Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Stay at home Mumms // How we came close to visiting the European Grand Prix but thought better of it

Published by Mr. C

On occasion, Christine and I get quizzed on why we, as Formula One fans with our very own home Grand Prix, no longer pay to go to races. We put quite a bit of effort into running what is ostensibly an F1 website and as fans of the sport, it is perhaps seen as our duty to show some support. After all, if two individuals this dedicated to the sport don't make the effort, who on earth will?

A short history of nearly nothing

As a brief recap, we've been to the British Grand Prix on three occasions, for the full weekend in both 2007 and 2008 and solely for Friday practice in 2009. We bought our own tickets for the first two years, but the final visit came courtesy of an F1 sponsor. Bizarrely in 2010, we travelled within the close vicinity of Silverstone twice on free practice Friday, but never entered the gates.

Twas a rainy day in Silverstone
Twas a rainy day in SilverstoneCredit: Sidepodcast

For two years we hadn't attended our home GP and had no intention of doing so this year, even before logistical failures saw fans trapped in their cars for nine and a half hours.

What we did discuss between ourselves pre-season was the potential of attending a more appealing event this season. Choices were whittled down to Valencia - it has a beach, more often than not it experiences nice weather, and it's close to the city centre, has a decent public transport system and plentiful hotels. The only complication was one of costs.

Valencia is an affordable holiday destination 51 weeks of the year, but the one weekend F1 comes to town, prices for hotels, flights and more simply skyrocket. Add to that the price of a pair of three day race tickets and the good intention rapidly falls to pieces. The expected costs while high, were not insurmountable, but they were large enough to make us pause for thought, and pausing for thought inevitably leads to the question, does Formula One offer value for money?

That very awkward question

On paper an F1 event appears to offer a packed programme featuring three days worth of high-octane all-day entertainment, but experience tells us something different. A total of five sessions of Formula One track action should be enough to satisfy any passionate fan's interest. Sadly during the two most recent events practice sessions have been a washout, with drivers running a minimal number of laps. Additionally at points during this season tyre saving strategies have meant teams are desperate to spend as much time as possible in their garage during qualifying sessions, hidden away from the sight of grandstand viewers.

Support races from lower-category series offer something to the most dedicated of motorsport fan, while driver signing sessions cater for those who collect the unfathomable squiggles. For me, though, when the F1 engines stopped, there wasn't actually much to do at a circuit. Notably in the first two years that we attended races, Honda kindly provided entertainment outside the track, but without that distraction I strongly suspect we'd have been at quite a loose end.

Race day at least provides a decent amount of interest from the driver parade to the podium celebration, but it's worth mentioning that our first port of call following any in-situ race weekend has been to watch the race back on television to figure out exactly what had happened. F1 cars don't race on ovals, so understanding position changes beyond the corner you happen to be located at is more than a little tricky.

The wonderful Fanvision device is an essential companion in this regard, but despite being completely essential it is in fact an optional, additional and expensive purchase.

Falling attendance

I was motivated to make these notes following a post today from Joe Saward, who contemplated why the German Grand Prix managed to fill only half of their available capacity last weekend. Joe summarises exactly our misgivings about going to races in one succinct paragraph.

With modern communications technology, fans can now sit at home and watch the racing and see such things as live timing, from the comfort of their own homes. They do not need to worry about endless queues, muddy puddles and overpriced food and drink. It does not make sense for them to buy tickets.

- Joe Saward

I cannot fault that statement.

At home we have all the information we could desire - live timing, track positioning, tweets direct from teams and journalists on the scene. Plus a fabulous community of fans right here on this site offering an experience on par with or perhaps even better than any atmosphere you'll find in the grandstands. Yes you're missing the engine noise and perhaps the smell of a hotdog stand, but you gain a whole new level of insight and perspective that beats 'being there' in so many ways. Right now I can't see any compelling reason to pay money to understand less.

Perhaps technology has obviated the point of going to a race track entirely, there is no need for earplugs in our living room and little risk of sunburn either.

The whole Formula One experience is arguably more enjoyable for us at home and organisers are going to have to go some way to beat that these days. This I guess leads to the inevitable question, would the sport be any worse off if all fans simply stayed at home instead?

Were the recent Korean, Bahrain or even the German Grand Prix any less entertaining because the grandstands weren't packed to capacity? If all that matters is what happens on track, is it a bad thing that we, along with many others, prefer our F1 to come via the internet and the big screen rather than being there in person?

This year, by not going to the European Grand Prix, we can afford to visit Valencia twice instead or maybe go somewhere else entirely. F1 fans are being taken for a ride, be it by airlines, hotels, vendors within the circuit and even the sport itself. Who can blame us for staying right where we are, watching free-to-air coverage, spending our incomes more wisely?