More competition, greater fan engagement, a relaxed rulebook and a return to a tyre ‘war’; they’re just some of the key recommendations from an extensive fan survey into Formula One conducted by the group that represents the men behind the wheel, the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association.
At the Monaco Grand Prix in May, the GPDA launched an online survey to discover what F1 fans want for the future, proving a rare opportunity for a representative voice to be heard for those who follow the sport.
The survey was completed by more than 217,000 fans, with participants coming from 194 countries. The highest number came from the United Kingdom; Australia ranked seventh in participation and ahead of Japan, Italy and Brazil, key F1 markets with significantly larger populations.
Who are Formula One’s fans?
If you’re 37 years old and have been following F1 for more than a decade, then you’re an average fan based on the results of the survey. Half of the respondents were between the ages of 25-44, while 25 per cent of those surveyed said F1 was their favourite sport.
One in five fans have been to a Grand Prix in the past 12 months, while away from the track, the increasing trend of F1 moving to pay-TV in several key markets has changed the way people consume it. Approximately 90 per cent of fans watch races on TV, but more than 50 per cent haven’t watched races live since they moved away from free-to-air.
The TV trends are also reflected in an increased online following; more fans (55 per cent to 50) say websites are now their primary source of information rather than TV, and approximately 45 per cent watch races online, 30 per cent watching on demand at a time of their choosing.
How do fans feel about F1?
While the appreciation for the technology arms race that has always typified F1 remains, F1 fans aren’t as positive about the sport as they were in 2010, when the now-defunct Formula One Teams Association embarked on the most recent comparable global survey. Less than 10 per cent of those surveyed feel F1 is healthier now than it was in 2010, with cost and predictable racing cited as two of the three key factors.
With Mercedes winning 23 of the 27 Grands Prix ahead of this weekend’s race at Silverstone since the advent of the V6 1.6-litre turbo hybrid era, 89 per cent of fans say F1 needs to be more competitive; on a related point, 85 per cent believe the sport needs to do more to obtain and retain new fans to counter Mercedes’ domination and a saturated sports market featuring more choice for the armchair viewer than ever.
Six in 10 respondents still see F1 as the “pinnacle of motorsport”, but the perception that today’s grid doesn’t feature the best drivers is increasing; 88 per cent believe F1 should feature the best 20 drivers in the world, but less than half (45 per cent) believe it actually does. More than half (56 per cent) of those surveyed feel today’s Formula One cars appear too easy to drive.
Who are the star attractions?
Kimi Raikkonen has been roundly thrashed since his return to Ferrari by Fernando Alonso and now Sebastian Vettel, but the survey revealed the Finn to be the most popular driver in F1. The oldest driver in the sport at 35, Raikkonen rated ahead of Alonso (second) and another 30-something in his McLaren teammate Jenson Button (third); neither reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton, nor the driver who won the four titles before Hamilton, Vettel, could crack the popularity podium.
Ferrari hasn’t won a title since Raikkonen’s 2007 success, but remains the most popular team; the Prancing Horse topped the ‘favourite teams’ tally ahead of British duo McLaren and Williams. Just one in 10 respondents follow only one team, while one-third of those surveyed support more than one team and driver.
Cars from Michael Schumacher’s red reign at Ferrari in the 2000s were considered the best-looking F1 machines of all; 32 per cent of respondents rated the cars from the ‘noughties’ as their favourite. The current iteration of F1 cars ranked just fifth on the list of seven decades of machinery (10 per cent), ahead of only the 1960s and ’50s.
What of the future?
F1 fans gave a resounding thumbs-down to gimmicky solutions to what are seen as deep-rooted problems. Radical suggestions like reverse-grid races (advocated by just 18 per cent of those surveyed), success ballast as a handicap system to add extra weight to front-running cars to slow them down (26 per cent) and calls for three-car teams or fewer teams running more cars (14 per cent) received a lukewarm response. The Drag Reduction System (DRS), in place since 2011 as an aid to promote overtaking, has lost favour, just 40 per cent believing it improves racing.
Eight in 10 respondents were keen on a return to competing tyre companies in F1, last seen with Bridgestone and Michelin in 2006, while 60 per cent want in-race refuelling reinstated for the first time since 2009.
Skyrocketing budgets also have the fans concerned; 54 per cent believe a budget cap should be introduced and policed, with 68 per cent believing running costs are too high and are a threat to F1’s future.
A majority of fans (74 per cent) also believe F1’s rulebook should be relaxed to promote greater diversity between the cars.
The sound of Formula One engines, the subject of much debate since the normally-aspirated V8 powerplants were shelved at the end of 2013, remains a talking point, with nearly three-quarters of respondents saying the tune of F1 is important to them.
What happens next?
Alex Wurz, the chairman of the GPDA, said the drivers’ group would analyse the results from the survey before approaching F1 chiefs with their recommendations.
In the executive summary of the survey, Wurz wrote: “More than ever, F1 needs to feature the best drivers, and you (the fans) are looking to drivers to take a lead in engaging with fans to revitalise the sport; drive technical and sporting change to improve the spectacle and appeal of F1.”