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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hockenheim only half full - is F1 in freefall?

I was chatting to a friend yesterday who was with me at the British GP two weeks ago and he commented that, when he was watching the German GP the helicopter shots showed the stands and GA areas were half empty, noticing that the GA spots were only 5 deep at best.  In Silverstone the stands and GA's were packed.

Instead of congratulating him on his perceptive eagle eye, I put it down to the format of the British GP, how it caters for the great British motor racing tradition, their appreciation of their automotive history, and their ability to enjoy a family holiday at all locations and in all weathers, even down to that singular British past-time; having a Barbecue in the Rain.

Then, while poring over the F1 websites today to see if there were any tasty morsels that I could rant about, Joe Saward's article about the F1 business model caught my eye, a story written yesterday but ignored by me then as it referenced Hockenheim, while I was busy catching up on the pre-German GP stories that had happened in my holiday absence.

It's an interesting article which talks about the costs of F1 on the fan and the circuits, looks at the NASCAR business model, and in a follow up article today discusses other revenue streams and using animation to indoctrinate pre-school kids into a love of the sport.  I only use the word indoctrinate because that's what Joe is, in effect, proposing:

if you want a new generation who are interested in racing cars, you have to get them young, in the pre-school period when their characters and future interests are still being formed. It is a good idea to let accompanied kid go to races for free because they will learn to appreciate what they are seeing

And do not underestimate the need for Formula 1 to target Mums

The McDonald's/Coke business model - get them young and get their Mum.

Seriously though, the sport is going through a period of profound change, particularly as it relates to providing for the survival of its fanbase.  Tickets are too high and fundamentally this is down to the cost to the circuits from the Formula One Group for the privilege of staging a GP.

This particularly affects a circuit like Silverstone which has no Government backing, but as I've highlighted on any number of occasions the economic bite is being felt at many of the historic circuits in Europe.

Hence the fans are being priced out of the market, gate receipts fall, and prices rise again in an attempt to cover some portion of the loss from ticket sales.  More grandstands go up at GA locations to create more premium price seating and the core GA fanatic is squeezed towards areas with less action and less coverage of the rest of the track.  This then pushes them into buying personal Fanvision sets at exorbitant prices and their overall experience is reduced to watching the race on TV while getting a glimpse of cars entering or exiting corners in the distance.  These guys are less likely to attend due to these increased restrictions and the result is half empty circuits on race day.

Further, pointless, restrictions apply at the circuits on the Saturday.  A case in point being yours truly at Silverstone with my GA ticket.  On the Saturday all of the uncovered stands were nearly empty and Silverstone had told people not to come to the circuit, fearing a repeat of the Friday traffic fiasco; but still the powers that be would not let any GA ticket holders into the empty stands.  From a single person (me) to a family of 5, the response was that the supervisors would not allow stand entry, even where these stands had only a handful of people in them.

Such a restriction is pointless in the particular circumstances which had arisen on the day. The easing of this restriction would have cost the circuit nothing and would have provided TV footage of full stands around the circuit which is, on a torrential day like the Saturday, publicity the circuit can't buy.

I'm with Joe. Enhance the fans experience, get them young, give families priority and get the circuits full with reasonably priced tickets.

The F1 group might have to take a hit on their enormous profits for two or three years until they work out a better business model but the business of live sport would thrive.

Sky taking over the F1 TV show is also not helping the future of the Sport in Britain and I presume that this will hold true wherever Free-to-Air becomes Pay-per-View.

A look at the TV Viewing figures shows a marked decline in numbers watching the races live (myself included) by conventional TV means.  Except where BBC show the race live I am finding alternative methods of viewing the race.  Numbers are well down but the viewing public are not an issue for Cable/Satellite TV who are paid both by advertisers and by subscribers.  Therefore they do not need the same audience numbers as the Free-to-Air in order to justify their costs.

Over the course of the first 10 races Sky viewing numbers have averaged out at just over 21% of last years BBC average TV audience with the 2011 BBC figures averaging at 5.012 million viewers per live race and Sky averaging at 1.068 Million per race in 2012.

If this is going to form part of a long-term strategy which will see Satellite and Cable taking over all broadcast rights to races can we assume that the fanbase will fall correspondingly?  If you can't afford to look at it on TV would you be bothered going to a Race? Will you buy the branded clothes? Will Sponsors be willing to pay current prices for on-car/at-circuit branding?

