What the average fan really thinks of F1

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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120 comments on What the average fan really thinks of F1

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  1. Excellent example of sounding opinions in a non-obvious way.

    Considering the way the overtaking poll has been hijacked so that two foregone conclusion non-passes are in the lead, this is a much better way of going about it.

    • Achilles said on 2nd January 2010, 8:24

      …it would be interesting to know the percentage of ‘fans’ that make up the ‘average fan’ base, this would show how much, or how little influence on the sport they have….If it is a huge percentage, will their interest be lost [read money] if F1 becomes too safe/clean.

  2. You’re right. But why would it? Seems to me that F1, for all its faults, is doing just fine as it is—apart from a need to get costs under control. It’s not exactly hurting for fans worldwide.

  3. It is true my friends who have seen F1 only really care if theres a huge crash.

    Also they can’t understand why Button is now the best driver in the world this year and Hamilton isn’t very good.

    • Maverick_23 said on 30th December 2009, 23:50

      I think the reason is that the “average fans” see silver cars, red cars, blue cars white cars etc. And that, if you only look quickly appear all the same.
      More often than not, the same names are at the front. They are interested in action and what happens on the track.

      An F1fanatic however looks at F1 in a more wider view and understands its not just car/driver/wheels.

      A quick example is my girlfriend, that i finally have managed to point her in the direction of F1. Sure she has a nice Mclaren T-shirt, a Lewis cap and a ticket for Spa, but when i tried to explain about winter testing, aerodynamics and wind tunnels. She was just not interested and Sex and the city was back on TV in a flash.

      I dont want to sound offensive to the “average fan” because they are importantant to F1. I guess that because there is essentially an awful lot of work thats put in before the action starts it is difficult to take it all on board.
      I have to say though, when i started to learn the science, research, and governance on F1, It made every race a million times more interesting.

      • Monad said on 31st December 2009, 4:41

        I agree with you and i will actually say that there isn’t an average fan. Ether you are a fan or you are not.
        You might not know what is happening at first and only be impressed by crashes(lets be honest some of them are cool, i loved the old days with crushes all over the place)but after a few GP if you really are watching then you will start to learn what is happening.
        If not then you don’t care about F1, you will never go to a GP and if your TV is playing it it’s because you didn’t find anything good to watch.
        They are not fans. They don’t exist and there opinion is irrelevant. You don’t have to visit sites like this to be a fan but if you only see cars as red,silver and blue and know the names of one or two drivers then you have no relationship with F1.
        I bet if your girlfriend wasn’t with you, she wouldn’t watch an F1 race ever again.
        Why would anyone care about the opinion of people who don’t care about something.

        • Maverick_23 said on 2nd January 2010, 1:07

          lol. She probably wouldnt.. But while she is she will damn sure sit there through saturday qualifying and sundays race and bloody enjoy it…

          and next year we will work on friday practice!!!

  4. I read someone post on a football forum that seeing things like Raikkonen almost getting burned in Brazil is what a casual fan like him craves when he watches F1.

    • bettyhiam said on 30th December 2009, 17:40

      Watch it for the crashes?MG, what a moronic response to F1! I only have two rules for F1, and the first is “don’t hurt the driver”. The second is “don’t hurt the car”. In other words, drive shiny-side up. The crash-lovers can indeed go to NASCAR (the other moronic response to F1)

  5. SaloolaS said on 30th December 2009, 12:36

    Crashes and equal cars – Formula 2

  6. Ned Flanders said on 30th December 2009, 12:39

    To be honest, crashes are the probably the thing that got me interested in F1 in the first place. I’m sure that it was not a coincidence that I first took an interest in F1 at the age of 8 around the time of the 1998 Belgian GP and the huge first lap pile up.

    Obviously, I soon realised that there was way more to the sport than accidents, and within a couple of years I was hooked. Even now, I like to see lots of crashes (as long as no one gets hurt). But I love F1 for what it is, and I definitely don’t want it to become like NASCAR

    • I had the same experience as you Ned.
      My perception is that crashes in F1 are equivalent to hard hits in Rugby or crunching sliding tackles in Football. You want too see the lad get flattened, but dust himself off and carry on with the game like a man.

    • Me too ! The carnage that began the 1998 Belgian GP was my introduction to F1. I was so amazed by it that I began to watch the series. In time I metamorphosized from the type of fan who was attracted by a spectacular crash, to a regular viewer, and ending up with my transformation complete as a genuine, bona fide F1 fanatic !

