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F1's parallel universe

NEWS STORY
21/04/2015

Jenson Button might have thought his team's decision to withdraw him from Sunday's Grand Prix was "a disappointing day to end a disappointing weekend", but in a parallel universe at one stage in the race he was running twelfth and looking good for a points finish.

Indeed, in that same parallel universe, Daniel Ricciardo was leading the race, as opposed to struggling to remain in the points, and it was Lewis Hamilton who had dropped down the field.

The parallel universe, for those of you who might not have guessed, exists in the reality that is the official F1 timing app.

Having played up during each of the three previous races, the app - available at an app store near you for only 19.99 - chose the Bahrain event to finally blow, though unlike Ricciardo there was no thick white smoke billowing from devices.

The fact it performed without issues for much of the weekend lulled users (customers) into a false sense of security, leaving it until the all-important race before finally demonstrating just how utterly unreliable it currently is.

But don't take our word for it, check out Twitter where irate fans (customers) wanted to know why the app was failing so spectacularly.

The fact that as the app data went from lap 22, back to 17, then on to lap 25, a headline appeared on the BBC website proclaiming "F1 is too expensive says Ecclestone" seemed the ultimate irony.

Bahrain marked the fourth round of the year, the next race (Spain), effectively marks the first quarter of the season, and yet the app hasn't worked without issue yet.

To add to the frustration, many fans now find themselves paying twice, for though purchase of the app should give access to the "premium service" on the official F1 website, the two are not currently linked.

Consequently, with the introductory "free trial" having run out just after China, and the two not expected to be linked until "around the 10th of May", fans who want the app and "premium service" on the web - and fans of such a technical sport naturally want all the info they can devour - are having to pay for both with no word on whether they will eventually be reimbursed.

One way that the app and the "premium service" is linked however, is in terms of glitches, for the web timing service has not been without its problems. For example, were we alone in noticing that at one stage in qualifying on Saturday, Sebastian Vettel was close to out-pacing Lewis Hamilton whilst on harder rubber than the Briton... misinformation that was also appearing on TV screens around the world.

Those who have used the app since it first appeared in 2011 will know that for the first couple of years, other than a few glitches, it worked well, adding a new, much welcome, dimension to the sport. However, in 2014 FOM - in the shape of Formula One Digital - got involved, which curiously is when the problems began.

Whilst the price of the app was lowered, the web-based timing service was stripped to the bare minimum - a series of dots. Sadly, although cheaper than before, the app was nowhere near as reliable.

This year, as FOM ramped up the price of the app from 7.49 to 19.99, the reliability and quality of the information provided has been risible, quite simply after four races it is not fit for purpose.

The App Support Team, with whom one fully empathises, such is the strain they must have been under on Sunday, claimed that the problem was down to imbalance across its servers, "so some had good race, some not good at all".

However, let's not forget that the app is a paid for service, as is the "premium service" on the web, they know how many customers have signed up (paid) so why weren't the servers more than capable of handling the demand be it a race held "at a more Europe-centric time" or in the middle of the night.

And on that very subject, as Bernie Ecclestone talks of the "good replacements" for France, Germany and possibly Italy, it is clear that in terms of fans willing to fork out their hard-earned for such apps and "premium" web services, Europe remains very much the heartland of the sport.

Having been threatened before, no doubt FOM will take umbrage at this latest critique, and make a move, however, those fans who took to Twitter at the weekend will not be silenced. They have paid for a service that is not being delivered, worse still, at a time the sport is already losing fans (and sponsors), some claim the unreliability of the app is ruining race weekends.

"Folks, apologies, app performance was unacceptable for many of you today," said the hapless App Suport Team on Sunday. "We're working to understand why and fix before Spain."

Fact is, a similar promise was made in the days leading up to Bahrain, days that saw a number of updates.

Other than the unreliability of the data provided by the app and "premium service" on the web, some have rightly questioned the whole look of the thing... for example line spacing and fonts which mean the full grid of twenty cars cannot be shown without scrolling.

