The Yoko Factor: Diversity on the grid and calendar
6th October 2010, 0:44 at 12:44 am #128161
A lot of people believe that it was Yoko Ono who broke the Beatles up. In fact, many people blame her for it, as if she was the sole factor. But the truth is that there were already problems in the band long before she came onto the scene. If she is guilty of anything, the maybe it is of hastening their downfall, but to suggest she was the only thing is naive. This is the Yoko Factor.
It’s been a common criticism of the sport that it is going to places it has no business being because of a lack of “racing heritage”. This is possibly my least-favourite phrase in the fan’s vernacular, as it does not really mean anything. It has become a euphamism for something people don’t like. These criticisms came up (again) with the release of the 2011 calendar. There will be twenty races next year, and for the first time ever, the number of flyaway rounds will out-number the European races. To some people, this is a devastating travesty. And while there are some races of varying importance that remain unaccounted for – France, Austria, Portugal and the Netherlands, in (roughly) order of priority – where is this written that this is a bad thing? All four countries are lacking quality circuits.
Consider this: as of 2010, fifteen nations have been represented by the teams and drivers alike. They are as follows: Great Britain (Button, Hamilton, McLaren, Virgin, Williams), Germany (Schumacher, Rosberg, Vettel, Sutil, Glock, Hulkenberg, Heidfeld, Mercedes), Italy (Trulli, Liuzzi, Ferrari, Toro Rosso), Brazil (Massa, Barrichello, Senna, di Grassi), Spain (Alonso, Alguersuari, de la Rosa, HRT), Switzerland (Buemi, Sauber), Japan (Kobayashi, Yamamoto), Austria (Klien, Red Bull), India (Chandhok, Force India), Poland (Kubica), Russia (Petrov), France (Renault), Finland (Kovalainen), Australia (Webber) and Malaysia (Lotus). And that’s without mentioning test drivers – Belgium, China, the Czech Republic and New Zealand are all accounted for. The addition of Sergio Perez for 2011 will take that up to sixteen nations (Mexico), and the possibilities of Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela), Giedo van der Garde (the Netherlands), Paul di Resta (Scotland) and Jacques Villeneuve (Canada) will take that number up to a round twenty; the inclusion of America on the calendar will make that twenty-one. And there’s the possibility that someone I haven’t accounted for will join.
In order to account for this, I’m going to use GP2 Asia as a guide. GP2 Asia was established with teams being encouraged to take at least one driver from a non-“traditional” setting, which is defined as Western Europe and Brazil. GP2 Asia has thus seend drivers from Bahrain, Denmark, Bulgaria, South Africa, Turkey, Taiwan, Pakistan, Serbia, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. This is inconsequential to my point, other than to highlight where the boundary between “traditional” and “non-traditional” lies, which is roughly the line the old Iron Curtain used to follow.
Of the twenty-seven drivers who have raced this year, thirteen different nationalities have been accounted for. However, of these thirteen, just seven are actually European in the “traditional” sense. Mark Webber, Robert Kubica, Vitaly Petrov, Karun Chandhok, Sakon Yamamoto, Kamui Kobayashi and Sebastien Buemi (as motorsport is banned in Switzerland, making Swiss drivers uncommon at best) all come from nations outside the “traditional” boundaries. In fact, a third of the grid is made up of drivers from these non-“traditional” nations.
And now we finally come to my point. Formula 1 has pushed beyond its European homeland for the first time in sixty years. But is this such a bad thing when the grid keeps accepting more drivers from more countries outside this “traditional” sphere? Yes, there are some discrepancies – South Korea and Turkey have races, but no drivers; Poland and Russia have drivers, but no races – yet as the grid gets saturated with more diversity, so too does the calendar. One is clearly driving the other. Is it really such a bad thing to be leaving Europe for the rest of the world? Because when you think about it, Formula 1 isn’t really leaving Europe at all. The long-standing races at Silverstone, Spa, Hockenheim/the Nuburgring, Monaco, Monza, Catalunya, Budapest and Interlagos are all still standing; so, too, are the long-standing races outside these “traditional” areas; Albert Park, Montreal and Sepang are all still on the calendar. Formula 1 isn’t sacrificing anything – it’s expanding.6th October 2010, 1:41 at 1:41 am #146795
I’m on my lunch break and don’t have much time, so I want to address the issue about the calendar for the moment.
Yes it’s expanding, and I agree that’s something we as fans should be grateful and pleased about. Say what you will about Bernie (and I have!), I completely understand that he’s looking out for the long-term future and stability of this sport. As you mentioned in an earlier thread (and I think we’ll have to start calling you ‘Prisoner Kittens’ – the way you seem so fond of threads recently), F1 really needs to have a race in every continent for it to be truly considered as a ‘World Championship’, and so the recent additions to the calendar have been healthy for the sport’s interests in that respect.