      And whilst I still appreciate a good crash, I am far more likely to be raving on about a great overtake or suspenseful race. I still rate the Alonso/Schumacher final laps showdown from Imola 2005 as the best “moment” of F1 that I have seen.

      • damonsmedley said on 31st December 2009, 3:11

        It is obvious that the casual fan can not see past the crashes in Australia. Over here, F1 only ever gets on the news if there is a crash or Mark Webber is on the podium.

        The first race I fully watched was the 2002 Australian Grand Prix with my Dad when I was 8 years old. I found it very interesting and the spectacular crash at the start with Ralf Schumacher flying over Rubens Barrichello and several cars piling up behind ultimately promoting home race hero Mark Webber to a 5th place finish on debut made it hardly a boring introduction to the sport. Since then I was hooked on F1 and have only missed a handful of races.

  7. Rob Wilson said on 30th December 2009, 12:47

    crashes are the worst thing! no matter who it is, because, it brings out the safety car and a safety car ruins a race, especially for the leader. I dredd crashes. I watch f1 to see something like lewis hamilton come from 18th on the grid to finish on the podium…not to see a safety car guide them round for ten laps…

    • thestig84 said on 30th December 2009, 15:04

      Very true but if your talking about LH 3rd in Brazil then he couldnt have done it without the safety car.

    • Fortunately, next year safety cars won’t interfere with the racing (anywhere near as much) since there’s no refuelling strategy to mess up.

  8. Galchi Poland said on 30th December 2009, 12:47

    I think you confuse what an average fan wants to see and what attract him to F1. Which is not necessarily the same thing. “The best in the world” thing, hence prestige etc., is what makes people watch. They don’t care about excellent junior categories, nation-cup A1GP. People want to see “the best, the fastest, the richest”.

    But when they actually watch their TVs they like spectacular crashes. Why? Yes, because they’re spectacular. Kubica’s Canada crash was the most popular F1 video some time ago I bet(maybe still is…).

  9. Ned Flanders said on 30th December 2009, 12:47

    Also, has anyone read James Allen’s features on the future of F1 this week? He seems to think F1 cars will soon be able to run nose to tail like in NASCAR. It sounds exciting, but I hope they don’t change things too much.

    http://www.jamesallenonf1.com/2009/12/f1-in-the-future-the-aerodynamics/

    • Wesley said on 30th December 2009, 16:12

      I read those articles…very interesting.The one that stuck out in my head is F1 possibly going to 500cc engines with turbo.

      • LewisC said on 30th December 2009, 18:42

        That’s an interesting concept. It wouldn’t necessarily mean a power drop either: 750bhp would probably be doable.
        Turbo technology has moved on a lot since the 80s monsters – but surely it would only happen if there were ecological (for which read = fuel economy) benefits, and I’m not sure whether there would be…
        I’m not convinced they’d be able to make them as reliable as the current 2.4 V8s though – and breakdowns would be more likely to be destructive, which would increase costs.

  10. I reckon F1 isn’t doing all that bad. Bar the Football World Cup and the Summer Olympics it’s the most-viewed sporting competion in the world.

    Of course I understand that could be better still, but I don’t think that having 3 or 4 drivers crash their cars every race, will help up the viewers’ numbers.

    Reducing Formula One to a spec series is not a solution either, since that’s a major depart from F1′s roots. It would likely drive out the top teams, including Ferrari and McLaren, then the drivers and finally the sponsors. Just look at the state of IndyCar as a spec series: it only barely survives, even as a unified series.

    When I talk to non-F1 fans about Grand Prix racing, I often stress that Formula One is mostly a team sport, arguing that it’s the team, not the driver, that designs, builds and develops the cars and engines, manage strategies, perform pitstops et cetera. When that is empasised a bit more, I reckon it could attract fans, too.

    Disclaimer: I am not a casual fan by far, since I started watching F1 almost 20 years ago… ;)

  11. Chalky said on 30th December 2009, 13:06

    I think where F1 can really improve for the casual fan is give a greater sense of speed.

    I’m guessing that this would be more down to TV camera locations and the local TV crews than anything else.
    Again Nascar does this well with it’s wall mounted and car mounted cameras, but F1 rarely dips into this. F1 is improving in this area but it could do so much more.

    I remember only seeing Eau Rouge from an elevated shot ,that really showed the gradient and speed, a few years back and this took my breath away. We’ve got a great overhead helicopter shot this year at Hungary.

