💡 F1'24: Ideas to make F1 better (Part two)

Sprints, TV, blue flags, 11 teams, videogames and Steve Ryder's caffeine levels

You can read part one (and see why we split this into two), here.

Part two of these ideas covers Sprints, TV deals, more teams, blue flags and EA Sports. An eclectic mix, to go along with the changes in Part one.

📺 SPRINT ON ONE DAY

I’ve written about this before. And I get the logic for the change. There are five racing sessions in a weekend. Practice x3, Qualifying and the Grand Prix. Nothing ground breaking about my ability to read a schedule. On a sprint weekend, you ditch two of the practices, replacing them with a shorter qualifying session and a shorter sprint race.

When the system first started, it went P, Q / SQ, S / GP. Now, it goes P, SQ / S, Q / GP. Both terrible hands if dealt in Scrabble. To people who are for this move, it makes sense to keep everything compartmentalised. You have to start with practice and end with the Grand Prix, but having Qualifying so distant from the race, with the sprint logistics sandwiched in the middle made things confusing. I get that. But I think F1 needs a rethink, and I’ve never felt stronger about it as a fan in the UK.

The UK means paywall. Sky Sports shows the series here, as well as F2, F3 and the F1 Academy. You literally never hear them advertise the junior series on their other coverage. They have as a broadcaster failed to attract newer fans to the series, almost succeeding in spite of itself.

In Miami, Ted Kravitz interviewed Ed Sheeran, who was in town to play over the Grand Prix weekend. Sheeran was not a big F1 fan until he saw Drive to Survive on Netflix.

"I watched all of Drive to Survive and I guess that’s like the best crash course that you can do in it is just watch that and most people that I know that love it now are into it through that” - Ed Sheeran, speaking to Sky Sports (quote from GP Blog)

I highly doubt he is alone in that. Sky Sports is great if you know when the junior series is racing, and if you already have an interest in the sport, but it is terrible at bringing new people in, and that’s partly down to its presentation, but also partly down to the paywall.

Other sports have had strong success combining free-to-air access with a paywall element. Rugby League has some Super League games on the BBC, as well as being long-standing broadcasters of the Challenge Cup. The same network will be showing men’s Champions League highlights from next season (I hope they bring back the Sportsnight theme). Formula E was having a good run on being on almost all terrestrial channels in the UK before putting itself behind the TNT Sports paywall. TNT shows MotoGP, but a couple of race weekends are live on ITV. The same ITV that throws the BTCC championship onto ITV4 from 10-6 along with all the feeder races and an increasingly-caffeinated Steve Ryder.

(Short disclaimer: I’ve worked on a few of the above sports mentioned, but not on their TV deals, obviously. Shorter disclaimer: I have no idea about Steve Ryder’s caffeine intake)

The best example to use here though is cricket. If me and the person reading this wanted to go outside and film ourselves playing a cricket match, I am 90% sure Sky Sports would own the rights to that footage. Test cricket in the UK was shown on the BBC (yes, the theme is playing in your head too), before moving to Channel 4 in the late 90s (yes, I’m singing Mambo No 5 too). This lasted until 2005 before Sky Sports took over (no idea what theme they use). Sir Alistair Cook was first called up in 2006, and scored 12,472 Test runs. Not a single one of those over his 12-year Test career was on terrestrial television. 

A generation of kids whose parents did not pay the increasingly aggressive price for cable or satellite TV simply lost their access to English cricket. Recognising this, The Hundred was created, throwing out a lot of cricket’s popular conventions and putting some live games on free-to-air television. It isn’t popular with everyone, but it has put the sport back on the radar for a lot of people.

So - back to F1 - how does this help? The Sprint Shootout and Race works best as a one-day format. And to go further, both elements should be on free-to-air TV. Use the sprint to get people into F1, and offer the option of Grands Prix weekends to those who want to see more. Broadcaster convenience and storytelling would dictate that a 5-hour gap between shootout and Sprint gives fans the chance to build their day around two hours of racing action. The net result should be more fans getting involved in the sport and becoming fans. Showing the British Grand Prix for free once a year isn’t the same as showing the exciting new format in its entirety to fans.

🥇 SEPARATE SPRINT CHAMPIONSHIP

As well as differentiating between major races and others, and putting the sprint on one day, there should be a separate sprint championship. The points you get in the sprint should also count towards the grand total you got from the Grands Prix, but I think separating the two entities would help with its perception and presentation.

Offering points to eighth also helps if the Grand Prix points system was extended. If points were offered all the way down the grid for the main event, keeping the top for the elite still gives purists some form of separation. Although I accept that some drivers wouldn't be as inclined to take sprint risks because there are no points for 13th when you have to fight the next day.

With the way results have gone, this might not make any difference as to who might win it, but with the sprint appearing at a quarter of the races this season (and it isn’t going away), it gives extra data and context to fans, and might give some of the drivers lower down the order something to aim for and target.

The other solution I eventually rejected was to run the Sprints at the same tracks, but different layouts. So the Bahrain outer loop, Red Bull Ring reversed, different layouts at Monza, Silverstone and COTA, but I think logistically this would be too difficult and would necessitate an extra practice session.

PUT AT LEAST 11 TEAMS ON THE GRID

I’ve written about this before when Andretti felt like it might happen. And it might still happen, despite the efforts of some parties within the sport. It’s a fairly old article, but most of it still stands.

DITCH MOST OF THE BLUE FLAGS

If you're new to F1, firstly welcome, and secondly, let me explain about blue flags. 

If you are a lap down, and faster cars approach you, you have three blue flags to get out of the way. No matter what you're doing, you might be in a battle with the place above, but you have to move. 

If in my world, we’re awarding points for all finishers, then it's time to let these faster cars overtake on their own merit and remove blue flags for cars about to be lapped once.

You would still keep the blue flags for cars about to be two or more laps down, but that is rare.

There is a way you can also extend on the points for all finishers rule, and make it so only finishers on the lead lap score points, to keep everyone competitive…

🎮 ACADEMY AND F3 IN F1 GAME

This feels like an absolute no brainer. EA Sports make the official game, and put in last season’s F2 grid, releasing the current year’s F2 lineup in a downloadable update at some point in the summer. 

I really don’t see why they can’t add another two car models and the numerous car liveries that come along with the cars on the grid. In F1 Academy’s crucial first year, this extra exposure helps fans, boosts sponsor values through exposure and offers those partners extra ways to activate (Charlotte Tilbury could ask people to drive Lola Lovinfosse’s car around a track in that livery and upload their time, for example). 

And if you’re adding Academy, then for completeness, you should be adding Formula 3 too. If you are making the official video game of the series, it feels off that you wouldn’t include all of the junior series. 

At the time of writing, I don’t think EA Sports has any plan to do this, which I think is a major miss.

So there we go, an incomplete manifesto of ideas to make this sport better. I don’t expect everyone to agree, and well, that’s ok too. There’s a reason I don’t run Formula 1, but as a lifelong fan of the sport, seeing how it has progressed and developed over the decades, it feels like there are a few things that need updating. As we hit the most intriguing part of the season with a European triple-header, thanks for reading, and please do pass this on to someone if you enjoyed it.

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