s fantastic to see three drivers fighting for a Grand Prix a few laps from the end, but we must not forcibly emphasize the Hollywood aspect of the races. We must present our sport in an authentic and appropriate way.” Boom!
Alexander Wurz’s concerns are valid; it is not alarmism for its own sake. The system, as currently configured, cannot hold for long if it is not filled with technical content. The great attraction represented by all-glitter and blinding lights venues like Las Vegas has a short-term effect but risks not creating structural loyalty from the F1 “customer,” as the fan is imagined today by those who hold the Circus’s stock package.
The progressive traditional emptying that increasingly distances historical tracks in favor of semi-permanent circuits replicated to boredom risks generating the opposite effect of what is desired: disillusionment and a generalized decline in interest. For this reason, Formula One is preparing for another technical revolution that must avoid the now evident mistakes made two years ago.
Source: Diego Catalano for FUnoanalisitecnica