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PHOTO : © 2015 CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS

The Traveling Circus Comes to Town

Over the last few years, I have slowly but steadily lost interest in F1, the series that is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsports, the final frontier for the greatest drivers in the world, the zenith of a driver’s career. Formula One is supposed to have the best racing in the world, it’s supposed to wow and amaze us with every turn. And yet, and here is the second part of my confession, the only race that hasn’t bored me to sleep was Circuit of the Americas. I haven’t actually been able to watch an entire F1 race this season.

I have a confession to make. It’s not one I’m particularly proud of and I’m not even sure I’m supposed to say anything. As a racing fan, this may be the lowest of the low. I may be breaking the rules of racing fandom. But I can’t keep quiet any longer. So…I have a confession to make and I can only hope you will forgive me.

I’m so over Formula One.

PHOTO : © 2015 CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS
PHOTO : © 2015 CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS

There it is. I have finally come clean and it feels good. Over the last few years, I have slowly but steadily lost interest in F1, the series that is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsports, the final frontier for the greatest drivers in the world, the zenith of a driver’s career. Formula One is supposed to have the best racing in the world, it’s supposed to wow and amaze us with every turn. And yet, and here is the second part of my confession, the only race that hasn’t bored me to sleep was Circuit of the Americas. I haven’t actually been able to watch an entire F1 race this season.

The saddest part about the fact I haven’t watched an F1 race in its entirety this season is that whenever I wake up, I already know the results. I know who was on the podium, and generally I know who won. There has been nothing particularly shocking about F1 this season, and the racing has, for the most part, been just okay. If you’re anyone but Mercedes (and later Ferrari), you’re just on par. I don’t know if it’s the way testing works or if Mercedes is just too powerful, but if F1 has taught me anything this season, it’s that I can’t stand predictability. And it isn’t like the predictability of WEC, where Porsche has dominated for the majority of the season. Even when Porsche has dominated, there have been breathless battles on track, moments when you weren’t sure what was going to happen. That so rarely happens in F1 now. And when it does, my Twitter feed explodes with people calling it “the best race so far this year”.

For me, the problem is also linked to the fact that F1 takes itself far too seriously. Gone are the days of James Hunt, of Senna v. Prost. Where are the personalities? Where is the fun? F1 recently has had two personality types: boring and Lewis Hamilton. One of my favorite things about IndyCar, about WEC, about IMSA, is the personalities of the participants. F1 just doesn’t have that. There is nothing to offset the boring racing.

 PHOTO : © 2015 CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS
PHOTO : © 2015 CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS

Or at least, there wasn’t. Last weekend, the US Grand Prix signaled an interesting shift in F1 that I wasn’t expecting. Last weekend, F1 started to draw me back in, and I have to say they changed the game.

It all started with the rain. Oh, how it rained in Austin, Texas. (For the record, where was the rain when I was there for WEC and it was 105 degrees?) As fans descended on the Circuit of the Americas, so did the disgusting weather. Sessions were delayed and then eventually canceled. It was a disaster for event organizers. And here is where most series fail. Most series thank fans for coming out but you get the sense it’s a hollow thank you. “Thanks for putting up with the weather. I mean, you spent a small fortune to be here so we’re guessing you wouldn’t go home but thanks anyway.” That was what I expected from F1, a series that sometimes comes across as seeing the fans as a nuisance, instead of what drives the sport.

Instead, F1 stepped up in a way that absolutely shocked me. A series that cuts fans off from drivers (unless you have all the money) suddenly showed off its personality. During a rained out qualifying session, crew members who always appear so serious began to entertain the fans in the grandstands with their “boat races” down pit lane. And then, most surprisingly, the drivers got involved. You had Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kyvat dancing in their garage. You had bowling. You had “fishing”. The fans across the way in the main grandstands got a show as they waited in the rain. It was fun, it was lighthearted, and it was such a huge shift from the normal.

But F1 didn’t stop there.

After qualifying was officially canceled, the series and the track announced they would be opening pit lane to the fans, and that the drivers would come out for autographs and pictures. People were tweeting to me telling me stories about drivers who were excited to take pictures, about crew members who would borrow their phones to take pictures of the cars for them. This was an experience that F1 rarely provides, and the fans who had braved thunderstorms suddenly had racing memories I guarantee they’ll never forget.

But it wasn’t just what was happening at the track that caught my eye. It was what was happening on social media. Lotus and Mercedes are generally famous for having a great sense of humor on social media (Lotus continuously wins the best F1 Team account in my book), but watching these two teams tweet to each other all weekend was absolutely hilarious. Sahara Force India joined in, too. Williams had some great tweets. Even the official Formula One account had some great tweets that made me stop and wonder when F1 joined the 21st century.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m passionate about utilizing social media to create passion for motorsports. It’s a great way to not only connect with the fans who can’t come to the races, but to also educate people on motorsports, to get them involved, to make them care about certain teams. I’m a big fan of WEC’s twitter account, wherein the social media gurus use gifs, pictures, emojis, and a sense of humor to bring the world of sports car racing to life. They interact with fans, they utilize Periscope, Instagram, and Facebook. IndyCar is a close second. And then there are teams that have realized that Twitter can be more than just a “let me tell how our car is doing” tool. Flying Lizard, Tequila Patron ESM, RealTime Acura, Andretti Autosport…these are all teams that use their social media accounts to engage fans in the sport. And that is so incredibly valuable.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a hundred times over. The best way to grow motorsports is through the fans. The best way to create passion is to show passion. The teams who use social media to basically report how a car is doing or the teams who don’t use social media at all are making such a grave error. Racing fans are passionate. We want to be engaged, even when we can’t be at a race. It’s why we all converge on social media. Every single team should have an active Twitter account, and they should use it. Build a fanbase, create passion, and keep that passion alive, even through the off season.

F1 hasn’t been doing that. F1 holds itself to a higher standard than the rest of the motorsports world, and maybe it should. Maybe it is the height of racing, the height of technology and skill. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need fans, or that it’s too good for the peasants like me who can’t afford to go to a race. Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari both defended keeping it serious during the COTA weekend. “I think this is F1, not a circus,” Kimi stated.

A quick definition of a “circus” from dictionary.com: a large, public entertainment, typically presented in large tents or an outdoor or indoor arena, featuring exhibitions of pageantry, feats of skill and daring, performing animals, etc.

Okay, so let’s take out the performing animals because the drivers are indeed human. But…I would say that an F1 race is a large, public entertainment that is presented in an outdoor arena that features exhibitions of pageantry and feats of skill and daring. At least, that’s what people always say. F1 drivers are the bravest, they’re the fastest, their skills and daring are unmatched in the world. While we like to pretend that F1 is the pinnacle of motorsports, it is, just like every other series, a traveling circus.

And for once, F1 embraced that. They embraced it for the fans, provided an incredible show on race day, and started to turn my cold, jaded F1 apathy on its head. Confession? I’m kind of excited to see where F1 goes next.

-Katie

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1 comment

  • Wow Katie! This is even better than your first endeavor into the world of writing 🙂 Well done. I do not follow F1 but I have to say your description of its flaws and its small, yet significant steps to address those flaws during one important rained out race have me intrigued. Your approach to showing exactly why you have begun to have a change of heart about F1 captured my attention right away in that I thought your article was going to be a scathing critique of a series beset with snobbery. Very clever to then systematically refute the notion that this series was unworthy of your time. Actually, I think F1 drivers and team managers should read this piece. You make an excellent case for how F1 can make itself not only respected in terms of track prowess, but also in terms of fan appreciation. Well done! 🙂