Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Improving the Show

The other day I read this article on the BBC, in which Ferrari president Luca De Montezemolo claimed that F1 races were "...too long for young people". He claimed that the average of an hour and a half were perhaps too long to provide enough of 'a show' for younger audiences. He also claimed that having races on in the early afternoon were a bad idea, comparing F1 to soccer games which typically air in the evening.

Now, speaking as a relatively young person, I disagree with pretty much everything that De Montezemolo said in that article. The races this year have been fantastic, and the phrase "time flies when you're having fun" is applicable on race weekends. For the past couple of years, F1 has been talking about 'improving the spectacle' to appeal to broader audiences and excite more people. This has led to some interesting developments, such as the introduction of DRS to improve overtaking. I don't think anyone would argue that F1 in recent years has become more exciting - more overtaking in the races, and closer championships (if you follow the sport long-term) have certainly made things more interesting than perhaps in the past, particularly the Schumacher years, when many people wrote off F1 weekends as a foregone conclusion.

So, with all this excitement and spectacle going around, what is Montezemolo talking about? Perhaps he feels that the attention spans of young people can't keep up with F1, and instead we prefer sports that have short bursts of activity and breaks so that we're not having to remain focused for such long periods of time? In this case, we're not being given enough credit by the Ferrari boss. While at Spa, there were plenty of young people around. We watched the entire race, without once having to stop to check Facebook, Twitter or play Angry Birds.

Young people are capable of engaging in something for much longer than an hour and a half, you just have to give us the interest. Of course, if a young person is not interested in F1, then they're not very likely to watch it however long or short the race may be. The same goes for any sport. For example, I have absolutely zero interest in football. Even if the match was only five minutes long, I still wouldn't watch it. However, I'm probably too interested in F1, meaning that I happily watched the epic Canada race from the start of the F1 coverage to its very end.

The excitement within each race weekend that we've seen this year means that people new to the sport don't have to watch a race in its entirety to get an impression of it. Thus, if a young person has a vague interest in F1 and they catch a glimpse of a race, they're probably quite likely to watch future races start to end. I doubt you'd find many people who would claim that they enjoyed watching a race, but wouldn't watch future races because they were too long. So, Mr De Montezemolo, the races are not too long at all, it's just a matter of whether you're interested in the sport itself and what happens during the event and across the season.

As for the time slot of F1, I don't think many people have found this much of an issue. The races are broadcast on a Sunday afternoon, a time when most people are not at work, and can set aside time to relax and recover from the working week. F1 provides an excellent excuse therefore to sit for a few hours and not have to worry about work and life. Indeed, F1 can also have a wonderful impact on family life, bringing everyone together on the sofa to watch a race, perhaps then followed by a traditional Sunday roast. If you switched to broadcast races in the evenings, you might lose this element, particularly if families have very young children who need to be up early for school on a Monday morning. In any case, we still have a large proportion of races which are broadcast in the very early morning - something which is perhaps more problematic than watching a race on a Sunday afternoon. While hardcore fans such as myself are quite happy to get up very early on a Sunday morning, many casual viewers are less likely to do this, and a fair few young people would much rather sleep. So, Sunday afternoons are perhaps less of an issue than Montezemolo is making out.

Overall, I think Luca De Montezemolo is giving young people too little credit. If we're really into a sport, it doesn't matter whether it's on for five minutes or five hours - our attention will be held just fine. The 'show' as he puts it is more exciting than ever, and arguably we don't really need to make it more of a spectacle. F1 in general needs to get over what seems like a lack of confidence in its ability to entertain. If you ask the fans, I think most of us would agree that we're perfectly happy with the hour and a half of races on a Sunday afternoon. You wonder though what will happen if this obsession with 'improving the show' continues - will we see drivers in fancy dress? Will we see fireworks and dancers to rival the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies? Will the whole thing just descend into a high-budget version of Wacky Races? While I might be exaggerating somewhat, I honestly think that the F1 officials need to stop worrying about the spectacle. We fans are perfectly happy with what we're getting - let's stick to 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it', rather than 'If it ain't broke, fix it 'till it is'.