Liberty Media, the new Formula One commercial rights holder, has big plans to monetize its investment. Sadly, none of their ideas have anything to do with improving the racing. Last Sunday, prior to the US Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas outside of Austin, Texas, viewers were forced to watch a tepid recreation of the over-the-top buildup that precedes most professional wrestling matches.
The pit lane was closed 30 minutes earlier so that Michael Buffer, the iconic announcer of numerous boxing and wrestling events over the past 30 years could introduce each driver as he emerged from a tunnel surrounded by smoke. Buffer is known for his patented “Let’s get ready to rumble!” line just before the beginning of an event.
To a traditional Formula One fan, the over-hyped intro was beyond silly. You could almost hear Buffer saying “And in this corner, wearing Mercedes silver trunks and weighing 147 pounds, three time world driving champion Lew-is HAM-IL-TON!!!!”
Reaction to the hyperventilating ersatz spectacle was decidedly mixed, according to GrandPrix.com. Ross Brawn, who now serves as F1 sporting director, said after the race, “I’m proud of how the weekend in Austin went. We are doing small things to improve the show and what we did on Sunday worked well even though you wouldn’t do that everywhere. But what is particularly pleasing is that the teams are now seeing what direction we’re moving in with formula one.”
Former F1 driver Gerhard Berger was less than impressed, saying the Micheal Buffer intro was “not for me.” The pre-race show was intended to mimic what happens before each Indy 500 race, but Fernando Alonso, who drove at Indy this year, called it an “imitation” of the real thing.
The boys in red were equally dismissive. Sebastian Vettel said “For those who like that sort of thing it was nice. For me, I don’t need it. I’m not a showman. I like to get in the car and drive.” Kimi Raikkonen agreed. “Everyone knows what I would prefer. But it doesn’t bother me as long as it’s done in the right place at the right time.”
Lewis Hamilton, however, was enthusiastic about the spectacle. “It was unbelievable. For ten years it was boring but this was more like the Super Bowl,” he told AMUS. Helmut Marko, who is in charge of racing operations for Red Bull, called it a “great show.” He went on to say, “Clearly this was for the American taste, but our (race promotion) people in Spielberg will definitely look for some ideas for the race in Austria,” he said. That’s not saying much for American tastes, is it?
Meanwhile, the Liberty Media gang are busy thinking up even more fun and games to regale the fans. They are floating the idea of eliminating the traditional grid arrangement in which the cars line up two by two and substituting an arrangement that puts two cars on one row and three cars on the next. In theory, that would grab the fans by the eyeballs because it would increase the risk of collisions at the start of the race.
Oh, happy day. The mechanical carnage that took place at the start of this year’s Singapore grand prix would now become commonplace. Doesn’t get any better than that, does it? To think people get paid big bucks to think such things up.
“We want formula one to cross the boundary between sport and show,” says Liberty’s F1 commercial boss Sean Bratches. F1 chief executive Chase Carey — he of the enormous walrus mustache, says “We are looking for ways to offer fans more.”
That’s great, Chase. And it would be wonderful if you actually knew what you were talking about. I have been a rabid Formula One fan since I attended the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in 1967. I can tell you what fans want. They want passing and lots of it. Not fake passing made possible by drag reduction systems or push to pass systems; real passing, the kind Max Verstappen pulled off on the last corner of the last lap last weekend.
Passing like the giants of the sport — Moss, Hill, McLaren, Stewart, Brabham, Gilles Villeneuve, Senna, Alesi, Prost, Mansell, and Schumacher — were known for. The fact that Verstappen was penalized for that move highlights everything that is wrong with the sport today.
So listen up, Chase Carey and Sean Bratches. Stop trying to make Formula One into a cross between roller derby and the Stupid Bowl. I wish I could strap you both to a chair, prop your eyelids open like Stanley Kubrick did in A Clockwork Orange, and force you to watch this video 100 times. It tells you all you will ever need to know about what fans really want. Stop trying to make racing into a video game or an “entertainment product.” Just because you dropped a pile of cash to buy the commercial rights doesn’t mean you have any idea what you are doing. This is how racing should be!