What’s the issue then? Well, as you say:
It’s been a common criticism of the sport that it is going to places it has no business being because of a lack of “racing heritage”. This is possibly my least-favourite phrase in the fan’s vernacular, as it does not really mean anything. It has become a euphamism for something people don’t like.
Fans are complaining that we are venturing to nations and cultures that lack “racing heritage” to the detriment of the more ‘traditional’ (European) venues on the calendar and so the question becomes ‘is that a legitimate and justifiable concern for us to have?’. Well, let’s look at it.
Bahrain, China, Turkey, Fuji, Valencia, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, South Korea, India – only two of those locations could be considered to be ‘traditional’ racing venues. Now, out of all of these venues how many would you consider to have been a valuable addition to the calendar in terms of an event? Granted, that depends on whether you judge a race on the circuit layout, by the fans that turn up or how exciting the racing tends to be. But as someone pointed out the other day, the majority of the ‘least popular’ races in the last few years have taken place at recently added venues, while the majority of the ‘most popular’ races took place at ‘traditional’ venues. What that actually means for long-term future of F1 is unclear, but surely you could forgive me for suggesting that such correlation implies causation? And whose fault is that? Is it actually the fault of these new nations in the first place? Is it Tilke’s? Is it the FIA’s? Whatever it is, it’s certainly doing nothing to help win the fans over, be they long-time die-hards or the locals.
Let’s think about how the local cultures have embraced these races as well. When I think about the crowds the turn up to Turkey, to Bahrain, to China, to Abu Dhabi, I do get a bit annoyed. My inner Anglo-Australian elitist gets all wound up and thinks ‘where the hell are they’? Like I’ve said before, the F1 product shouldn’t really need to sell itself. It is the pinnacle of motorsport. One of the most prestigious and most popular sports in the world, with some of the best atheletes and the most incredible racing technology you’ll find anywhere. If that’s not enough to generate interest, I don’t know what will.
Obviously, that’s not taking into account a number of factors that could be limiting the crowds or levels of fan-interest in these parts of the world. Economic, geographical or technological issues that wouldn’t really apply to the traditional Western environments. Whatever the reason could be, we need to figure out why these new places seem to be so universally indifferent to hosting a round of the Formula One World Championship and work out whether it’s actually worth the effort in the first place.
Ultimately, for me, that’s the big issue. Because we the hell should we be going to Abu Dhabi if no one cares about the sport and be ignoring places like France, Finland, USA etc, where we know they do? That doesn’t strike me as a very sound business plan. Both for the fans and for the sport.6th October 2010, 3:55 at 3:55 am #146796
I don’t think Interlagos belongs on that list of European tracks, but I get the point. However, we have lost a fair few Euro circuits in the past couple of decades: A1 Ring, Estoril, Nurburgring/ Hockenheim (alternating obviously), Magny Cours, Paul Ricard, Imola etc…
PS, to say Portugal is lacking a quality circuit is wrong. Portimao is not only a spectacular track, but it is easily capable of holding an F1 race. And France also has two circuits capable of hosting a race- Paul Ricard and Magny Cours. Fingers crossed the Red Bull will sort the A1 Ring out someday too6th October 2010, 4:09 at 4:09 am #146797
Portimao has produced processional races in other categories. Magny-Cours is pretty boring, whilst Paul Ricard is a test track and that probably won’t be changing any time soon. The Red Bull (nee A1) Ring has been included on a provisional DTM calendar for 2011, but Dietrich Mateschitz has shot down the prospect of it returning to Formula 1. It’s most likely the only alteration they made were to the pit buildings and grandstands rather than the circuit configuration. I actually wrote an article on circuits that never made it to Formula 1 that inclues the A1 Ring and its proposed alterations; I believe Keith is saving it for a rainy day.6th October 2010, 6:06 at 6:06 am #146798
If F1 really was trying to push beyond Europe Bernie wouldn’t be trying to make the Australian/Malaysian grand prix run in the evening to get better euro TV figures.
Bernie is just going to wherever pays the most money, he’s not in it for diversity.
