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The Elastoplast Technique

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
05/02/2014

At the end of January, football clubs can no longer buy new players until the next season. During the final days and hours of the transfer window, multi-million pound deals are agreed as managers bluff and counter-bluff. Similar scenarios were being played out across the football world and desirable players were putting their signatures to contracts which will make them multi-millionaires, year in, year out.

Major team games in America have different systems, but the rewards for top players are equally considerable.

Formula One presents itself as a highly professional sport, yet a driver as talented as Kamui Kobayashi will be driving a Caterham for free. Surely the difference between a professional and an amateur is that a professional is paid.

The difference between a street performer, no matter how talented, and a professional, no matter how naff, is that one passes round the hat and the other signs a contract. Some drivers in F1 are passing round the hat.

A Grand Prix grid is supposed to be the 22 best drivers in the world. Any football club has more than 22 players being paid. That is the essential thing, they are paid. There are hundreds of professional clubs, most of which turn a profit.

When Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonado lost their seats, nobody thought that we were bidding them farewell, we just waited to see where they would take their money and who would be out of a drive as a result.

A footballer keeps his place on the team by performance. If a rival bids for his place it is because the rival is perceived to be better, not wealthier.

There are F1 drivers who only get paid from the sponsorship they bring to a team. They have to find their own salaries.

I would dearly love to play King Lear for the Royal National Theatre, but I could not buy the role. No matter how much money I could muster, I would hit a brick wall called integrity. You can also bet that audiences would stay away.

No sport does glitz better than Formula One, but behind all the hype there are serious issues. Despite its success on the track, Lotus has incurred massive debts. It became news when Sauber paid off its electricity bill, which is a fairly basic expenditure for any company.

There has never been a more shrewd spotter of talent than Peter Sauber, but his signing of Adrian Sutil cannot be unconnected to the sponsorship Sutil can bring.

I am not saying that Sutil, Perez and Maldonado are not fine drivers. They have played the game as it is and have made the right choice of manager. It is the manager who mainly deals with sponsors.

It is not strictly fair to compare a football club to an F1 team since, in football, the visible players are uppermost. In Formula One there are hundreds of people involved in putting two cars on a grid maybe twenty times a year.

There are other factors, one of which is that CVC Capital Partners takes an enormous slice of revenue to the benefit of its investors. In 2012, that slice was 550 million pounds. That was money taken from the sport without a penny being returned.

That equates to fifty million pounds per team, which is almost the total budget for some teams. The rights to Formula One were sold by the FIA for about half what CVC makes per annum.

This is not a criticism of CVC, which exists to do the best it can for its investors, it is a criticism of the fabric of Formula One which allowed it to happen.

A football club also has control over, and revenue from, the advertising billboards around its ground. That was hived off in Formula One.

A club has control over its own hospitality suites. Arsenal, which has a new stadium, can wine and dine up to 5,000 corporate guests at a match.

Then there is the income from replica team strip which is marked up at an outrageous level. I have experience in this field and my guess is that there is a 600 per cent mark up, minimum. When David Beckham signed for Real Madrid, it was reckoned that his huge transfer fee would be covered from the sale of shirts to the gullible.

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1. Posted by Spindoctor, 05/03/2014 12:17

"Another well-considered piece.

It's interesting that on an enthusiast site like Pitpass, not a single person demurs from Mike Lawrence's overall proposition that something is rotten in the state of F1.
Like others I'm a long-term F1 fan, and like many I'm becoming increasingly bored by "Sport" being replaced by the inelegant shenanigans of Mr Ecclestone and his cohorts.

I don't profess to know what CVC's intentions are, but I can state with some degree of certainty that their current management of F1 is likely to result in its premature demise.
As Bill Clinton might have said "It's the economics, stupid". Put very simply if you take-out all the profit, leaving the participants, circuit-owners and paying public constantly to have to pay more to enjoy less, you'll go broke. No ifs, buts or maybes.
The current "strategy" appears hugely successful. Despots and dictators are queuing up to host GPs and paying exorbitant amounts to do so. Sponsors and manufacturers are willing to sub teams with many hundreds of millions of pounds for the dubious privilege of taking-part. How long before they notice the threadbare nature of the Emperor's clothes?"

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2. Posted by 4-Wheel Drifter, 14/02/2014 18:22

"Agreed that F1 is doing its best to drive people away. The 'powers-that-be' clearly ignore not only the complaints of the fans, but even the efforts of well-informed and articulate people inside the system. When you ask why this is, and try to find reasonable explanations you're assuming that those running things are (a) reasonable and (b) interested in racing. In fact they are (a) terrified and (b) only interested in money. The great (yes I'm being ironic) Mr. Ecclestone has never cared about racing in his life and has only had his own (financial) interests at heart. Those he has employed to carry out his wishes are frightened of losing a place on the gravy train, that's all they care about. Hence such hare-brained ideas as introducing roulette to generate interest in the product (I mean unpredictable tyres and fiddling with the points system). To address F1's real problems, you have to take money out of the formula. If teams want to buy championships by out-spending their rivals, let them (placing limits on expenditures and testing doesn't help racing at all; it merely guarantees continuing revenues from hopeless causes (Caterham, anyone?) Afer all, the principal claim of F1 as a product is that the machines are hand-made and the playing field is level: meet the specifications, qualify and you race; fail, you don't. Manufacturers, naturally, don't want any such thing because failure makes them look bad. So they 'protect their investments in exactly the same way Bernie protects his. That's what's wrong and that's why, until F1 dries up, as a source of easy revenue for unscrupulous leeches, racing will be boring and stupid, except, as Mr. Lawrence points out, when it is dangerous and stupid."

