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Street Life

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
03/05/2017

Well the announcement of Nicole Scherzinger and The Black Eyed Peas as headliners at Baku gives us a clear indication that's it's Radio Gaga, sorry I mean Lady Gaga, and Super Bowl time at Liberty. If they bin the race altogether and hold an anti-Trump, anti-Capitalism rally on the track with free low carb beer instead of a race they could well have a record crowd. Cannot wait. Actually for free Heineken and a few free Rolex I'd happily march...

And then we have the recently floated idea of more street races. Let's explore this idea and see where it leads.

Monaco must be the most famous street circuit of all racing history. And the cars have been too powerful for those tiny streets since, oh, only around 1957. So it's only been sixty years of over powered cars and limited over taking. And I love it. As I've noted before I love driving games on the PlayStation. The "Azure" track on Gran Turismo is an inch perfect Monaco. In my custom MX-5 I can scream around the track with sweet four wheel drifts, maxing it out in each gear as I run the MX-5 to its limit. It's a hoot, but I'm not on the edge.

Move on up my virtual garage and we arrive at the Pagani Zonda. If I make a clean lap in this I tend to run to the kitchen and break out the Champagne! Five clean laps and I'll be hospitalised with joy. It is a seriously difficult task that takes all my (modest) driving skill, total focus, zero alcohol, and gets my heart racing to manage laps without "lap invalidated" crashes every tour of those winding streets.

As a (virtual) driver Monaco is an amazing challenge. Along with the old Nordschleife it is my most driven track. As a result I have total respect for the drivers and the insane speeds they manage around Monaco (the Nordschleife is a whole other story for another day). In real life I've walked the crazy streets of the Principality and they are real small. No wonder Lewis crashed his non-virtual Zonda the other year!

But would you enjoy watching me howling around the Principality as a paying viewer? Well I think after about four or five laps, each lap would look the same. You might be curious as to when the next six figure virtual crash was going to happen, but like our esteemed editor Balfe, I believe you'd be searching for the shortbread biscuits before lap ten.

Singapore? The visuals at night are stunning. It is a remarkable, breathtaking circuit. And the races are occasionally exciting. Like Monaco it needs an upset such as multiple safety cars, or a main player well out of position, or in the case of Monaco rain, to ignite the race and ensure the biscuits remain safely on the plate.

Yet Monaco and Singapore stand out for each is unique. If we add, for example, New York, Rome, London, and Sydney, all of which have world renowned, dare one say ‘iconic’, back-drops, all of a sudden those unique features that make Monaco and Singapore standout are diluted. How much dilution can they stand before they all blur into one season-long procession?

How many right-angle around the block corners can the viewing public stand? Sure it will be easier to host the street parties and concerts, but is this not supposed to be a race weekend with the race being the main event? Maybe Liberty should have signed U2, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran and become a tour promoter and left motor racing alone. Or maybe open a chain of celebrity backed restaurants.

The Olympics could not withstand a move to being yearly. It would dilute the brand, and exhaust the viewing public. For the football World Cup, and the Olympics a four year rhythm is just the right level of excitement, anticipation, and pay off.

The current level of twenty grands prix per year is about the right level of building excitement each fortnight, and then delivering the event. If we went weekly for nine months of the year, delivering nearly forty Grand Prix, the brand dilution and viewer exhaustion would out-weigh the gain in event numbers.

Here in Australia one of our rugby codes is looking to delete a team from the competition because it simply cannot afford to run them all. Observers are saying that despite the national love of all sports we are now stretched too thin, for both time and money, as a nation. Multiple rugby codes, Aussie Rules football, soccer, basketball, swimming, cricket, tennis, track and field, cycling, sailing, surfing. Good lord! How do a modest twenty-three million of us manage to play, support, and watch so much sport!? There is only so much money in sport, and we all have only so much time in the week to be involved.

So Liberty wants to move to week long "Grand Prix events". They will need to charge for that, and then they need all those people to have the time to attend for a week. How can we all spend a week at the current Grand Prix venues? Most are in the middle of nowhere. Unless of course you move the event from a purpose built track in the middle of nowhere to a great city that is already filled with people.

Then, all of a sudden, rather than need a week of annual leave to get rained on in the middle-English countryside people can drop in and out of segments of the week-long event at lunchtime, after work, for a Friday night out. Take the event to the (potential) fans. Make it as easy as possible to attend a part of this mighty Super Bowl experience. You might even see a Formula One race if you stick around until the Sunday.