Rant over I think the point has been made.  The worst of it is that I'm preaching to the converted on this one.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

F1 News Round-up

While I'm stressing out at what has been happening at work while I've been gone for the last two weeks, struggling to come to grips with being back in front of a computer, and generally trying to bring the family home back into some semblance of normality by gardening, washing, cleaning, etc. I've also had to work out what's been happening in the F1 world while I've been out of commission.

Before getting into the more interesting, and worrying, news that has happened, as well as the exciting GP at Hockenheim (which I just about saw - missing quali), and updating my World and Driver's championships (- Bahrain) I've a suggestion for any entrepreneur who'd like to sell something at a GP.  My phone died on Day 2 (Saturday) of Silverstone and I would have paid anything (well not quite anything) for one of those portable charges.  Any chance someone out there would fill a few up and bring them along to every GP for sale to all the 3 day punters? you'd never know but Vodaphone/O2/Orange/3 might be willing to logo them for a bit of advertising. Just an idea.

News Round-up

MARUSSIA/de Villota

I see that Marussia's exhaustive tests have concluded that the de Villota accident was not due to any fault in the car and also that Maria has returned to Spain after leaving hospital in the UK.

While I'm delighted to hear that Maria is recovering well I think that now is the time to question the wisdom of taking on test drivers for PR purposes over and above their ability to drive the car.  Regardless of the fact that de Villota was a racing driver she had zero experience in an F1 car and did not hold the requisite superlicence.  I have refrained from commenting on this matter up until the results came in from Marussia on the car, but I think the time is right to require test drivers to obtain their superlicence before stepping into the car to go testing.

I know it may limit the ability of a team to take on a new driver but it will ensure that each test driver is proficient enough to be able to step into the car on a race weekend should they be required.

I'm all for female F1 drivers but I'm afraid that they need to show, as with wannabe male F1 drivers, that they are capable of holding a superlicence and handling an F1 car.  I'm still hopeful that my daughter (who has shown no interest in motor racing) will one day be the first female F1 World Driver's Champion.

I made the same point about Ma Qing Hua when HRT took him on - based on his results to date there's little chance of him getting a race seat, unless of course HRT suddenly get a Chinese sponsor.  Does he have a superlicence? What about Toto's wife?  As my mother used to say everything's rosy until someone gets hurt; it's sad but true.


I see the track is going down the tubes and is about to enter insolvency.  While the reasons behind this would appear to relate to negligence on a massively costly scale, the fragility of the circuit due to it's reliance on local government funding was highlighted in a post of mine last April.

It would be a very sad day for motorsport were this historic and difficult track to close its doors.  while the current F1 track is adequate there is no question but that the historic track paints a living and true representation of former F1 eras. Its significance to F1 cannot be overstated.

More tomorrow, including the German GP Review

Monday, July 23, 2012

Silverstone Reflections: a Life in Puddles

Having emerged from the Silverstone Ooze like a wet, slow moving version of Flint Marko I only just about remembered that there was a race at Hockenheim yesterday.

Traumatised, elated, soaked and sunburned I'm still getting my head around the wonderful Silverstone experience.

I've said before that I'd been there for testing in the past but the GP experience is like nowhere else on the calendar that I've been.  For one thing all of the guys noticed that there were a large number of females and also a large number of families at the circuit.

My F1 GP live experience is limited but I have to say that all of the fans I met were knowledgeable of the sport and eager for the action, regardless of the torrential weather that we had during Qualifying.  They all came dressed for whatever weather happened and faced it cheerfully.  One couple I met had brought their 3 month old who slept through the engines and the rain in blissful ignorance at the activity around him.

We queued for 7 hours on Friday to get in.  Someone had opened the exit lanes to inward traffic and everything snarled up, nobody was going anywhere.  Caught up in the mess were Mercedes team members, stage lighting crews and their equipment, ordinary punters like us, BRDC members, and nobody was in control.  The staff hired for the weekend had walkie talkies that didn't work, their supervisor had decided that he had somewhere else to be (no doubt under the nearest rock), and the Police were powerless to effect any control over private lands in the absence of a formal request.

On Friday, except for one small observation, we might have been in Italy such was the lack of any coordination on the part of the circuit.  The thing that differentiated Silverstone from Italy was the good grace that those queueing showed: Patience was the most evident of the seven virtues while Charity, Temperance and Kindness were also on show.

So we cheerfully waited...and waited...and waited...until word came down from the uninformed that the car parks were closed as was our campsite.  The word was that we should go home and return tomorrow even though Twitter was saying not to come on Saturday either.

The best example of exactly how uncoordinated the circuit was came courtesy of Silverstone Radio who cheerfully broadcast all day without referring to we stranded many sitting on the doorstep waiting to come in.  It broadcast no traffic updates and no information as to when people might expect to access the circuit.

