Since Liberty Media’s inception into Formula 1 the sport has seen an unprecedented growth across the globe, that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down any time soon. With the increasing popularity of the sport, an induction of new fans is inevitable and although this increase in interest appears to be positive on the face of it, is it actually contributing to a decline in the overall experience of the sport?
Following the infamous Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2021 the rules of the sport were put under a spotlight like never before, the implementation of the rules became a cause for widespread debate amongst fans, teams and the FIA themselves with no one seemingly agreeing on what the right outcome should be. The uproar caused by this now notorious event in the sport signaled a turning point, with many fans in disbelief over what they had just seen the FIA had no other choice but to reform their rules to ensure that an event like this would not be repeated. Although this seemed like a step in the right direction, at the last Grand Prix in Monza many questioned the decision made by the race directors which saw the race end under a safety car with six laps remaining. Whilst some hiccups were to be expected throughout the season, as everyone became acclimated with the new rules and regulations, the most recent fiasco at Monza highlighted that the same old problems are beginning to crop up again in spite of the rule changes. Whilst many believe that the race didn’t have to end under the safety car as there were 6 laps remaining it’s much easier to say looking back in hindsight. This single incident in isolation may not be too damning on the FIA but the main point of contention remains, the fundamental rules governing the sport appear to be so flippant and inconsistent that it is hard for anyone to keep up. With the influx of new fans and the previous prioritisation of entertainment over procedure the sport appears to be driving a wedge between the fans, who tune in for the pure theatrics of the sport, and the fans who want a return to clear cut racing.
Another prominent issue that looks to be on the rise is the decline in the fan experience. This year has seen a disturbing number of accounts from fans describing how their time at a Grand Prix weekend has been absolutely ruined by others in attendance. From sexual harassment, to racism to homophobia, Formula 1’s declaration to stand together is being called in to question now more than ever. Having attended the British GP last year, I distinctly remember Max’s interview after qualifying and I couldn’t help but cringe upon hearing the crowd reaction. Even if the drivers don’t mind being booed or cheered, as it common in many other sports, it’s indicative of a wider problem that is running rampant through the fanbase as it expands. The direct abuse the particular groups of the fanbase are receiving for trivial things such as their favourite driver or more serious aspects, such as their race or gender, have to be tackled immediately before there is an opportunity for this behaviour to permeate throughout the sport even further. Upon hearing the fan accounts at certain Grand Prix’s this year, I was disgusted and considered myself lucky to have not had a similar experience whilst at Silverstone. After reflecting on this it was evident that my consideration perfectly encapsulated what was wrong, avoiding abuse should not be considered ‘lucky’ as it has no place in the sport at all, especially as this could have easily been reversed had I attended a different Grand Prix in which I received abuse for being a woman or a person of colour. The FIA’s response to these claims needs to be firm and permanent, help should be implemented around all circuits whether that be extra security or help line to call should anyone face any abuse. A hardline approach needs to be adopted to drive out this increasingly volatile behaviour as it is has already gone too far.
The final and most recent controversy arose with the sale of Silverstone tickets for 2023. It’s no secret that F1’s pursuit of profit is of paramount importance to them; with the addition of a Las Vegas Grand Prix and the recent debut of the Miami Grand Prix, the eye watering costs of these tickets clearly indicated the direction that F1 was heading in. However, with the recent prices of the Silverstone tickets, that appeared to increase by the minute, it began to show that the access to historic Grand Prix’s such as Silverstone are lowly slipping away from the ordinary fan. Whilst small price increases from year to year are common the hike in prices for the 2023 tickets skyrocketed compared to last year’s prices, and to make things worse it appeared though whilst fans were waiting in a queue to purchase their tickets the prices were being pushed up even further with general admission tickets reaching £300. The spectacle of Vegas and Miami were expected to come with a costly price tag, however traditional tracks such as Silverstone have drawn in a loyal base of supporters that are now being priced out of an event that they have helped to build up. Whilst F1 did take significant financial hits during the pandemic it looks as though it is beginning to alienate its core supporters by confirming that this sport is once again exclusively for the rich and is returning to its elitist foundations.
The current state of Formula 1 is seemingly in a confused space with a divide between fans, uncertainty over the rules and an increasing cost that many can’t keep up with this is a serious cause for concern. The future of the sport will no doubt thrive but at what cost? Formula 1’s modern day approach to reach new audiences has unquestionably been a success however, this expansion and appeal is now becoming its downfall with the greed to make as much money as possible driving away its core audience whilst diluting the sport in order to be ‘entertaining’.