So a desire for street races is all about moving the event so close to the potential fans that it is as easy as possible to attend. In the post-Russian Grand Prix podcast Mat Coch and I joked about running the cars in a New York subway tunnel to minimise disruption to the city. If your goal is a week-long series of concerts, dinners, presentations, and street food, then making the race as small an irritation to the city dwelling folk is a good plan.

For the dedicated fan who loves Parabolica, Stowe, Les Combes, or heck even the corkscrew at Laguna Seca, the endless parade of near identical street circuits that all blend into a numbing season of right angle 40 mph turns will be a horror. Not only will Liberty have succeeded in diluting the unique brilliance of two great street circuits, Monaco and Singapore, but they risk making city bound Formula One a concert and dining experience with cars, rather than the gladiatorial sporting combat we all desire.

Max Noble.

Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here

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1. Posted by Max Noble, 08/05/2017 0:33

"@RicardoR - I knew Malone had a number of big business interests, I was not aware that "Live Nation" was one of them. The inner city street party approach suddenly seems more likely than ever.

@Oinksta - I agree with your views on the locals of Singapore. I'd imagine for casual (non-core) fans that the irritation of the city disruption due to the race swiftly out-weighs the delights.

Given the cast of leading characters we have (and Bernie always happy to make a surprise guest appearance) I believe that we will soon move into the "fact stranger than fiction" phase of F1 Liberty style!
"

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2. Posted by RicardoR, 07/05/2017 2:21

"Hi Max, thanks for sharing the way F1 may evolve, and I'd say it's probably going to be worse than you imagine. It appears you may not be aware that John Malone, Liberty's owner, seems to have made a significant proportion of his billion or three, from a company he owns called Live Nation, which specializes in "events" which I gather are mainly musical, featuring headline acts of today and yesterday. I wasn't sure if I could paste a link (happy so send it to you if you'd like) but the April 17 edition of the New Yorker magazine has an article on the music festivals/events scene which refers to the Malone/ Liberty involvement. Incidentally, the article also references that a festival occurred at Watkins Glen back in the (Woodstock era) day. Better get the ear plugs out of storage - and not for noisier engines, sorry, power units,"

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3. Posted by cricketpo, 06/05/2017 18:07

"@uffen, it would seem that Liberty have invested a significant chunk of their wealth into their stake in F1. As public companies are usually controlled by accountants they will be seeking a financial justification of this approach. So for the near future I suspect Liberty to keep "innovating" until either they succeed in making a profit or cut and run. So like it or lump it travelling for fans is probably on the cards. The die hard racing fans will have to be thankful F1 still ecists and hope that the racing continues. It is a fairly bleak view but this is what happens when you let money people run a sport"

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4. Posted by Uffen, 06/05/2017 16:57

"Sorry, cricketpo, I don't share your perspective. What do I fear? I fear F1 becoming a "street" formula or an urban "festival." I also question F1 remaining "relevant." In my 45 years of following F1 this whole "relevance" thing seems a recent addition to the issue. I've never viewed F1 as relevant. It was a series for purpose-built race cars that adhered to a set of specific technical regulations. Then they raced under specific sporting regulations. What "relevance" has to do with anything puzzles me. Manufacturers come and go based on the whims of the Boards of Directors and the Marketing folks who advise them.

Let F1 stand on its own merits and forget what I might call "grovelling" for fans. If it becomes less popular - well, that wouldn't be a bad thing in my books. "

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5. Posted by Oinksta, 06/05/2017 8:06

"The more street races option, like the week long event option, appears to indicate that Liberty Media is struggling with how to make the main event, the racing, more attractive, which is undoubtedly very difficult. I don't have the answers, although some of Max's previous online engagement suggestions appear pretty sound.

With the street race option it is important to consider the non-fans in the city. I know quite a few people from Singapore, initially excited, now indifferent and slightly irritated. They are the sort of people who will give anything a go, but they are not fans and the novelty has worn off.

Monaco is different, the level of history, it is more a big town than a city, and the local population is hardly what would be considered typical. Also, neither of these cities have great traffic volumes, start blocking of roads in Rome or London for at least 4 or 5 days and enjoy the ensuing chaos. It would be a brave mayor to consider that a good plan year after year.

