What the FIA’s F1 survey really tells us

FIA Amd 2006 Survey cover“This reaffirms the view that Formula One is an important showcase for technology,”?Ř trumpeted the FIA’s press release on the publication of the results of the 2006 FIA/AMD F1 survey.

But the same survey also showed that the number of people who felt that technology was the most exciting aspect of F1 fell compared to last year. And the most important elements of F1 included “overtaking”?Ř and that F1 “emphasises driver skill over driver aids.”?Ř

There were many of interesting findings in the full report that, strangely, did not make it into the press release. Let’s have a look at some of them.

Despite being in its second year the FIA/AMD global survey of F1 fans actually reached fewer fans – 91,834 compared with 93,018 – but the regional spread was about the same.

Chinese fans got their own uniquely tailored version of the survey, “given their significance as an emerging market for F1.”?Ř How the surveys differed was not stated.

Television coverage – races

Vitantonio Liuzzi, Toro Rosso-Cosworth, Spyker, 2006Fans are tuning into every Grand Prix on television in creased numbers – 77% claimed they will watch every race this year, compared with 76% last year.

It seems that one aim of the survey was to find out if fans will pay for F1 content on mobile media such as telephones. Only 11% of fans said they were likely to watch an F1 race live on their mobile if it were available.

“This is perhaps a reflection of a lack of familiarity with the new offering”?Ř says the survey, optimistically. The fact that only 9% of fans said they were unsure about the technology, and 59% said they were very unlikely to use it says otherwise.

Over half of fans said they wanted to be able to watch races live over the internet, and more than three-quarters wanted more on-board footage and timing information (for all the cars – not just the top four positions) during live race coverage.

More than two-thirds want to see more dedicated F1 programming between races to cover the sport in greater depth. But they don’t want to see analysis and features cutting into the live racing and qualifying.

Television coverage – qualifying

Jacques Villeneuve, Renault, Shanghai, 2004The new qualifying system received much deserved praise and 52% of respondents said they were watching more qualifying than last year. A substantial minority of dissenters did not like the new qualifying system – 31% said it was less exciting for fans, but their reasons were not given.

But several television channels have a lacklustre attitude towards showing qualifying – including ITV in Britain. The survey shows it is time that Bernie Ecclestone contractually obliged broadcasters to show qualifying live as they do the races.

Technology

The issue of technology in Formula One got an entire section to itself – strange considering how other equally important areas were virtually ignored.

The results drove home the dichotomy at the heart of Formula One – that cutting-edge technology is paramount and is part of what makes F1 the leading international motor sport; but that this technology should not detract from the skill of the drivers. 37% of people felt technology was the most exciting part of the sport – 30% disagreed.

Improving the formula

Here the results were quite clear: fans want to see more overtaking, with most feeling the cars needed to be modified to accommodate that (89%) and almost as many feeling that circuits needed changing (83%).

Almost as many (79%) want a reduction in driver aids such as traction control, to make greater demands on the drivers’ skills.

Pit stops and racing

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Sepang, 2006The FIA were very keen to highlight the statistic that 66% of fans felt the reintroduction of tyre changes had made the racing more exciting.

A far greater proportion – 86% – said that overtaking in races was ‘extremely important’ and pit-stop strategies ranked as the least important element in an F1 race. Most interestingly, 64% agreed there was too much emphasis on pit stop strategy – and only 13% disagreed.

Going to races

The question on race attendance gave an interesting profile of the fan base. 62% stated they will not attend a race at all this year. Sadly these were not asked why – although many would not have a race near to them, it would be interesting to hear from fans who have a race in their country but don’t go.

Less than a quarter said they would go to one race but a significant group of people – 9% – said they would go to at least five. These are most likely people actually involved with the sport but there is potentially a hard-core group of regular attendees.

Favourite drivers and teams (but not circuits)

FerrariLast year’s poll of favourite circuits was quietly dropped – probably because the FIA left the fans’ favourite Spa-Francorchamps off the 2006 calendar and is dropping Suzuka (the second most popular) for next year.

In its place came questions about the most popular drivers (Michael Schumacher, with 28% from Kimi Raikkonen, 17%) and teams (Ferrari, 30% and McLaren, 21%). What was surprising here was how the survey challenges the perception that Ferrari are so popular Formula One would be in jeopardy were they to leave.

It was also a kick in the teeth for Toyota, who have haemorrhaged cash on their F1 project for five years for little on-track reward. With only 1% of the vote they are scarcely more popular than MF1 (now Spyker) or Scuderia Toro Rosso.

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