One thing I’ve noticed since Liberty Media purchased Formula 1 is the continual assault on my inbox with questionnaires meant to define the fan desire for F1. On one hand, it is great that they are seeking fan feedback and on the other hand, I worry about the quality of that feedback given the frequency of those questionnaires and what kind of completion rate they experience and the quality of the feedback over time.
I don’t complete every survey email I get. In fact, I’ve done very few. They are frequent, almost too frequent, and I simply don’t have the time to spend, given the rate at which they send them, to be F1’s free market research sample base. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to help and I think as a veteran viewer I would have decent feedback but I have a day job.
If the incoming questionnaires come too frequently, the level of quality responses will decline and what you are left with are continual answers from a few folks who have time to complete the surveys on a regular basis and themes arise as well as limited feedback loops.
In a recent interview over at Autosport, F1 technical boss, Ross Brawn, spoke about the results of market research, which he said had never been done in F1, and one of the key takeaways from that research.
“One thing that comes over very strongly is that fans are concerned about fairness. They want everyone to have a fair chance, and what they see is teams with a lot more resource than others, which is true, and they don’t perceive that as fair.
“And so the things that are going on to support this, the cost control, the revenue model, those are things that look secondary, but which actually have a big impact on the fairness of F1 and the ability of drivers to race.
“You’ve got to be in a top-three car to stand a chance of winning a race these days, and if you’re not then you won’t win it and that’s not right. We want the grandees, we want the marquee teams, but fans do not want to watch a race where they know one of three teams is going to win every weekend.
“I think the work that’s going into cost control and the revenue model will bring a greater degree of fairness and will reduce the gaps between the haves and have-nots.”
I get very concerned about the concept of making changes to F1 based on the fans perception of fairness in F1. All teams have equal opportunity to participate in F1. What resources those team bring to the series and effort is entirely up to them.
Can any “fan” tell me that the $120 million Force India spent in 2017 was not as fair as the $120 million Williams spent based on the fact that the Williams couldn’t run in the same zip code as the Force India? Force India even had all their points erased and started over 13 races into the 2018 season and yet still mopped the floor with Williams F1. IS that because they had an unfair amount of resources? No, they were insolvent.
Was Williams put upon because the $120 million Sauber spent was unfair compared to their $120 million? What about Toro Rosso’s $120 million? You get the point.
The fact is, teams haven’t been in rude health since tobacco money left and the title sponsor model collapsed. When Vodafone left McLaren, the race team’s revenue was seriously impacted. Not completely but seriously.
The prize money has become the main source of income for some of the teams and a major cost offset for the big teams. The more they spend, the more prize money they get and if you consider spending $300 million and then win $130 million in prize money, the complete spend is closer to what Williams, McLaren, Sauber and Toro Rosso are spending on their program. That’s simple math and it is more complex than that but you get the point.
What fans are grousing about is equity of prize money and team resources. They believe that Mercedes dominates because they spend the most money and that’s probably very true but Williams has every right to bring $400 million to their program if they choose to. Equal opportunity is there but Williams isn’t producing enough success or making the right moves to garner an investment of that scale and they even had Racing Points owner investing heavily in them in 2018 and still couldn’t deliver. The investor left and bought their own team.
The challenge is that the manufacturers have effectively determined the regulations based on innovation they want to invest in. They then bring a level of investment that privateers can’t compete with due to lack of title sponsor investment in their racing programs. This leaves manufacturers driving the sport.
In fairness to them, if they are the only ones who can invest in R&D and create the engine the series uses, then they are the ones propping up the sport. You are beholden to the ones who produce engines and tech the series relies on.
The regulations are creating the sense of unfairness in F1. The regulation set is so complex that privateers can’t seek affordable alternatives that would be competitive. This means that the big teams remain big because they own the IP for the key elements the series relies on.
I have concern over the teams’ reliance on the prize money as their main source of revenue and then capping or recalculating the payout process and I am sure F1 has concerns as well as the top manufacturers. They are spending the most to support the series so messing around with their prize money in order to give Williams more is not going to go down very well.
Fans may not perceive the prize money Mercedes receives as fair but Mercedes is facing more risk and more R&D expense in order to keep F1 alive than Williams or Toro Rosso or Racing Point are. Red Bull and Ferrari equally spend more on F1’s health than the small teams do.
Fairness, from a fans perspective, is not always the best indicator of what should be done with F1’s prize money. I am fine paying the heavy investors more than those also-rans. What I would rather see is a much simpler regulation set and more OEM providers of engines, gearboxes, chassis’ and such. If the series used high-efficiency V8’s, Williams could spend $10 million with Gibson and be very competitive. This would be $10 million saving over what they currently spend on engines.
Also, which fan can tell us which teams use their money wisely? Do fans know how efficient an operation is in the use of the resources they have? I’d argue that Force India used its limited resources much better than Williams did in 2017 and 2018. That’s based on knowing how limited their resources were and the results they had but I don’t get to see their P&L so I have no idea if they buy 1-ply toilet paper for their bathrooms or posh 4-ply scented.
Hat Tip: Autosport