Translate this Blog

Monday, March 23, 2015

Magny Cours, Hockenheim, Nurburgring, Monza...Is this the end of F1 Europe?

It is with despair that I read that Germany will not be hosting a GP this year. The Nurburgring, one of the most iconic of all GP tracks was unable to sort itself out of the financial mire and Hockenheim, which stepped in to try and recover the deal could not sell enough tickets to make the event profitable, even with some financial support from Mercedes, the current holder of both the Constructor's and Driver's titles.

I've harped on about this before, many, many times and, though I haven't blogged for nearly a year I had to come on and make my call for action.

  • France is gone, with no hope of a return...
  • Spa Francochamps, another of the iconic tracks, is struggling every year to make the GP happen...
  • Nurburgring is gone and is unlikely ever to be in a financial position to host a GP...
  • Hockenheim cannot afford to host a race every year...
  • And now I'm hearing that Monza will not be on the calendar once its contract is up in 2016.

And where is F1 going to replace these lost races?

New Jersey!
Abu Dhabi!

There are two factors at play here. One is Bernie stealing every last dollar for his investor's and the second is the fact that the European Governments are not allowed to fund the racetracks in their own countries to hold the event while those countries not part of the EU have no such restrictions.

There are a long list of dodgy states willing to fund F1 as a flagship, international event.

But even if we forget the suspect politics of the new boys (which is what Bernie likes to do) like Bahrain, Azerbaijan, China, and Abu Dhabi, and the opportunism of other states like Russia (who, lets face it need all the goodwill they can get and the moment), Singapore and Malaysia, do we not have a need to respect and protect the history of the sport and the historic racetracks located within the sport's heartland?

Mercedes in Germany
Ferrari in Italy
Renault in France
Honda in Japan

And these are just the current engine suppliers.

The teams are all located in Europe, in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Britain.

What Historic tracks are left on the 2015 calendar?

The Circuit de Catalunya, Spa-Francochamps, Silverstone, Monaco, Suzuka, Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, Hungaroring, and Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

That's eight tracks out of 19 races! And only 5 of them in Europe!

F1's main fanbase is European and this is why we have night-time racing in Singapore and Evening races in Abu Dhabi, so I find it incredible that the sport I love panders to its European fans by making GP's outside of Europe pander to Europe's TV times while at the same time cutting the number European GP's! It is a crazy concept - Short-term profiteering at the expense of the history of the sport and threatening it's fanbase through neglect.

This total lack of care for the traditional F1 fan is nowhere more apparent than the move from free-to-air to subscription TV.  Not only are we losing our historic (and exciting) tracks but we are also being cut out of the loop when it comes to watching the sport we love on television.

Subscription TV doesn't need the millions of free-to-air fans to sell advertising.  It doesn't care, in the same way as Bernie and his owners have forgotten us with the move to "new markets".  They all expect us to be here when the shit hits the fan and F1 begins to struggle.

We are seeing the start of it over the past 3 years with smaller teams unable to raise the finance to be competitive.  This is not simply a result of the rising cost of F1 it is also because traditional advertising has abandoned the sport due to the fact that business sees that the numbers of viewers will decrease dramatically once Europeans can only access the sport via subscription television.

There are no longer title sponsors willing to pay upwards of €10 million to splash their name across a car. Even McLaren, a stalwart, can't find a title sponsor this year.  That makes a serious statement about the state of the sport. A statement that the Sport itself seems to be failing to hear, or perhaps they simply cannot understand it.

So, to survive, the likes of Sauber take on two drivers who pay €40 million to drive in F1, Manor (Marussia) come back on a wing and a prayer, Caterham are gone, Lotus are struggling, no-one knows how Force India are managing to fund themselves given the state of VJ's finances, Williams posted a loss last year, and aid their funding through non-F1 pursuits, McLaren are focusing on their non-F1 work, Red Bull are funded by their owner as a vanity project (a bloody good vanity project mind you), Toro Rosso the same...

Who actually makes money out of F1? And how do they make it?

They make money because we, the fans, take all the shit and keep coming back for more.

  • We let them cut our races, we let them take our GP's to the Middle-east and to Asia; to places where most of us cannot afford to go to watch our  favourite sport;
  • We let them shift away from free-to-air towards subscription television;
  • We let them build boring, sanitised circuits where nobody is penalised for making a mistake;
  • We let them mess with the format of qualifying away from the one hour 12 lap system that, these days, actually seems more competitive;
  • We let them get rid of in-race refuelling;
  • We let them mess around with our tyres to try to introduce "strategic" overtaking; AND
  • We let them stick fiddly bits on the car and in the engine to "aid" overtaking- to improve the spectacle! 

We let them do all this because they want to make the sport more attractive to non-F1 fans - In other words they want to attract people who are not already F1 fans - new people who can afford to fly to Singapore for a race, who don't care that it is being held in Azerbaijan, where they will never go: they want to attract people who will pay for the subscription but who will only watch 3 races a season!

That way they won't have to care about the rest of us until, day...the stalwart teams; Ferrari, Williams, Sauber and McLaren, all realise that their success in the sport was built on the fans who followed them from European track to track; the fans who didn't travel to a European race for four years so they could make a pilgrimage to Japan or Brazil to watch the season climax; The fans who never missed a race on television and bought the team gear because they loved the team.

When they wake up to the new reality it is with sadness that I predict that three-quarters of their traditional European fanbase will have abandoned them simply because our sport is doing us a disservice by retreating from us to some lofty height where the people who made you what you are are no longer deemed "necessary".

Come back, F1, before it's too late...