Monday, January 16, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Don't Be the Super Bowl

Happy Birthday to A.J. Foyt, who turns 82 years old today. A hometown favorite won in his backyard. A Porsche driver is off to a historic start. A Brit made history. A Frenchman added another chapter to his illustrious career. A Kiwi was penalized as was a Brazilian and an Australian benefitted. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Don't Be the Super Bowl
Formula One is having a minor crisis. Formula One is too brash to have major crises but it is having a minor one. Tracks are no longer dazzled by the glittering spectacle of the largest circus in the motorsports' world. Even the gaudiest stages are having second thoughts. Singapore, the race that has been held up as the example of Formula One's new money versus the old money example of Monaco, could be on the verge of divorcing itself from the only series in the world that could close the streets of the Asia-Pacific metropolis and line the streets with ribbons of lighting.

Along with Singapore, its neighbor Malaysia is starting to no longer fancy Formula One and the dwindling crowd size supports that. Brazil is on the fence. Canada was on the fence. The United States is always on the fence. Let's not forget Germany's wishy-washy relationship with Formula One and what seems to be a quadrennial squabble with Italy.

However, the fluidity of the schedule doesn't concern Formula One or Bernie Ecclestone. One reason is probably because the schedule could stand to lose three or four races and the series would be fine. This upcoming 20-round season is one fewer than 2016 and there is still wiggle room for the series. Another reason is Ecclestone can probably find another two or three countries to fill the voids if the backbone of the series crumbles and needs replacements. I am sure oil-rich Qatar or Rio Haryanto's sugar daddy Indonesia could step up and fund a race and France is returning for 2018. However, what happens if seven or eight or nine races want to rinse their hands of Formula One after years of spending and crowds that don't replenish the coffers?

McLaren executive director Zak Brown believes the answer is turning each race into a Super Bowl with lots of fan engagement. Brown states that the Super Bowl takes over a city in the week leading up to the game and each grand prix should follow that mold of a week long celebration before the curtain raises on race day.

While I applaud Brown's idea, there is a problem with being the Super Bowl. First, all the fan engagement in the world the Monday-Thursday before a race will not make it more affordable for fans to show up at the race track Friday-Sunday. It takes a small fortune to attend a Formula One race and the ticket structure forces fans to buy 3-day tickets, which means only showing up for race day leaves you eating 2/3s of the ticket cost unless you get a hotel, another expenditure that won't be cheap.

The Super Bowl is a once-a-year event. People save for it. People mortgage their homes to go to it, especially if their team is going to the big game because the opportunity may never come again in their lifetime. Not to mention, the Super Bowl is the cash grabs of all cash grabs. How many of those events in the days leading up to the Super Bowl are free? Next to none. Fans pay to go to media day. Media day! Well, now media night but an event that is just players sitting around at podiums and being hawked by journalists and wannabe journalists just trying to be noticed and get fifteen minutes of fame by stealing the spotlight by asking ridiculous questions and wearing wedding dresses.

A grand prix is a once-a-year event but a grand prix relates differently to the fan base than the Super Bowl. A grand prix returns the next year and the next year and the year after that. It's not a once-in-a-lifetime event. It's not worth mortgaging the home over nor should the festivities leading up be another way to siphon every last dollar out of a fans pocket.

Brown's sentiment is in the right place but slightly misguided. Formula One doesn't need 21 Super Bowls. It needs races that the average person can afford to attend even if that means lowering the sanctioning fee so tracks can set prices at a more reasonable rate. Fan engagement on race weekends can be improved as well. There should be more face-to-face interaction between drivers and fans. There should be autograph sessions, even if sessions are held the Thursday before the race weekend but it needs to be done at a reasonable price. Just because drivers, chief mechanics and team executives are millionaires doesn't mean the fans have the same type of change to throw around.

The Super Bowl is the antithesis of what Formula One should want a grand prix to be. It is one thing to want to be compared to another haughty event but 21 Super Bowls isn't the solution for Formula One. The solution is be more like IMSA, WEC or IndyCar and interacting with the fans at a fair price.

Winners From the Weekend
The #911 Herbert Motorsports Porsche of Brendon Hartley, Robert Renauer, Albert Renauer, Daniel Allemann and Rolf Bohn won the Dubai 24 Hour. The #1 Hofor-Racing Mercedes of Michael Kroll, Chantal Kroll, Roland Eggimann, Kenneth Heyer and Christaan Frankenhout won in A6-Am.

Other class winners from the Dubai 24 Hour:
SPX: #87 GDL Racing Middle East Lamborghini of Franke Pelle, Rory Penttinen, Vic Rice and Pierre Ehret

991: #68 Black Falcon Team TMD Friction Porsche of Saud Al Faisal, Saeed Al Mouri, Anders Fjordbach and Alexander Toril.

SP2: #207 Bovi Motorsport Brokemat Silver Sting of Wolfgang Kaufmann, Kalman Bodis, Jaap van Lagen and Heino Bo Frederiksen.

SP3: #231 Optimum Motorsport Ginetta of Stewart Linn, Ade Barwick, Dan O'Brien and William Moore.

TCR: #108 Cadspeed Racing with Atech Audi of James Kaye, Julian Griffin, Erik Holstein and Finally Hutchison.

A3: #308 Team Altran Peugeot of Guillaume Roman, Thierry Blaise, Kim Holmgaard and Michael Carlsen.

CUP1: #151 Sorg Rennsport BMW of Stephan Epp, Christian Andreas Franz, Michael Hollerweger, Heiko Eichenberg and Oskar Sandberg.

A2: #171 Team Eva Solo/K-Rejser Peugeot of Jacob Kristensen, Jan Engelbrecht, Thomas Sørensen, Jens Mølgaard and Henrik Sørensen.

Stéphane Peterhansel won the Dakar Rally, his seventh in the car class and 13th overall. Sam Sunderland became the first British person to win the Dakar Rally as he victorious in the bike class. Sergey Karyakin won in the quad class. Eduard Nikolaev won in the truck class for the second time. Leandro Torres won the inaugural running of the UTV class.

Oklahoman Christopher Bell won the Chili Bowl.

Ken Roczen won the Supercross race at San Diego, his second consecutive victory.

Marcus Armstrong, Thomas Randle and Jehan Daruvala split the Toyota Racing Series races at Ruapuna Park. Taylor Cockerton initially won race two but was handed a 10-second penalty for a false start. Originally second-place finisher Pedro Piquet was handed a 30-second penalty for an incident with Randle. These penalties elevated Randle to the top of the podium.

Coming Up This Weekend
Race of Champions comes to the United States and specifically, Miami.
Asian Le Mans Series closes its 2016–17 season at Sepang.
The World Rally Championship opens with Rally Monte-Carlo.
Supercross returns to Anaheim.
Toyota Racing Series heads to Teretonga Park.