The real fun began when Free Practice was over and all those inside decided it was time to go home...

Eventually, after discussing things with a helpful motorcycle cop, we turned around and headed away from the circuit.  We decided to find an "alternative" entrance and so travelled down narrow B roads to come at the circuit from the Dadford side.  Traffic was streaming away from the circuit along this road as all other roads in were blocked by incoming traffic and we came upon an entrance to our campsite.

Security there told us that the campsite was closed and we were to head for a different campsite about a mile further away from the circuit, we nodded cheerful, told them we'd find somewhere to turn around and ventured closer to the circuit.

On reaching the main entrance to our campsite we parked up indiscriminately and walked to the office where we were greeted with the first, official, friendly smiles of the day, issued our passes, and told to find a pitch; so much for the campsite being closed!

We got back into the car and parked easily in a car park (which wasn't closed) one minute's walk from the pitch, unpacked the gear, set up camp, and walked into the circuit at 7pm.

The long day had seen people abandoning their cars and camping at random, in some cases on the roundabout at the entrance to the circuit.

Friday night we went out socialising in the campsite entertainment venues and met many others who had similar experiences.

Friday was a total mess.

But it was all forgotten on Saturday on hearing the first engine note, on entering the circuit with the expectation that comes on an F1 weekend.  The weather was horrible, the rain torrential during Qualifying, but none of this dampened our spirits.  The red flag in Qualifying gave me a great chance to walk the track and visit Becketts, Copse, Luffield, Brooklands and Club.

It's amazing how turned around you can get when small changes are made at the circuit.  My internal circuit compass kept pointing me towards the old Main Grandstand Area after the Complex but these days its the new improved International Pits Straight after Club.

Soaked through I completed my lap just as Qualifying resumed.  The rain stopped, the sun came out, and everyone shrugged off the wet gear and spread it out (in confined spaces) to dry as we watched the drivers eke out a desperate dry line during Q3.

My wet gear membrane had given up somewhere on my trackwalk having been subjected to downpours worthy of Noah's age so, having divested myself of it, and hung it on my backpack to dry I watched, wet, warm, mucky and steaming as the positions were finalised.

I recalled Peter Maynard's (@grandprixphotographs) advice in respect of either being a photographer or a spectator.  Sorry Peter, I'm afraid I had to soak up this one as a pure spectator.   Though I have to admit to taking some photos these were simply for fun and, let's face it, very amateurish.

We enjoyed the GP2 and GP3 at the complex and the Historic F1 at Club before heading back to the sodden campsite for the evening.  Another night out in the entertainment area, bed at 4.30am having met up with friendly faces, and Sunday, with all of its promise, was on the horizon.

We struck camp on Sunday and headed into the circuit.  We had missed the morning due to the lateness of the night before and the need to pack up.  The morning before we had been woken be the insistent noise of a digger's reverse hazard noise as it scraped the wet muck from the road beside our tent to provide some type of traction to traffic, on Sunday he wasn't doing his job.

It was too late for most campers, we were the mud people, our clothes so dirty that they would need to be disposed of after the weekend.  Our tents reeked of damp, our camp was waterlogged, but our spirits high; we were like the peanuts character Pig Pen, attracting dirt from the moment we set up camp on Friday to the moment the sun broke through on Sunday.

And what a Sunday! What a race! Apart from getting sunburned we experienced one of the great battles Alonso V Webbo.  Now I have to say that I was in the Webber camp urging him on and cheering till my voice gave out when he made that wonderful pass to take the lead.  We sprinted out to the podium, just too late for the celebrations but not too late to take pictures of the crowd, the track, the obligatory pole position shot, the Marbles photo, the photo of random officials behind the pitwall wire.  We had a great weekend which culminated with the red button forum and afterwards, a sneaky visit to the pits as the teams packed up.

There we sneaked shots of the Mercedes, the Ferrari, Williams, and Caterham before security decided we should be ejected.  Sadly the McLaren and the Red Bull teams hid their garages from our prying eyes but we departed cheerfully, feeling that we had experienced all that was possible (bar of course sneaking into the paddock on Saturday) on a GA ticket.

