In-season test ban, cost-cutting and Gen Y’s

The discussion continues on just how Formula 1 might cut costs and remain appealing to fans and potential fans. Formula 1’s changes have already caused much criticism and ex-driver Alain Prost said (using F1’s new pejorative “noise”):

“I still think the noise is an excuse, because a lot of other things are not going well.

“The big challenge is that the public, the people, the fans, they [need to] understand why we have done this change.

“In this case it is not all good, because they see there is a big change but they don’t understand very well why we have done that.”

According to AUTOSPORT, the quest for cost cutting may be coming back to the idea of banning in-season testing again. While this year has had two post-race tests in Spain and Bahrain, two more tests are scheduled after the British and Abu Dhabi grands prix.

It seem antithetical to me but banning in-season testing has been suggested as some teams feel it isn’t justified due to the increased expense and stress it puts on personnel. According to the report, there is also an interest in only having two sessions of pre-season testing with both of them possibly in Spain as leaving Europe gets too expensive.

In one sense, Prost is advocating less regulatory restriction of the sport in the interest of garnering new fans but the FIA and teams are looking at more sporting and technical regulation changes to help reduce costs in the series.

It is an interesting issue as current pop culture seems to elevate geek chic and algorithm sexy and one would think that F1 could be presented as the ultimate nerd tank for “smart people and fans”. Yet that appeal hasn’t been very impactful on the Gen Y hipsters, code jockeys and techno-savvy social justice #hashtagactivist crowd. This leaves the series wondering just what it has to do in order to survive financially as well as gain new fans.

Would reducing testing help gain fans? Most likely not. Would it save costs? Yes, but would the lack of testing produce good, competitive racing that is entertaining? If so, would the money saved from testing be used elsewhere and would it really be a savings?

So now we are down to changes to the sporting regulations or the technical regulations but which one? FIA president Jean Todt called the team’s suggestions a joke but Ferrari’s James Allison says that may be an oversimplification of the issue:

“One of things we’ve said is that in general the technical regulations have not been the happiest hunting ground for saving margins,” he said.

“Sporting regulations have been generally more effective in that, so if there’s an amount of effort to be put into discussing stuff, probably the biggest amount of money will be saved if we focus our effort on the sporting side.

“Saying that, there always are areas on the technical side where you can save chunks of money. I think it would be wrong to say these things are a joke.”

When you pull back from the fray, it really does appear to be several different marketing plans at war with each other and it will be very interesting to see which road F1 takes. In the end, is F1 simply going to shrink in size due to the lack of interest from the younger public at large? Will the series reduce to a size that is sustainable by Gen X and Baby Boomer interest only given the lack of Gen Y interest in the sport? Sure, not all Gen Y avoid F1 but the generation doesn’t represent the biggest demographic watching the series.

How to cut costs, remain true to its DNA and appeal to new, younger fans? Maybe F1 needs to just offer a knee-jerk reaction and cater to current Gen Y cultural morays? The problem with caving to pop culture is that you pin the future on things that very easily could backfire in their ability to appeal. As fast as MySpace grew, it died. Facebook is already seeing and exodus of young people (if you believe news reports) and F1 would be wise to stay true to its DNA even if that means that it becomes a $900 million sport instead of a multi-billion dollar sport. But is staying true to its legacy going to kill it? Surely a sport that loses the muscle on the bone will fall into atrophy and wither away right?

What do you think? Can F1 cut costs, appeal to new fans, keep legacy fans happy and explain its changes effectively to make Alain Prost’s notion a reality? In the end, Prost feels the regulations, whether for cost-savings or not, are confusing new potential fans:

“I know F1 and with all the information you have I find the races very interesting,” he added.

“But I think about if I do not know F1 very well and watch it on TV, will it be something that I like to watch? I am not quite sure.

“We have a lot of restrictions, a lot of regulation, and maybe we went too far.

“We have no big [strategic] risk now. You need to understand what is happening, but not the fact it is all written in advance.”

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