Why F1 is losing appeal: Lo-tech=lowbrow

I wrote an Op Ed piece about pandering to Gen Y and while it’s just my thoughts concerning the media coverage of Gen Y versus the reality of multi-generational workplaces and appeal and how Formula One needs to be sensitive to the changes, I am intrigued by the thought of keeping F1 appealing.

Let’s face it, the smartphone is this generation’s symbol of freedom. Fewer young people are getting driver’s licenses than in the past and it could signal the internet as the new “Driver’s License” if pundits are correct. My generation’s symbol, and reality, was the car!  We worked as hard as we could to get a car so we could be free and travel to a friends house for a visit. Now we just text each other with pictures and videos. Sure, technology has evolved but has it in Formula One?

Let’s face it, carmakers are rapidly advancing in the technology arena and if the tech that Gen Y uses is so critical to their existence, then manufacturers are capitalizing on this evolution. We have connected cars with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, social media apps built in and a seamless voice activated system that will tweet your location et. al.

The car now parallel parks itself (which is odd as I think everyone should be able to do this but then I’m a Gen X) and it has become a lot smarter, much like our phones. Google even believes the car should drive itself and has made great progress in that arena but what about Formula One?

The aerodynamic evolution is astounding because it is the one area allowed to develop and teams have taken liberties with this black art with no one better at divining the minuscule gains in aero than Red Bull’s Adrian Newey. There is little question as to the impact that aerodynamics have played on F1 but is it appealing to a younger generation? Evolution of the “connected car” has certainly begun and carmakers are trying to re-create teh love fo the car in the minds of the young driver but is F1?

Formula One banned many of the driver aids that appeal to road car buyers. Traction control, automatic gearboxes, two-way communication etc. F1 fans claim they would really rather see old shifter-style gearboxes, no traction control, no re-fueling, no driver assist systems, no two-way communication from car-to-pit, no ride-height adjustments, no engine mapping, no advanced exhaust design and many, many more.

Ferrari’s Luca di Montezemolo recently panned F1 for its lack of vision and slavish behavior to aerodynamics over engine and chassis development. The only technology innovations in F1 in recent years are KERS and DRS and both of these are purely a construct allowed to overcome the impact of the pragmatic approach to unfettered aerodynamic evolution and application.

If F1 wants to appeal to Gen Y, perhaps they could take a book from the carmakers? More technology! Why not have the car Tweet it’s location and status?What about the car possessing its own Facebook page? Why couldn’t the team control the car with two-way communication and isn’t there a way that Tata Communications could provide at-track data and social media for attending fans to engage with using their smartphones instead of renting a Fanvision device for a weekend? No offense to Fanvision but streaming video and telemetry as well as timing and scoring be done on an iPhone, iPad or other smart device without the $300 price tag. this way fans who are not at the race could participate as well.

If Ford can use Microsoft to improve their car’s connectivity and youthful appeal with Sync, then why can’t Lotus F1 team-up with their sponsor (Microsoft) to improve their fan engagement? I fI worked for Lotus F1, I would call Microsoft and discuss way to fully utilize their cloud service called Azure to radically improve the fan experience.

I’m not advocating that F1 should eventually have driver-less cars using Google’s technology but then when asked, 37% of respondents said they would be interested in buying a fully automatic car such as Googles. Then again, BMW, GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac are all working on a driverless fleet so perhaps the time for 1:1 scale RC cars is finally here. I’ll take the one with the built-in USB camera so I can Tweet it and post it on Facebook.

What do you think? The FIA has ratcheted down the technology in F1 and the advances are starting to, as Ferrari said, become meaningless to fans because they cannot see it. Should F1 throw off the boorish position of living in the past to appeal to youth with technology that matters? Carmakers are!

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