On another worthwhile note I'd have to say that, unlike other circuits, the prices for food/drink/coffee etc. were not extortionate which is all the more impressive when you consider that it is a private GP and receives no Government Subsidy.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sad outcome to Maria de Villota Marussia crash

The following is the pertinent part of the Marussia Team statement updating us on Maria's condition:

John Booth, Team Principal of the Marussia F1 Team, with the consent and support of Maria’s family, would like to give the following update, which provides as much detail as is possible at this time:
“Maria emerged from theatre at Addenbrooke’s Hospital this morning after a lengthy operation to address the serious head and facial injuries she received in the accident at Duxford Airfield yesterday.
“We are grateful for the medical attention that Maria has been receiving and her family would like to thank the Neurological and Plastics surgical teams. However it is with great sadness that I must report that, due to the injuries she sustained, Maria has lost her right eye.
“Maria’s care and the wellbeing of her family remain our priority at this time. Her family are at the hospital and we are doing everything possible to support them.
“We ask for everyone’s patience and understanding with regard to updates on Maria’s condition. We will provide further information when it is appropriate to do so and with consideration for her family.
“In the meantime, we would all like to take this opportunity to praise the emergency services at Duxford Airfield, who were on stand-by yesterday, as is usual procedure for a Formula One test.

We wish her a speedy recover, our thoughts are with her and her family at this time.

Go Heikki! Go Vitaly! Caterham bring host of upgrades to Silverstone

As I said just after Free Practice 2 in Valencia, I'm adopting the Caterham cause for the rest of the season on the basis that they alone, of the three teams at the back, are working hard to pull themselves into contention for points.  These guys have come from nowhere at the start of the season to a place where they appear to be genuinely fighting with Toro Rosso for position.

In Free Practice in Valencia they outpaced the Italian Bulls and in Qualifying that trend was repeated with Heikki beating them into Q2.

In the race itself Both Caterhams had ToroRosso incidents, Heikki's perhaps the most unfortunate, even though he had serious issues with his KERS throughout the race.

Here in Silverstone they are bringing even more upgrades, having upgraded the floor fro Valencia they are now bringing "new rear bodywork, a revised exhaust layout and a number of smaller updates in other bodywork areas around the car" according to their Tech Director, Mark Smith.

Vitaly Petrov feels they have a clear ambition

As we'll be bringing more new parts to the British Grand Prix I think it's another race where we'll be able to take a step forwards. I'm sure everyone else will be bringing upgrades so we need to make sure that we don't just make gains, but we improve more than our nearest rivals. That's a big challenge but after seeing the gap to Toro Rosso shrink in Valencia we have a clear target just ahead and that gave the whole team a real boost.

and Heikki sound revitalised after the European GP weekend

At the last race in Valencia we clearly made improvements, enough to help me put the car into Q2 on merit and we have more upgrades coming for Silverstone. For this race it's important that we carry our qualifying speed and good reliability through into Sunday as issues like the KERS problem I had in Valencia impact all the hard work the team is doing at the factory and in the wind tunnel to get us where we want to be. If we can do that I think we can have another very good weekend and I'm really looking forward to giving our home fans something to cheer for.

I'm hoping they'll show strongly throughout the Weekend and look forward to an improved final position in the race.  Go guys, take it to the midfield pack!

Mercedes 2012 British GP Stat Sheet

I love it.  Mercedes AMG tweet this every race and it just provides all the info about the track that we need to know.

Changes to Formula 1 Race Penalty system

Autosport have a story that the FIA have been reviewing the current race penalty system and are discussing ways of changing it in order that the punishment might be seen to fit the crime, as it were.

How to make changes to the current system was discussed at a recent meeting of the Stewards Council on the basis that a drive through penalty might be too harsh a punishment for some incidents while others might merit a harsher penalty.

They're wondering now how alternatives might be implemented and, obviously, what those alternatives may consist of.

If you remember the old penalty system consisted of a 10 second "pit and box" penalty where the mechanics were not allowed to do any work on the car, which was even more harsh than the current drive through penalty.

I'm going to suggest something relatively simple, which will provide a range of lesser timing penalties while retaining the drive through punishment and reintroducing the "pit and box" penalty for the more serious infringements.

The lesser timing penalties can be delivered during the pitstop windows.  A driver makes his pitstop as normal (circa 3 secs) and then is held in the box with no work being undertaken for the set period of the penalty (5, 10 or 15 secs) before being released.  This was the entirety of the penalty is served in the box and no extra loss of time is incurred by entering and leaving the pits.

If the infringement takes place after the last pitstop, a double penalty is incurred in the first pitstop of the next race. The drivers will then know that if they do anything silly towards the end of the race they will seriously compromise their chances at the next track.

The drive through is then the mid range penalty with the "pit and box" penalty being the ultimate on-track punishment.  The box part can then be for 5 or 10 seconds and upwards, depending on the severity of the infringement.