If you want F1 to be big, people need to want to go and see (or at least watch) the races, other things that are occurring around the race are a bonus, not a reason to go.
"

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6. Posted by Max Noble, 05/05/2017 14:18

"@mds167 - excellent comment. Great observations. I don't see the soccer World Cup or Wimbledon seeking to become dining experiences scored by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Actually has anyone checked to see if Liberty has signed ALW? "Midnight... not a sound in the pit lane...".... just askin'..."

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7. Posted by mds167, 05/05/2017 13:39

"@cricketpo - as for F1 in London, I think a lot of the fan base would have to travel as far, if not further and the cost of staying in the capital would be lot more than camping at the current circuit. There are camp sites in London (honest!) but not many. And the residents will moan about disruption, the greens about the environment - this is the UK, after all. Could it happen in other capitals? Rome?!But the spectacle would be amazing.

I agree that it would capture the imagination of the kids and that would be great for the long term future of F1 but so would great racing on proper circuits.

I wouldn't necessarily mourn the loss of manufacturers in F1 but as they go, I think that F1 would no longer be the 'pinnacle' of motor racing as those manufacturers and sponsors move to other categories. How many causal fans will care about Sauber, or Williams?

I strongly feel that GPs should be weekend events and be festivals of motor racing. Combine some other top categories, better publicity for the support races such as GP2, Porsches, etc. Goodwood has shown the popularity for historic racing and one of the highlights of my last Silverstone trip was watching Adrian Newey wrestle with an AC Cobra.

City or circuit, let's take motor racing to the next level rather than dilute it into a mass market commodity."

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8. Posted by Max Noble, 05/05/2017 10:35

"@cricketpo - agree the future is coming regardless what we think. I'm just not sure how much the Liberty F1 future is going to keep existing core fans and attract new *core* fans.

Casual fans are great... if they remain faithfully casual every year of your event for about twenty years. If they drift in to one or two you have the Korean or Indian GPs... where year one was as good as it got... and it slid down hill from there.

Regardless it's going to be a fascinating journey.

Hot investment tip would be to identify real estate that's going to have to be flattened for the pit complex in each city. Buy now and wait for Liberty to be forced to buy it from you to make it all work. :-). "

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9. Posted by cricketpo, 05/05/2017 8:09

"So what are you all afraid of? In previous features we have agreed F1 needs to remain relevant. How much more relevant to the emerging fan base than racing around the very streets these people travel. How much more interesting would the journey to work be if you were hanging on for dear life on the number 73 around Trafalgar Square in the knowledge that Lewis Hamilton had done the same thing just last weekend at 120 mph?

Secondly the fan base dont have to travel so far and a lot of people who would never have exposed themselves to the “joy” of Silverstone in the wet all of a sudden see that F1 is actually quite interesting.

In terms of overtaking it seems there are very few dedicated tracks where this is now possible in F1 so why not introduce difficult to pass inner city tracks?

I am not sure I would mourn the loss of manufacturers in F1. So long as a sustainable engine source or two can be found. Current racing teams largely build their cars from scratch with little reference to large scale manufacturing. They are too exotic. As I have stated before I would rather we kept the Saubers,Williams etc as their business IS racing. Let the manufacturers sell us hybrid cars and allow racing teams to race
"

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10. Posted by Max Noble, 05/05/2017 0:39

"@mds167 and @Uffen -
Quite agree! What beast are Liberty seeking to unleash?
Singapore and Monaco work because they both offer an amazing inner city GP experience. While we have many purpose built race tracks in between (...and even a few of the Tilke ones are showing their worth over the years...) where the cars and drivers are released to race "full throttle" (fuel allowing...).

If we have six, eight, ten, twenty (!) inner city races, when and where are the cars unleashed? Sure we have an exciting carnival atmosphere and we have street food and performers, head line music acts, dinners, dances and drinks, all for the inner city casual fan. Is that how you generate long term value in F1...?

Possibly hold each "regional" final in a major city of the region, but the hard core racing needs the right style of circuit. The Circuit of the Americas is a perfect example of an excellent modern track. If it had been a street race around Austin I think the race would have been cancelled by now, as after the first year the locals would have placed it in the "pain in the butt" category.

A few selective street races, yes 100%.

50% or more of the series on inner city roads... not a good plan for long term value...

(...and GrahamG - many thanks will go looking for more data on those underground sections, fascinating! Now there's an idea for Liberty to work on!)"

