Teams defend US GP presentations amid “bad copy” criticism – C’mon it was not that bad…

From Motorsport.com

F1 organisers drafted in famous boxing announcer Michael Buffer to announce the drivers to fans at Austin, with the pre-race build-up being extended by an extra 15 minutes.

While it was welcome by fans at the track, there was widespread criticism that it had gone too far from many at home, with Fernando Alonso suggesting the effort was a “bad copy” of what happens in the Indianapolis 500.

But although not everyone felt the idea was a success, team chiefs think that F1 needs to be braver in trying new concepts out at a time when it is trying to engage fans more.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said: “I think it’s easy to criticise new things. We need to embrace change also. We have a great show and a great product and we need to try things.

“What they did in Austin was really great and fitted really well. There were so many great celebrities at the race, enjoying F1, with Michael Buffer, and the bands and everything. I think it was a success.

“Whether it is good at every race, probably not. We just need to identify what works in each of the country and add that little bit.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner concurred that while such intros may have been right for the US audience, it was not something that should be rolled out everywhere.

“It is America, isn’t it?” he said. “We are under new ownership now and we have to be prepared to try new things. If that engages the American public then why not? It didn’t detract from the race, and seemed to get the crowd excited prior to the GP.

“But I don’t think it would be everybody’s cup of tea. I cannot see that working well at Silverstone, for example. But it was an interesting introduction for this grand prix.”

Race winner Lewis Hamilton said he enjoyed the moment of being called out, and felt that it had been one of the most enjoyable build-ups to a race he had been part of.

“That is the best start to a grand prix that I think I have seen,” he said. “And if we can bring that more into F1 culture, I think it will be more exciting.

“It was neat coming out. I was waiting in the hallway and it was getting to be a bit long, because every driver was going out. But it was kind of cool coming out with the smoke and everything and I didn’t know where I was going.

“There were hot ladies on the walkway, so that was exciting, and there was a mixture of sports excitement, sex appeal there. That is what has been missing for a long time really.

“It was cool to have Michael Buffer, and hear him call your name. It was so cool man. It was like going to a boxing fight before and wondering what it would sound like saying ‘Lewis Hamilton’.”

MyTake

You knew it was coming. You knew there would a split decision on the fancy new driver introductions at the USGP. I have not read every fan response to the very American over-the-top addition to the Austin Grand Prix, but I can quite clearly see that many people are not impressed. However, the teams themselves are defending Liberty Media’s effort to spice up the show with Mr. Let’s Get Ready To Rumble himself, Michael Buffer, and I think this is a wise move.

For the record, I liked it, which puts me at odds with Fernando Alonso who felt it was a bad copy of the Indy 500, (whatever…) and I know this opens me up to a rash of criticism and I’m putting a clear target on my back for the more traditional F1 fan base but that’s OK, it is not like I have never stirred the pot before, either in my own blog posts or in the comments sections on several other F1 blogs and F1 news websites. Hey, like the Geico commercial says – its what I do…

That said, here is why the F1 community should get on board, not necessarily with this specific example of Liberty Media changing things up, but why in general Liberty should be applauded for taking the initiative to try to enhance the experience for the U.S. audience and bring them closer to the drivers, one of F1’s most important assets aside from the cars.

Keeping that in mind, the Austin introduction ceremony was as American as they come. Is F1 not constantly saying ad nauseum, “We need to crack the U.S. market wide open,” or, “F1 needs to have more of a presence in the States…”? Well, I say if this is a way for F1 to connect to Americans in a way they can relate to then by all means, let’s go even more over the top at next year’s USGP. Maybe the drivers should wear masks and capes and do a back flip into their cars? It’s an idea, albeit garish, but that stuff sells here. I am not saying to dumb down F1, but what I think Liberty is trying to do quite simply is to figure out why Americans have a difficult time getting excited about cars that are quite frankly the most exciting in the world. Something has to be the bridge for this European sport that I know America wants to like – they just don’t know how to yet.

I’m not alone in this line of thinking. As the article states, both Toto Wolff and Christian Horner see the value of trying new things to help F1 make inroads into the U.S. market. I suspect there are more that share this sentiment as I believe everyone understands that it is in F1’s best interest to develop not just the U.S. market but also to re-engage millennials, here and abroad, and get youth back into watching super-fast drivers racing super-fast cars again. And while I completely understand why people see this type of pageantry as gaudy and maybe unsophisticated, I think Lewis Hamilton hit on something when he said F1 is missing some of the excitement that was a bit more on show in years gone by.

This of course happened due to the fundamental change in F1 when it became much more of a corporate and business-like environment, and there is no turning back time to the days of the swinging 60’s and the playboy mentality of the 70’s that is for sure. However, maybe F1 needs to rethink not just the aero issues, the budget issues or the crazy complex engine issues, but also the sex-appeal issues, and btw you can throw in the safety/halo issues, which I am against but that is a conversation for another post.

Liberty Media is an American company and it only makes sense that it would try some uniquely American inspired moves to spice up the show. Is that so bad, I ask? Did it really hurt the show? And, as both team principals of Mercedes and Red Bull rightly mentioned, it is not like Liberty is going to insert this type of intro at all the races. I could see, for example, in Silverstone they do something specific to the British racing culture and its drivers, and in Spain something with a Spanish flair, then go Teutonic in Germany, etc. I’m just saying, why not capitalize on the international nature of F1 and match the drama to the country you’re in?

F1 is moving into a new era, there is no doubt about that. With each and every new adjustment and tweak that Liberty makes we move further and further away from the F1 of FOM and Bernie Ecclestone. For some of the traditionalists maybe that is a bad thing and for others it might just be a good thing.

Myself, I like a little of both. The tradition is what I was raised on when it comes to Formula 1, but I am also excited to see what Liberty comes up with. Some things will work better than others, I know that, but F1 and their fans should not be afraid to interact with the sport in new ways.

One thing is for sure, whatever is on the horizon in terms of where the sport is heading, it has already started to happen and thus we need to accept that F1 in 2018, 2019 and onwards will be a very different sport. Evolve or die, I say. Liberty Media, I’m rooting for ya!

-j (LET’S GET READY TO…) p-

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