James Allen on F1

Opinion: Why F1’s excellence needs to translate to TV

Top F1 broadcaster and journalist James Allen says a trip to the theatre in London this week highlighted a problem that is facing F1 in the Liberty-owned era.

I went to the theatre this week to see Hamilton, the musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, which is now running in London.

Many have written more eloquently than I ever could about how extraordinary this show is, but what struck me most about it was how everything was of the highest quality. The writing, the music, the staging, the rapping, the choreography – it was perfect.

Hamilton sets new standards for what is possible in musical theatre and the response from the public is clear; good luck getting a ticket for this side of June 2019. 

What might seem to some a tired old format, people singing and dancing on a stage, has been reinvented, proving that nothing becomes obsolete if it is brilliant. It makes one wonder about what Formula 1 is trying to do in presenting itself as a show, as an entertainment as well as a sport. 

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W08, and Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1 W08, on the first lap of the race

Photo by: Zak Mauger / LAT Images

You see, when I am asked to sum up what I think the USP of Formula 1 is I would say “excellence”. What I see up close every two weeks at race tracks around the world is excellence; the engineering, the driving standards, the pitstops, the logistics, the attention to detail, the safety standards. 

Pretty much everyone there is striving for excellence – certainly among the competitors – and that sets a culture for everyone else in the sport, it raises the bar of everyone who comes into contact with it; suppliers, organisers, sponsors, TV companies, you name it.

The culture is of relentless self-improvement, that’s what a lot of companies see when they consider sponsoring F1 or one of its teams and they often trade on those values in their marketing and activation around the sport.

However, that doesn’t always come across on TV. 

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H, into the first corner at the start of the race
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / LAT Images

And, more broadly, you don’t need me to tell you that in recent years, the show that F1 has put on has disappointed, for various reasons. 

Some very poor decisions have been made, like the farcical qualifying format we suffered at the start of 2016 and this stream of wrong moves has diminished the impression of excellence in the eyes of many fans.

When people switch on the TV they want to see the best drivers in the world driving the fastest cars, ideally in stunning locations. And they want to see a competition, with real highlights.

Like in a theatre, they also want compelling storylines and to some extent we have had those with our own [Lewis] Hamilton in F1 and the ups and downs of his story as well as his duels with Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, the renaissance of Ferrari, the arrival of Max Verstappen and so on. The cast in F1 is pretty good, we just need to do better at bringing out the characters.

 Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF70H after colliding, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB13 on the first lap
Photo by: Steven Tee / LAT Images

So in looking to see where Chase Carey and his team build this sport, to make sure they fill the theatres every time, now that the honeymoon period is over and the work begins in earnest, they really want to start by looking at what makes F1 special, which is excellence and not accept anything that undermines that. 

As Zak Brown blogged last week, the plan for 2018 and beyond envisages a revamp of the TV coverage of the sport to try to showcase better the spectacle and the storylines. 

Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren MCL32, uses the halo device in FP1
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / LAT Images

Many fans have already made their feelings known on how the arrival of the Halo on the cars will affect their appreciation of the beauty of the cars. My concern with the Halo is that it is another thing that distances the driver from the fans, at a time when the major push is to bring the fans closer to the sport.

But a whole new approach is needed to what an F1 car should look like from 2021 onwards if this show is really going to fly into the next decade. 

Fans watch the podium ceremony and invade the track

Photo by: Zak Mauger / LAT Images

Just like in the theatre, where so many elements have to come together for the show to be ‘perfect’, F1 is complex, with technical rules, the rule making process, varying team budgets and many other factors that have dictated the quality of the show in recent years. This is the nub of the argument between F1 and teams like Ferrari and Mercedes who don’t want to ‘dumb down’ the engines or other aspects of the sport. 

But there has to be a compromise here; excellence doesn’t have to mean complexity. Some of the most perfect things ever created by man have been very simple. In a busy world, people appreciate simple things done to the highest standards.

The F1 Strategy Group met in London yesterday and discussed details about bargeboards and rear wing heights. Let’s hope, as we move forward in redefining the sport over the coming months, that they remember to always put excellence first. 

Otherwise our theatres could have a few more empty seats in future.

Fans

Photo by: Sutton Images

About this article
Series Formula 1
Article type Commentary
Topic James Allen on F1