FORMULA 1 WANTS ME TO PAY FOR IT. AND I’M OUT.
The first race of the F1 season came and went and I’ve seen, heard and read very little about it. As a kid and lifelong car nut, I used to watch every race religiously. I’d even perch on the uncomfortable chairs in our dining room for two hours to watch races on a 12-inch black and white TV if I couldn’t wrestle the remote control for the colour television off my family.
I love it. Filled out the wallcharts. Bought the magazines. But not now.
The easy answer would be that I’m a forty-something adult now with better things to do with my time. But I don’t buy it. I used to go to football as a kid and consumed Five Nations rugby with relish. I still do both – distance limits my live attendance at football matches, but I haven’t missed a minute of England’s Six Nations campaign this year.
So, why have I given up on F1? It’s not because I look back with rose-tinted glasses – some of those Eighties and Nineties races were as processional as anything you’re likely to see today. The coverage was pretty ropey compared to today’s pit-walk punctuated and driver-mic’d reality. But it was free to air – just like the Six Nations rugby is today.
On contrast, only the British GP will be broadcast on a free-to-air channel this year.
To be honest, I can’t be bothered to find out how to watch the others or how much it’ll cost. If you make your sport hard to consume, prepare for the consequences. Golf and cricket are reaping the dubious rewards of embracing pay-to-view and it can’t be a coincidence that they’re both desperately trying to come up with new, shorter, more engaging forms of their respective sports to get some cut through with audiences.
Football treads a fine line, too. My level of interest in the Champions League has spiralled since I can no longer keep track of it on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings live on ITV. However digital platforms actually allow me to keep track of my team’s (Championship) progress in a way that has never been possible before. The big tournaments, World Cups and European Championships are invariably given blanket coverage across BBC and ITV – sometimes at the same time.
F1 is different, because it has competition and its competition is free-to-air. It’s also at a technological crossroads. So, while Formula E isn’t as spectacular as F1 and doesn’t have box office stars among its driver line-up, electric cars are the future. And Formula E has seized the EV landscape as its own.
When the EV cars get faster and last longer, they’ll migrate to proper circuits. When that happens, the biggest talents will want to get involved. I believe F1 will find itself with a lot more people like me on its hands.
Where does F1 go from here? I don’t know, but while it remains behind a paywall, I won’t be watching. Along with a huge potential audience of armchair fans. And as its audience shrinks, so will the amount of editorial coverage it generates, which means I’ll be less likely to find out using other platforms.
But if Kimi Räikkönen decides to finish his career racing an EV next year, I might just be persuaded to take a peek at Formula E…