    However, it’s been pointed out that not all TV shots are shown to us viewers, that seems crazy to me?

    Bland same old static TV cameras by the side of the track bore casual fans. If you’re not at the track you need a greater immersive experience to enjoy the event.

    • Jose Arellano said on 30th December 2009, 17:49

      absolutely agree on this… the thing is if you tune in on the tv, you dont see the cars going really fast.. the f1 fans know they are pushing like hell, but the average fan dont know this. and the tv just doesnt show the speed and the way they push….

    • American_F1_Fan said on 30th December 2009, 18:27

      I think you hit the nail on the head there Chalky. F1 does a horrible job of portraying the sense of speed on the TV broadcast. I’m no fan of NASCAR, but they know how to immerse the TV audience and portray that sense of speed. They sometimes use low camera angles really close to the racing line, and they also have times where the commentators stop talking and crank up the sound of the cars. It really gets the blood flowing.

      Then we come to the issue of HD. Get with the times FOM. I’m tired of excuses as to why they can’t do it. Bernie can demand outrageous sums and institute pretty much any rules he wants to host a GP. The ability to broadcast that GP in HD should also be one of the conditions of hosting a GP.

      As for the cars, yes, it’s mostly about the cars, but that’s what makes F1 to me. The drivers are part of it, but it’s all about the cars!!!

    • verasaki said on 30th December 2009, 19:11

      I’ve been a big fan of onboard cameras placed low for ages. When I still held out hope for a subscription F1 service or ppv I thought split screens and/or a separate channel with exclusively on board cameras would have been fabulous. I think one of the U.S. series did try this years ago for one or two races. I can’t recall what series it was, though.

    • While I agree with you there Chalky, the fact remains that there is only one way to get a true sense of the speed on an F1 car, and that is to be trackside.

      People often ask me why I shell out hundreds of dollars each year to go to the GP when you get a better view at home on the couch. Perhaps to entice more viewers it should be mandatory to go to a race live?

      Because at home, you can’t feel your seat shaking when they go past, you can’t feel your ears bleed from the sound, you can’t smell the fuel, and you can’t get your eyebrows singed by Button’s engine blowing up 50 metres from the finish line like I did in 2006 ! When TV can reproduce all that, then it might entice more casual viewers to stick around.

  12. S Hughes said on 30th December 2009, 13:06

    I could have told you that Keith already. Button’s championship told the average person who tuned in on the off chance, everything there is about his “skill”. From nowhere to champion – what other conclusion can there be that it was 95% down to the car. It will always be so if the cars are so different in design and performance. Dedicated F1 fans know that if the top cars are relatively the same, the driver comes into his own a lot more, as we saw in the latter half of the season. Hence, why ‘Autosport’ magazine accurately voted Hamilton and not Button as their driver of the season. But the first half of the season was a complete joke – it must have been to have two ZEROS like Button and Barrichello winning everything.

    Perhaps we should just accept that if F1 is to remain as it is, that is how it will be perceived. It will still be popular and glamorous, and if a non-F1 fan tunes in for the crashes, at least they are tuning in.

    • Ned Flanders said on 30th December 2009, 13:19

      Presumably you think when Hamilton wins it is 95% down to him…

      • S Hughes said on 30th December 2009, 13:42

        No, if you read my post properly, I said

        “Dedicated F1 fans know that if the top cars are relatively the same, the driver comes into his own a lot more, as we saw in the latter half of the season.”

        I would say when the cars are more equal in performance, as in the latter half of the season, the driver input is more like 30-40%.

        Are you saying that Button has always been champion material? With him, in a bad car, he trundled around like an also ran, shrugging his shoulders and saying “s’not my fault”. With Lewis, he tried to wring every last ounce of drive from a poor car and was clearly extremely frustrated at not being able to do more. Maybe that’s why so many people came out and said it was the car not the driver this year. Maybe the fact Lewis is favourite for the title next year should tell you something about the two differing abilities.

        And please read my posts carefully in future.

        • Ned Flanders said on 30th December 2009, 14:09

          I’ll read your posts more carefully when I think you’re no longer blinded by your love of Hamilton.

          For the record I think Hamilton is the best driver in F1 too but that’s no reason to belittle the achievements of his rivals

          • S Hughes said on 30th December 2009, 17:15

            Seems like a lot of people aren’t buying the “Button is the greatest driver in F1″ schtick either, hence part of the reason for this article.