It all sounds pretty simple

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Final update on Maria de Villota's Marussia testing crash

The Marussia team has confirmed that Maria is conscious while ESPN tweeted earlier that some of the Spanish press had said that she was awake and talking with her family.

The Marussia statement says:

Further to the accident involving the Marussia F1 Team's Test Driver Maria De Villota this morning, the team can confirm that Maria was transferred by ambulance from Duxford Airfield, where the accident happened, to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.
"Since Maria's arrival at the hospital at approximately 10.45hrs this morning, she has been receiving the best medical attention possible at the hospital, which is the region's major trauma centre. Maria is conscious and medical assessments are ongoing. The team will await the outcome of these assessments before providing further comment.
"The team's first priority at this time is Maria and her family.

We wish her the best and a speedy recovery

Maria de Villota Tweets of shock and support

Information on the Autosport website says that Maria is in a stable condition having suffered injuries to her head and face
I just got home and found out Maria's accident, we called the family and hopefully we will know more soon ! All my energy with you!
Acabo de llegar a casa y enterarme del accidente de Maria, hemos llamado a la familia y esperemos saber algo más en breve. Ánimo campeona!

de Villota Crash Update - Our thoughts are with her, her family, and the Marussia team

After this mornings shocking news that Maria de Villota Marussia Formula 1 test driver had crashed into a stationary lorry at Duxford Imperial War Museum little information as to the extent of her injuries has been confirmed.

What is known has been gleaned from the media eye-witnesses on site, BBC Cambridge's Chris Mann & Sky Sports F1 assistant producer, Helen Brown.

Chris Mann said in his report that de Villota had completed one installation run, as part of its two day straight line test of new parts for Silverstone this weekend, and was returning to the "pit" area when it "suddenly accelerated" into the back of the lorry.  He said that from where he was standing it looked as if the helmet had taken the brunt of the impact.

Helen Brown said to Sky Sports News that the were asked to leave the site 20 minutes after the accident had happened and de Villota was still in the car.

The BBC news website has reported quotes from both Cambridgeshire Police and the emergency services:

A Cambridgeshire police spokesman said: "We were notified by the ambulance service of a slow-speed crash involving a racing car and a lorry.
"It looks like the driver has suffered a serious injury and we will be notifying the Health and Safety Executive as it happened on private land."
East of England Ambulance Service spokesman Gary Sanderson said: "A woman has sustained life-threatening injuries and following treatment at the scene by paramedics, she has been taken to Addenbrooke's Hospital for further care."

This was de Villota's first F1 drive in the Marussia MR-01.  All of the major F1 sites are covering the story, however no new information has yet been issued.

Our thoughts are with her, her family, and the Marussia team.

Marussia issue statement on de Villota Crash

Marussia's statement reads:

At approximately 09.15hrs BST this morning, the Marussia F1 Team's test driver Maria De Villota had an accident in the team's MR-01 race car at Duxford Airfield where she was testing the car for the first time," said a team statement. "The accident happened at the end of her first installation run and involved an impact with the team's support truck.
"Maria has been transferred to hospital. Once her medical condition has been assessed a further statement will be issued.

Reporting on de Villota accident

Both BBC and Sky News are reporting that Maria de Villota, the Marussia F1 test driver, was unable to extract herself from the car after her accident at a test in Duxford at the Imperial War Museum and had to be attended by emergency services.  The BBC's Chris Mann reported that they had sent for an Air Ambulance.

Both reports stated that she had just competed an installation circuit/lap when it happened.

Timo Glock tweeted a picture of her in the car this morning:

Maria Villota in Marussia F1 Crash

BBC news is reporting that a female test driver (presumably Villota) has been injured when a Marussia Formula 1 car crashed into a stationary lorry at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford.

BBC Cambridgeshire presenter Chris Mann said the car had completed a circuit when it "suddenly accelerated" into the back of the lorry which is believed to have been used to transport the car to the track.

Marussia had begun two days of F1 testing at the site.  Emergency services were called to the scene.  No news is available as to the extent of her injuries.

My thoughts are with her and the team. I hope she's alright.

Monday, July 2, 2012

UPDATE - F1 TV viewing stats for Valencia, European GP

European GP viewing figures:

Sky Sports averaged 0.5million between 11.30-16.15
BBC averaged 3.8million between 12.10-15.15 with a peak of 5.0million (as widely reported)

Last year the Beeb averaged 3.9million and peaked at 5.0million.

So only minor change in BBC figures over the course of the year.