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3. Posted by phantom, 11/02/2014 5:09

"Right as usual, Mr. Lawrence. You have the ability to nail the topic squarely. Vettel's achievements during the last season was not the reason for the decline in viewership. The issues were the usual lack of 'real' passing, cars as pleasing to look at a syphilitic whore, manufactured obsolescence in tires that resulted in unexpected REAL obsolescence! And THEN, just to be fair, "Let's change the tires completely to the teams that managed to figure it out have to do it all over again!!!!!"

Double the points in the last (2) race(s), huh? What will that do? If everybody gets double the points, what does that mean? Only an unlucky driver will suffer. And the other drivers will only gain a benefit if the there are unlucky drivers.

I fully expect 10 or 20 laps with water being blasted across the circuit in the interest of "regaining viewers' interest." It won't work.

All the tricks come off like a Fraternity Party who can't get real girls to come to the ball. Mid 70s to 2012 I missed TWO F1 races (I cannot attend many races, so I watch on television). The last two seasons I simply tape it or download it and watch if someone tells me something interesting happens. When I do watch, I speed my way through it. I'm not alone.

The tricks get old, Bernie. The races get duller. The people vote with their remote controls."

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4. Posted by Ian Mac, 08/02/2014 15:10

"Thanks Mike for yet another excellent well-reasoned & heartfelt article. Amongst all your salient points, allow me to comment on the teams' lack of contact with F1 fans.
I think this arrogant insular attitude stems from the very top in F1, ie from Ecclestone & cronies, all of whom have shown nothing but contempt for the F1 audience. The sole exception may have been Briatore, who knew something about marketing, & perhaps McLaren with their fan-oriented Team McLaren initiative (but I suspect that's a money spinner more than a real welcome to the great unwashed).
No other sport treats its fans with such utter disregard. Even other "lesser" forms of motor sport (NASCAR & Indycars come to mind) offer the audience much better access & involvement than the alleged pinnacle of motor racing.
We're now seeing a major shift from free-to-air TV coverage of F1 to expensive pay channels; this in the teeth of a global economic recession which is impacting the middle class most seriously. In France, F1 is now exclusively on pay TV, which explains the sudden loss of an enormous proportion of its audience. Hell, France no longer has a national Grand Prix, as no one was capable of paying FOM's outrageous ever-increasing fees.
An old show-biz adage states that you "Disregard the audience at your peril".
As modern F1 is most definitely show-biz, & is most definitely disregarding its audience, it follows that F1 is in peril, despite the mountains of money it generates for those who currently own it.
I wonder when the sponsors, who are lavishing money on a sport in order to sell their products, will realize that the sport's audience is declining dramatically. It's not just empty grandstands in places like Turkey or India now; it's empty sofas in the living rooms of those who will not or can not pay exorbitant fees to watch increasingly-artificial racing.
Please keep up your good work as an informed, intelligent & caring observer of what was once a wonderful sport, Mike.

"

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5. Posted by Steve W, 08/02/2014 10:02

"Right on, Mr Lawrence! I've followed Formula One since the late 1960s. While I can say I haven't lost my "interest" in F1, I can definitely say I'm losing my "passion"..."

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6. Posted by yagijd, 07/02/2014 17:02

"It has become embarrassing to watch. We keep losing cylinders the cars get uglier and the rules stifle innovation. This year we get to look forward to slower cars than 10 years ago that sound like Indy Lights and drive at 80% of their potential so as to 'save fuel'. They couldn't try harder to lose the fan base."

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7. Posted by Ken, 07/02/2014 15:55

"Mike, this article is right on...I stopped watching and following F1 all last year because many of the drivers that were driving did not earn that right i.e., they were taken on because of their $ they carried with them. F1 is going nowhere but down if this problem is not fixed. "

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8. Posted by Paul M, 07/02/2014 14:08

"I've got it! double points are perfect.... if you apply them to every race. Monaco and Silverstone now equally important... "

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9. Posted by GoodPublicity, 07/02/2014 13:08

" We all agree that F1 is heading down sh*t creek towards a waterfall, but the solution ... aye, there's the rub! (Sorry to mix scripts, Mike.)

Rather than compare motorsport to other professional sports, which raises more questions than it answers, let's focus on the principal product: the cars.

They've become decreasingly exciting to watch since the late-1960s, when tyres grew fat and then bald (perhaps they were simply ageing?!), and aerofoils grew like ugly parasites on svelte bodywork.

The authorities, being fundamentally enthusiasts who could never resist the temptation of any new technology, have been collaborators with the teams in this disastrous trend.