    • But the first half of the season was a complete joke – it must have been to have two ZEROS like Button and Barrichello winning everything.

      Button and Barrichello won everything in the first half of the season? I must have been watching something else.

      Anyways, it’s always been the same. Miles of difference between the cars and bugger all between the drivers.

      • S Hughes said on 30th December 2009, 13:54

        Australia 1-2
        China 3-4
        Spain 1-2
        Monaco 1-2

        Barrichello had some dodgy strategies and the odd gearbox failure as well. He got more points than Button from Germany onwards (but then who didn’t?).

        • Australia 1-2
          China 3-4
          Spain 1-2
          Monaco 1-2

          Are these races that Barrichello won?

          Isn’t this the guy that was, to quote himself: “in the form of his life”, and on his day (team orders and car spec allowing) could beat Michael Schumacher?

          As for strategy, they pretty much had the same, which was not the case for poor old Heikki among others. LOL

          Barrichello wasn’t able to get to grips with his launch control on a few occasions, and over-torqued his gearbox.
          Which is something he failed to tell the rest of us. He’s never been very good at starts, maybe just got too used to falling in behind Schumacher?

          Yes, a few drivers got more points than Button mid-season on, but he scored the points that mattered when he had the best car (very marginally if you note the times), just like what’s happened in previous seasons.

          Anyway, Button should beat Hamilton, because Barrichello bet Hamilton in Valencia – To use the logic of some. LOL

        • Vettel (44), Hamilton (40), Raikkonen (38), Barrichello (36) and Webber (34) scored more points than Button (26) from Germany onwards.

          The fact is, though, that Button score 64 out of 75 in the races before Germany. His teammate in equal equipment scored 41.

          So in the first half of the season, Button outscored his teammate by more than 2 points to 1. Not a bad effort.

          And you can’t blame strategies. That’s part of it. That’s like Vettel saying he would have won in Australia if he hadn’t crashed. But he did. You can’t just pick and choose your facts.

          • José Baudaier said on 30th December 2009, 23:30

            I’ll defende Barrichelo in this one. At the beggining of the season Rubens had overheating problems with his brakes so he couldn’t use wheel covers on his back tires. When he changed his brakes manufacturer and was able to use the wheel covers (Don’t remember exact what race, but close to the middle of the championship) he was able increase his performance.

            Note that I’m not saying that he would overperformance Button if he started the season with the good brakes, but he would definitely perform better than he did and be closer to Button’s score.

    • Stephen said on 30th December 2009, 13:58

      S Hughes,

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Get over yourself, buddy. No one likes a fanboy.

      • Are you aware, mate, that this site is named f1FANatic?

        I think that the site´s owner had dedicated his site to the F1 FANatics, driver´s FANatics, teams FANatics…

        So, Get over yourself too and let the FANatics express his preferences!

        • Stephen said on 30th December 2009, 23:02

          Spot on… F1 Fanatic. Not Lewis Hamilton is the best ever and everyone else sucks donkey balls Fanatic”.

          • Harvs said on 31st December 2009, 0:44

            has anyone else noticed that every artice that keith posts, we always end up comparing hamilton to someone or something else?

            why is that?

  13. When I was younger I remember by brother teasing me that people only watched F1 to see the crashes.

  14. Bernard said on 30th December 2009, 13:23

    Does the biggest sport on Earth really need more casual viewers?

    F1 viewers clearly like it as is. Those that don’t are free to watch the miriad of other (less popular) series.

    • thestig84 said on 30th December 2009, 15:17

      Exactly! We dont hear about football and other popular sports trying to change all sorts to attract the casual viewer. If you dont really like cars you wont really like F1.

      We all love it so leave the core of it alone please.

      My mum would never watch….well maybe only if columbo featured trying to solve some murders!

      • Adrian said on 31st December 2009, 12:08

        That’s it!!

        Each race 1 driver gets murdered and we get in a different TV Detective to work out which of the other drivers did it…

        …makes about as much sense as some of the other ideas that have been suggested over the years…

  15. I’d hate to see f1 have all the same cars. Theres atleast 20 series or so that race with identical cars. And for more crashes, I think these started to decline when all the rules for saving engines etc. for multiple weekends came. I mean, about 5 years ago I would hope for the moment schumi’s ferrari engine would finaly burst to flames, or laugh when another honda bit the dust :). Nowadays cars are bulletproof and also drivers seem to be much more carefull.

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