As ever, fans have provided solutions - with no aim of benefiting themselves other than to enhance the service for themselves and others - but how long before they too receive the strongly worded email or letter?

Perhaps FOM, assuming it is interested in the fans (customers) would do better to concentrate less on the litigation and instead focus on its Formula One Digital team and get this sorted once and for all.

For the day may come when Jenson Button is fighting for points in the MP4-30, and Lewis Hamilton has dropped down the field, handing the lead to Daniel Ricciardo, however, nobody using this infuriating app, or the "premium web service" will believe it.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Editor, 01/05/2015 9:29

"@ jdoe

Fact is the app worked perfectly until FOM got involved in 2014.

Also, the majority of problems during the Bahrain GP were down to server overload... this simply shouldn't happen when customers are paying 19.99 for your app. You should know exactly how many people have bought your app and premium web package and be more than able to accommodate them.

As you say, what the app tries to achieve is ambitious, maybe too ambitious, so maybe they should have stuck with the package they had before... which worked.

One of the key selling points before was the app's accuracy, indeed it was used by many commentators. Now it simply cannot be trusted.

Make no mistake, we are not criticising this app for the sake of it, we want an app we can rely on, whose information is accurate."

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2. Posted by jdoe, 29/04/2015 15:21

"Hi Chris, I didn't mean to imply you were the only one saying this. I've seen the tweets and the app store reviews! I suppose I meant 'you wrote' rather than 'you say'. Anyway...

What I'm about to say is not a defence of the app (it clearly has issues!) but it's worth bearing the following in mind:

I worked in this area some years ago for a (then) leading team and can testify there can be many underlying reasons for issues occurring when relaying trackside data. Indeed it could be the app, but often it is further down the line. The potential reasons for poor data are numerous: transponder failures on the cars, tyre engineers inputting wrong (or delayed) data, intermittent GPS problems with local terrain/weather, timing loop failures, trackside network issues, etc. All of these would make for a poor app experience but would actually be out of the hands of the app. Shooting the messenger so to speak. In fact, most of these examples (apart from the network) are out of FOM's control too.

What the app tries to achieve is ambitious and subsequently (and perhaps inevitably) is far from flawless. Whether it's worth the money given these circumstances? I don't know... I haven't bought it! As I said at the start, I'm not defending it, just wanting t provide a more balanced view given previous experience."

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3. Posted by Editor, 27/04/2015 9:33

"First off, you write "you say", suggesting that the problems are only affecting the writer of this piece. The problems have been for almost all users for EVERY single race weekend... a quick search on social media or even reviews in the APP Store will tell you all you need to know.

In China the APP was fine for much of the weekend but come the race it was giving incorrect data - though nowhere near as bad as what happened in Bahrain.

The APP has not worked without issue for one single entire race weekend... which is simply not good enough for an APP costing 19.99 which is only needed for 19 weekends."

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4. Posted by jdoe, 27/04/2015 9:12

"You say the app hasn't worked without issue yet. What app problems did you experience during the China event?
"

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5. Posted by phantom, 24/04/2015 23:33

"I tried the Free Trial and bought a one-month subscription. Boring and useless are the words that come to mind. A friend sitting at my desktop while I watched the race on television had a rather direct comment: 'This is like watching porn with the video turned off.' They can have my one month fee. If it were a film, I would have walked out within ten minutes."

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6. Posted by Damo57, 22/04/2015 16:21

"And please tell me why anyone should be surprised that some inflated price FOM app, or indeed anything else that FOM provides for an absurd price, should be expected to work????
F1 itself does not work, and has not worked for many years, imho, so the fact that The Bolt can fleece the naive of 20 or so, for something that (A) doesn't work, and (B) isn't even of much interest to anyone, does not surprise me at all.....it only surprises me that there maybe people out there who would squander their hard earned and give it up willingly, so that The Bolt's progeny can purchase more Diamond encrusted bath taps ( or whatever the little darlings deemed unavoidably essential right now ), and if there are such folk around and in large numbers, then surely this is an indicator of the likely failing of the Human Evolutionary path? After all, since we all know how The Bolt operates, and how much he cares for the F1 Fans, then why should it be any surprise that something he sells to them, doesn't work??"

