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Allan McNish calls on Formula 1 to remember its roots to attract new fans

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Allan McNish calls on Formula 1 to remember its roots to attract new fans
Apr 19, 2016, 12:36 PM

Former Toyota driver and sportscar legend Allan McNish believes Formula 1 needs to remember its roots if it is to attract and keep fans interested ...

Former Toyota driver and sportscar legend Allan McNish believes Formula 1 needs to remember its roots if it is to attract and keep fans interested in the sport.

F1 has attracted a significant amount of criticism in recent years over its costs, politics, quality of racing and falling TV audience figures.

By contrast, sportscar racing in the World Endurance Championship is enjoying a surge in popularity and a number of high-profile car manufacturers are currently competing in the series such as Audi, Porsche and Toyota in LMP1 and Ford, Ferrari and Aston Martin in the GTE class.

Audi WEC

As a result of this and F1’s recent problems, comparisons have regularly been drawn between the two series.

McNish, who raced for the Toyota F1 team in 2002 and won the Le Mans 24 Hours race three times in his sportscar career, reckons that while neither series is perfect, he feels F1 has lost the passion and support it once enjoyed by making its paddock too restricted.

Speaking exclusively to JAonF1 at the Silverstone 6 Hours last weekend, McNish said: “I think Formula 1 can learn from other series and I think other series can learn from Formula 1.

Allan McNish

“I don’t think any championship is perfect, [but] I do think one thing that Formula 1 has done is make itself extremely exclusive for the VIPs, in fact the V-VIPs.

“That, I personally think, has taken a little bit of passion out of the pitlane. There are some pitlanes we go to where they are so big and so wide [and] there’s so few people there that you don’t get that spirit and sensation that you used too. At the same time, I can understand why it’s gone that way, being a business.”

WEC has a reputation of being far more accessible for ordinary fans than F1 because its paddock can be easily reached and McNish explained how this approach is a big hit with the endurance championship’s fans.

WEC Le Mans fans

He said: “If you walked around and asked every single [WEC] fan whether it be the actual fans that are working with the teams or the fans that are paying the money and coming through the doors that are customers – if we want to take it as a business – they like the fact that it’s an open paddock.”

McNish, who scored a best F1 result of seventh at the 2002 Malaysian Grand Prix, recalled how he developed a passion for motorsport by going behind the scenes at race events and he called on Bernie Ecclestone and F1’s other stakeholders to allow fans greater access to F1 to try and attract a new generation of supporters to the sport.

Allan McNish Toyota 2002

He said: “[WEC Fans] like the fact they can get close to it and feel it, see it, touch it and smell it. That was what got me started in racing, being up close and personal with it.

“That also got Bernie Ecclestone started in racing and it got pretty much everybody else in the sport started in it, going and having an experience of it first-hand. We’ve got to make sure that we actually give those experiences to the next generation.”

F1 drivers attracted by “mega” WEC cars and relaxed atmosphere

The Silverstone 6 Hours was eventually won the by the #2 Porsche driven by Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb and Neel Jani – although only after the #7 Audi, which had crossed the finish line first, was excluded for a technical infringement hours after the race.

WEC Silverstone 6 Hours

A number of current F1 drivers – including Fernando Alonso and more recently Romain Grosjean – have expressed an interest in joining the WEC after their Grand Prix careers have finished.

Nico Hulkenberg famously won Le Mans last season during his two-race stint with Porsche and former Red Bull driver and nine-time F1 winner, Mark Webber, won the 2015 WEC title for the German marque.

McNish, who is an Audi ambassador, reckons that F1’s stars are attracted by the high-speed, flat out nature of sportscar racing, as opposed to the current confines of F1’s delicate tyres, and the more relaxed nature of the series compared to the high-pressure environment of F1.

Nico Hulkenberg WEC

He said: “I think what appeals to them is the fact that the cars are mega to drive [with] huge horsepower and huge grip. The potential of them is massive, the racing is hard and fast and flat out.

“It has [also] got a much more relaxed atmosphere than a Formula 1 pitlane and they can get back to enjoying the totality of the racing that sometimes we do forget through our careers.”

WEC Silverstone 6 Hours

What do you make of Allan McNish’s comments? Do you think F1 needs to remember its roots to attract more fans? Did you watch the Silverstone 6 Hours and think F1 could learn from WEC? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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Series Formula 1 , WEC
Drivers Nico Hulkenberg Shop Now