What the average fan really thinks of F1

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Like it or not, this is why a lot of people watch F1
Like it or not, this is why a lot of people watch F1

There’s a lot of discussion about how to ‘improve the show’ and make it more accessible to the ‘average fan’. But what do typical sports fans actually think of F1?

I’ve had it in my mind for some time to find out and the festive season has offered lots of opportunities to meet new people.

So – while avoiding the opportunity to bore people to death about my favourite subject – I’ve snuck the phrase “what do you think of F1?” into conversations a few times recently and turned up some surprising results.

Two responses were particularly common:

“I watch it for the crashes”

The kind of dedicated F1 fans who read F1 Fanatic are more likely to appreciate an impressive overtaking move or a great qualifying lap.

But the average fan tunes in waiting to see it all go wrong. And although safety is much improved today compared to 20 or even ten years ago, that’s still a slightly worrying thought.

There’s no denying that crashes are spectacular and, when you know a driver escaped injury, entertaining. But are there many other sports where people tune in mainly to see it go wrong?

I don’t watch much sport that doesn’t feature four wheels and an engine, so you might have to put me right on this. But I suspect football fans watch for the goals or to see their team win, rather than in anticipation of a leg-breaking tackle.

Perhaps it’s just part of human nature that we find something irresistible in seeing multi-million pound racing cars reduced to heaps of rubble by a mis-judged move. Or is it the case that the good things about F1 – the passes, the hot laps and so on – are a bit too intangible to be universally appreciated?

“It’s all down to the car”

The other comment which came up most often was the complaint that a driver’s success is entirely down to whether he’s got a good car or not.

The zero-to-hero story of Jenson Button over the past two seasons was seen as a case in point.

To an extent F1 is little different to other sports. Ferrari and McLaren can spend more money to build a better car just as Chelsea and Manchester United can dip into their vast reserves to hire the best players.

I think the difference between an average fan and an F1 fanatic here is mainly down to perception. The average fan sees F1 as a contest between drivers. Dedicated F1 fans see it as a contest between drivers and teams.

The driver’s role in developing and setting up a car tends to get get overlooked by the average fan. Not to mention the skill involved in driving it (I have long suspect on-board cameras make driving an F1 car look stupidly easy) and the ever-tighter margins of competition.

Conclusions

So if F1 wants to attract more casual fans it needs to change the rules to make all the cars the same and create more crashes.

In other words, it needs to become NASCAR.

I’m sure you all have plenty of interesting opinions about whether that’s a good idea – and whether it’s already happening. So, whether you’re a ‘casual’ fan or an F1 fanatic, post your thoughts below.

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