No matter where the race is held it looks the same* on TV, and considering that there is many more people watching TV than are at the track we should just be going to the tracks that produce the best racing…
*to the casual observer, all they see is a bit of track and some cars going round it fast6th October 2010, 6:28 at 6:28 am #146799
I think the biggest problem is that Bernie is only trying to introduce Formula 1 to places just a stone’s throw from existing “traditional” venues. Instead of answering to the demands of fans in places like France and America, where there is an existing passionate fan-base, he is trying to introduce Formula 1 to countries that may not have even heard of it, and then expecting people to turn up and watch it… We have already seen that Bahrain fails to attract any more than 10 000 people (9 990 of which are team personnel, marshals etc.) and the middle-east is not exactly taking to Formula 1 like Britain and Germany – yet we now have two races in the same area.
But it isn’t only the dwindling fan-base I am concerned for, it is the fact that each area of the world seems to be getting a second race now. Places like Korea do not need a race. Koreans have Suzuka to go to if they are really that interested. Furthermore and for this reason, I don’t believe places like Portugal, Czech Republic, Austria, Singapore, the Netherlands and Abu Dhabi need races as there are existing races within driving distance of these countries. My point is that if people care about Formula 1 enough, they are going to go to the race closest to them anyway – and fans are won by patriotism when a driver/team/manufacturer represents their country – not by having a track in their backyard.
People in America don’t have the option to attend a Grand Prix without spending large sums of money, yet people in the Middle-East can choose which Grand Prix they would like to walk to! That doesn’t seem right to me. Instead of trying to sell Formula 1 to countries where no fans exist, Bernie should be capitalising on the huge potential that places like Finland, America, France, India and Russia have to offer.6th October 2010, 9:15 at 9:15 am #146800
” Is it really such a bad thing to be leaving Europe for the rest of the world? “
No. I think Bernie is doing a marvellous job if I’m honest. It is becoming a proper world championship.
You’re right that we’re not really leaving Europe anyway. As for the traditional races we’ve just got Suzuka back and Hock appears every other year so I’m pretty happy.
Even when there aren’t drivers from a country that hosts a GP like China I still think it’s good that the said countries are on the calendar (bar maybe Turkey although I love that track) as they usually bring something to F1 or have a decent market and economy and F1 is a sport driven on business. If the sport is really built up in these countries esp if GP2 etc follows the F1 circus around or more is done for grass root motorsport there and advertising then it’s a great chance for the F1 fan base to expand not shrink. Bernie’s pulled off quite a job just getting us there.
The European leg of the season is the bulk of it anyway plus they’ve added Valencia, secured the Brit and Monaco GPs future and are looking for a Rome GP etc. I sometimes feel we’re a little greedy. I hate the heritage arguments too. When I watch Monza I do sometimes dream about the past races but every GP has to start somewhere and it means nothing to the racing these days.
Bahrain (pre 2010 style), Singapore, Malaysia and Turkey are brilliant tracks and there does seem to be an enthusiasm for racing at least when I see the Singapore and Malaysian GPs. Then there’s the spectacle of A. Dhabi. The track’s dull and I’m more for an exciting track being put on rather than one for pure spectacle but it’s so magnificent that it draws wider interest just because of the beauty of it and that it’s a twilight race.
” Instead of answering to the demands of fans in places like France and America, where there is an existing passionate fan-base,” Well we’re getting a US race now and France keeps being mentioned.
I do agree with this bit though…
“People in America don’t have the option to attend a Grand Prix without spending large sums of money, yet people in the Middle-East can choose which Grand Prix they would like to walk to”
That’s my only criticism :P Although I don’t at all think that the US should have more than one GP.6th October 2010, 10:00 at 10:00 am #146801
Is it so bad? Yes and no.
No, because more races = good, and though the attendance figures annoy me I don’t tun in to watch the facilities, whether they’re empty or not (unlike what FOM assumes every time we go to Singapore and Abu Dhabi) – I want to see a race.
But yes in the sense that in the recent past we’ve been having new races in countries that really don’t care, it’s just that their government can pay Bernie what he needs to keep F1 afloat. Trust me, we wouldn’t be hearing anything about 25 races (or even 20) if CVC didn’t use F1 to pay off the debts they incurred by paying for it in the first place. All this “having a ‘true’ world championship” is just smoke for the real agenda.
So long as we don’t lose European races (that goes for Interlagos, America and Montreal too) I couldn’t care less where the rest of them are, if they put on a good race. And although the only recent additions has been Valencia, and soon Rome, Bernie has shown that a new race doesn’t have to be outside of Europe. As long as he’s not turning down a genuine offer from a French race just because India will pay him more money, he can go where he likes.6th October 2010, 12:30 at 12:30 pm #146802
It’s a World Championship so exposure should be maximised. Obviously it has alot to do with wealthy Arab states etc… but you don’t get to where you are with F1 without some seriously huge business deals.
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