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11. Posted by Uffen, 04/05/2017 15:41

"When I was first attracted to F1 the racing was raw and the "events" were held where raw racing could occur. If you were interested - fine. If you weren't interested - well that was fine, too. F1 was F1 and if that wasn't enough there was lots of other things to occupy your attention. That was part of what attracted me - the take us or leave us approach. That meant that the people you were with were true fans, not just Lady Gaga fans who wondered what the heck kind of crazy venue Lady G was using this time.

You're right, Max, Liberty will attract a few fair-weather fans but I won't be among them. "

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12. Posted by mds167, 04/05/2017 9:27

"Thanks for another great, thought provoking article. I think the 'event' notion is aiming for the current instant gratification generation. It's big, you can post your live updates on twitter, selfies on fb and a week long event would make one hell of a snapchat story. But a week at Silverstone? It surely won't appeal to the kids as much as Glasto or Reading / Leeds, T in the Park, Donington (that's Monsters of a Rock, err Download, rather than F1) or the Isle of Wight. Hang on, those are all music festivals...and they don't have motor racing as a support act. So dilute the F1 experience across a week with music events which have no connection to the sport (no matter what the press release says). See where that gets you outside the US of A.

Leave the cities to Formula E, they seem to be doing pretty well and the racing suits them. Or is that the fear? Formula E is gathering pace with brands / manufacturers. It is pure electric racing so there is a strong link with the emergent personal mobility technology. It is making F1 look like a dinosaur struggling against extinction, fighting to evolve with hybridisation while its environment (old school motor racing fans) declines.

As has been said before, Liberty should be concentrating on making their niche sport more attractive rather than the show. I do believe that F1 is in danger of losing its manufacturers as we head to the next contractual wrangling. Is Liberty hoping to increase the off track show to convince the current manufacturers and sponsors to stick around rather than head off to WEC or Formula E or WRC or DTM or any of the other great series out there? The Formula E roster now includes Audi, Jaguar, DS (Citroen), Mahindra, Renault. Formula 1 has Mercedes, Renault and Honda and Ferrari. If Ferrari lose their historic bonus and walk away, what have the others got to lose by withdrawing from F1? The teams have the technical ability to switch from producing an F1 car to making a car for another series though there would be a cost, monetary and in personnel.

As you noted, Max, the F1 sponsors are high-end - Rolex, Hublot, Chandon, er, Heineken. The super-bowlisation, the democritasation, of F1 seems at odds with their target market - the paddock club. But the world is not the USA, it
I don't envy Liberty. I don't know what the answer is. This 'event' notion smacks of desperation, trying to drag old fashioned F1 into the modern age.

I did enjoy the last race though.
"

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13. Posted by GrahamG, 04/05/2017 9:23

"Yes the Kiruna underground quarry stages were (in)famous but only two or three out of the whole event (think it was the Thousand Lakes but I may be wrong). It is a huge iron ore quarry so not as if it was a coal mine which would have been a hazard. It was a long time ago - late 60's I think but there were some spectacular pics - probably deep in the "Motoring News" archive as that was my source of sporting news in those days. "

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14. Posted by Max Noble, 03/05/2017 13:27

"@GrahamG and @airman1 - first seriously they raced under ground! Never knew that! Wow. I feel research coming on here!

And yes hello and welcome to NASCAR! It's an amazing product for those it is aimed at. I've enjoyed a number of NASCAR races over the years. And it is true that parties and Good Fun in the in field is a great thing... in the right place at the right time, for the right audience. It's not for everyone... just as "Classic" F1 is not for everyone... which audience are Liberty chasing (...hint I'm worried....).

Ross is correct too much of a "good thing" spoils it. Look at the F1 points increases over the decades. It no long makes sense to say Fangio only scored 100 points in his career and Lewis has scored five million. Because the system has increased so dramatically over the years the comparison does not hold.

Low carb beer anyone...?"

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15. Posted by airman1, 03/05/2017 11:48

"100% with you on this one. I remember Ross Brown saying that he does not likes basketball because of scoring, he said "one should not have too much of a good thing"...same with racing...well F1 that is...it is a spectacle already, what Liberty is really saying here is this. They think that F1 is too much of a Patrician's sport, and what they would like is to make it more of a plebeian one. I can guarantee you, 100% that what they would really like is to enclose the entire circuit, make the track shorter, so they can raise the stands akin to NASCAR or Indy, with a huge central field where they can have parties and concerts. I have that feeling for a while now....and I miss Bernie more and more as time goes buy. "

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