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7. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 22/04/2015 14:43

"Being subjected to NBC coverage, I suspect one of the clauses of their having won the rights over Fox (who didn't want it anymore as I understand) was to repeatedly extoll the virtues of the F1 App. Their doing that is on a par with their (so-called) commentary on the track action - the two seem to be usually unrelated. Maybe they only have the App to refer to?"

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8. Posted by TheDarkKnight, 22/04/2015 13:00

"There's a saying in programming "Fast, good, cheap - pick 2".

I'm so glad I didn't buy it. Also I've cancelled my Sky package too as they jacked up their prices. I resent paying an arm and a leg to watch a sport I love! Am finding alternative motor sports to watch."

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9. Posted by johnsmithuk, 22/04/2015 10:23

"I bought the app some years ago but soon found it to be less than useless. I complained but, of course, to no avail. BE never had any interest in the paying public. I worked at Silverstone for many years and not once was there any request from him to improve the lot of the spectator. Any money spent by U.S. had to be either to improve the lot of the Teams or the FIA facilities. When we built a new Clubhouse for the BRDC, the circuit owners, we had nothing but criticism from him, despite the fact that the Club had hosted the GP for over 50 years. However, Bernie has proved that you can fool all the people all the time or should that be make fools of all the people all the time, including the German Court System?"

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10. Posted by Editor, 22/04/2015 8:42

"The inability to scroll beyond 18 drivers is a minor quirk of the site and in no way compares to many failings of the app, so I totally refute your claim about getting our own house in order.

Ignoring the fact that the app cost 19.99, the BBC's revenue is around 4.5bn, Pitpass, on the other hand, exists purely on advertising revenue, advertising that many readers resent."

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11. Posted by Will Fly, 22/04/2015 7:44

"Whilst I haven't bought the F1 App (fortunately), I did try the free part of the app and found that to be total rubbish. If I were to write software (which I do for a living) with data and reliability as poor as that I'd be shot and then sacked. This App obviously not fit for purpose, the problem is, in the international world of Apps which country's trading standards laws can you apply and how do you go about getting a refund, good luck trying to get blood out of FOM.

While we're picking holes in F1 data (and I'm a Pitpass regular), the drivers championship data on Pitpass.com only seems to contain 18 drivers (and is not scrollable), whereas the BBC (ahem!) F1 website has all 21 (includes KMag). So maybe we should get our own house in order while we are throwing stones."

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12. Posted by Hondawho?, 21/04/2015 22:35

"Even with all the cash to develop these "add ones" it seems even BE cannot get it right and who could blame him for sounding as if he has finally had enough! Welcome to the real world Bernie, it's at this sort of time that you start to realise that money cannot buy everything! "

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13. Posted by raven49, 21/04/2015 21:17

"Thank you for this timely article. I was about to purchase the app since the pitiful performance of Hobbs, Machette et all makes me reach for the mute button except I won't hear the driver-team conversations. It appears that Hobbs and his inept crew are not watching the same race that is being broadcast. Although, I assumed they had all the necessary information, perhaps they're using the app(s) which might explain it. A shame, paying a premium to watch the pitiful crew who chat with each other and then having an app that doesn't work. F1 is going down the toilet thanks to Bernie and CVC."

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14. Posted by Steve W, 21/04/2015 21:15

"Can't wait to see how well pay-per-view works when it finally arrives here in the USA..."

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15. Posted by Pipsary, 21/04/2015 20:51

"Result! I did not buy this app this year for some reason and I can now see why. If you buy a product and it does not work like it was advertised then.....ask for your money back Now!"

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