But instead of seeing the elephant in the room, they cling to the myth that is well when the championship goes down to the wire.

That's true up to a point, but trying to manufacture a close contest is contrary to the fundamental principle of sport. And throttling technical innovation has made the cars as dull as dishwater, as far as the petrolhead fans who used to be F1's lifeblood are concerned.

Will the authorities ever learn? Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Motorsport has always been organised primarily by and for the participants. It just happened that we fans used to like watching it.

At least we still have historic racing to remind us what made F1 a great spectator sport."

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10. Posted by Paul RB, 07/02/2014 11:03

"As always. extremely relevant comment from Mike who, by the way, I'm sure would make a splendid Lear! But I digress. It actually comes to something when the football business model is tabled as the comparator to the F1 business model; how bad is that? I know nothing about football as a sport and care even less, but it is well known that the general business model, certainly of UK premier football is seriously flawed and out of balance and teetering on a knife edge. That speaks volumes about the state F1 but, how can it be denied? I seriously believe that the whole F1 process will consume itself over the next few years unless radical change takes place. The calls on here for technical change - less aero, fewer gimmick devices etc etc have been pleaded for, for years by F1 followers and we hear more and more of longstanding followers moving on to other branches of motorsport and who can blame them? MotoGP is not without its problems but if you want exciting racing it rarely disappoints. I never thought I'd hear myself thinking that motorcycle racing would trump car racing but often it does, certainly where F1 is concerned - and all carried on by REAL people - also people with real bottle! I'm old enough to remember the likes of Jim Clark and Graham Hill (yes, I'm that old!), assembled at a circuit for a formula race, but also participating in the touring car event in Lotus Cortinas Not only that, but you could also approach them in the paddock and they'd speak with you - willingly - and with appreciation for your enthusiasm. I've reached a stage where if I now miss seeing a GP it doesn't feel like the end of the world. And, as each of the past few years have gone by, after 50 odd years of unwavering support for F1, I feel more and more drawn to thinking that on GP weekends, there may be better things to do. Coming up with the double points proposition as a supposed solution to all the ills of today absolutely exemplifies all that is wrong, pathetically wrong, with F1 as it currently stands. "

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11. Posted by ape, 05/02/2014 21:22

"Let be honest , Max got it right, cap the f.... money and leave the tech rules more free , so the team can spend their money where they think it is useful and we will see more various cars and engines layouts .
And yes Ferrari and some others will cheat with the money but more than 10 or 20% is impossible , but now the rich have something like 300 % or so more than the midfield. Booooringgggg result, there is no real competition. ! YAWN - ZZZzzzzzzzz"

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12. Posted by pitstoff, 05/02/2014 20:02

"Quite agree with your article. Fans kept at arms length. I used to watch f1 religiously. Refused point blank to stand behind a chain link fence at Silverstone with a small slot cut into it , and wait till a driver deemed he had a bit of spare time to venture over to give an autograph. Or waiting for Montoya to vvisit a trade stand with eight, yes ,eight bodyguards preventing the 'riff raff' getting close enough for a picture or to sign a shirt. TV coverage gets my goat too. Too much head on pictures. Look at Ferrari Clienti on YouTube and see the impression of speed that's missing in today's TV 'action'. The fans are not even on the radar. Why did Silverstone build the pits where you can only see some of the pitstop action. Drainage issues I imagine but not good for the paying public. My enjoyment of f1 died with Senna."

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13. Posted by imejl99, 05/02/2014 15:25

"Yea, like double points going to keep me interested...
I don`t mind paid drivers, I don`t mind absence of fan relation, I even don`t mind lack of overtaking as I never followed it for overtaking, but for skill and excellence, knowledge and innovation, individual and team.

What I do mind, over the years, sums with one word - BANNED
blown diffuser, double diffuser, traction control, rev limit, active suspension, mass damper, F-duct, engine map, CVT, refuelling, testing, flexible parts, free engine capacity, free transmission, double DRS, free exhaust, reactive ride, free engine life, free tyre use.... keep going FIA, and we are all gone away"

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14. Posted by K1w1, 05/02/2014 14:38

"I'm actually not opposed to KERS as it adds an element of driver control into the mix. DRS, I can take it or leave it.
In my, oh so humble, opinion we need far less aero grip. A single, simple element front and rear with none of the little bits and pieces that help the air flow here or there. As most agree F1 is too much of a procession these days and that's just plain boring. To reintroduce passing we need to reduce the car's reliance on aero grip so they can get closer to the back of the car in front. This way the passing will return.
And, as always, Mike is hitting the nail on the head."

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15. Posted by GrahamG, 05/02/2014 10:49

"Could not agree more. I am another long time fan who is loosing interest.
Blaming Sebastian Vettel for the fall in TV audiences is pathetic, the fall is due to the artificiality which has been foisted on us all as Bernie scrambles to retain control. Races are now almost impossible to follow, even the commentators are in the dark.
How about using the engine rules for the LeMans series as a basis for F1, that would reduce costs for everyone and introduce innovation. LeMans manages to make an equivalence between a huge variety of technologies so racing would be much more interesting and not dominated by the latest turning vane or front wing flap."

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