Monday, 7 July 2014

The British Grand Prix

Hello all! It's been a shockingly long time since I've posted on my blog - university exams, work, there are plenty of reasons - but at long last I've decided to revive the old thing and get back to writing about motorsport. As you're all very aware, I am a huge F1 fan (the blog is testament to this), but this year I have to admit that my interest is waning somewhat. No, it's not because Red Bull aren't winning everything, but I've found that the races are mostly lacklustre this year, aside from the final 10 laps which are pretty good if the two Mercedes cars are near to each other. The British grand prix though was a gem of a race, despite an hour's delay after one lap when Kimi Raikkonen's crash led to a barrier repair. I'm not going to recap the race in detail - those of you reading the blog have probably already seen the race, and there are thousands of blogs that write race recaps - but I wanted to talk about attending F1 races, the state of the sport in general, and why Silverstone completely shocked me today.

I've attended two F1 races - Germany in 2011 and Belgium in 2012. Both were amazing experiences, and in my opinion the tickets were quite reasonably priced. The Nurburgring cost in the region of £85 per ticket, and Spa was 125€ (so around £100). Of course, you have to add on the price of camping, fuel and crossing the channel, but I think on the whole both trips were around £400. Not bad for a whole weekend of entertainment outside of the UK!

So far, both my F1 experiences have been at classic circuits, rather than the modern circuits. I hope that in time I'll visit all of the main circuits - with Monaco, Monza and Silverstone (to name but a few) highest on the list at the moment. Today, Silverstone released their 2015 tickets, and I was surprised to see yet another price rise. Now, a general admission ticket for the weekend will cost you £175. Let that sink in. For me to go and watch my home race with another person, I will have to pay £350. I know Silverstone is a classic track, and the atmosphere is reportedly amazing, but £350 for two tickets seems a little steep (putting it lightly). Let's also remember that to watch a weekend of motorsport, the costs of camping will have to be added on. During my last two GP trips, we stayed at the circuits' official campsites. To do so at Silverstone would cost £158 (two people over the weekend staying in a tent - with no electric hookup either by the way). So, £508 for a weekend in the UK. Is it really worth that much, considering you could go to other races for less? I'm not convinced.

The price hike seems to me to be an indicator of how the sport is progressing. To watch a whole season of F1 now, you have to pay for a Sky Sports subscription. Alright, the coverage is great, but considering everything used to be free, it's not ideal. I wonder how many potential new fans have been put off because of the cost of watching the sport? Bernie Ecclestone has also come under fire recently for refusing to engage in social media and internet coverage. The main argument? It doesn't generate any cash. That's all well and good, but the world has moved on from TV being the sole source of information, and now people follow sports from a number of media outlets. MotoGP manages all of these things very well (although that too has since moved to pay TV), with Facebook and Twitter coverage, plus endless videos on the website and regular email updates. You can't help but think that F1 is really missing a trick here.

As well as the huge price tags and lack of coverage away from TV, F1 and the FIA seem to be losing their touch a little bit. This year saw massive rule changes to try as reduce the dominance of Red Bull, and create closer racing. Instead, Mercedes have had greater dominance than Red Bull ever had (2011 excepted, perhaps), and most of the battles are between team-mates, rather than between all drivers. Granted, now and again you have some exceptional racing between teams (look at Alonso and Vettel this weekend), but it's now and again and not all the time. I don't think that the racing is as good as it has been in previous years, I still don't like the sound (or lack thereof), and the cars look ridiculous.

In order to tackle some of these problems (admittedly, my views aren't universally shared across F1 fans), the FIA recently announced some further rule changes for next year - followed by collective groans across Twitter, as the changes were completely out of touch. Standing starts following a safety car period (although we were deprived of a standing start yesterday when the race was stopped - go figure) was one of the rule changes, and it seems completely and utterly unnecessary.

Many F1 races now feature a lengthy middle stint where drivers are concerned with fuel consumption and tyre wear. The 2014 rules about carrying less fuel were introduced to cut costs and appear more 'green'. I have previously voiced my views about F1 being eco-friendly, and I find it ridiculous that limiting the fuel of 22 cars on the race track for two hours will make any difference in the face of the hundreds of lorries, planes, private helicopters and such used to transport everything to each individual circuit. Something having more impact in my eyes would be to hold races in a logical order - heading from Austria from Germany, for example, and moving Canada before or after the US race, rather than the madness we have presently. Still, F1 is all about image, and as long as it appears to be doing something, that will be enough.  

Overall, F1 is moving more and more towards obsession with money, and away from the love of the sport itself. Consider the recent virtual ads saying 'F1 - the world's fastest brand'. Personally, I think of F1 as a sport, not a brand. Unless F1 moves with the times, I wonder for how long the 'brand' will last.