Part One: Entree, and First Course.
There is a quirky film called Dinner for Schmucks, directed by Jay Roach (based on an original French idea by Francis Veber) starring Steve Carell and Paul Rudd. (Ed's note: I have the original, Le Diner De Cons, it is superb) It is as close as Americans get to serving up Python humour, and while some segments grate, drag, or occasionally both, it is a curiously humour laden film with a strong core message.
I'll not relay any spoilers in case readers elect to watch it (if you dislike Steve Carell or Monty Python I'd return to the Downton Abbey from which you came, as this curio will only annoy you). However, the central premise is a group of men perceiving themselves as highly successful hold a dinner once a year where they try to out-do one another by bringing the most whacked out (to them) dinner guest for them all to mock. The story plays out wonderfully.
So, has Mr Chase, and his band of merry F1 hosts and chefs elected to invite the fans to dinner next season to delight them or to mock them?
Let us revisit our four-part series from the start of the season when editor Balfe invited comment from readers on how to improve F1, and your humble scribe attempted to relay the results in an entertaining manner (rather more of a who's coming for cheese and crackers than dinner here at Pitpass).
By way of preamble, we should note that the Malaysia Sporting Minister recently declined his dinner invite when he openly stated he would not take F1 back for free in its current state. I guess he clearly knows what he wants, and Chase's Pancake Stack with Southern Syrup it is not.
So by way of reviewing the dinner menu Chase is offering from his American Kitchen, I'm going to work through the summary suggestions captured in our series of articles from season start.
Part One looked at the Business Model and ended with the following general recommendations:
Lesson one. Sort the funding model. Make it possible to run a back of the grid team at a profit. Make it possible to run a circuit at a profit.
Pitpass Recommendation. Larger basic retainer payments to all teams. Significantly rebalanced historic payments, and a new calculation for winnings over the season that ensure a larger percentage goes to the lower half of the grid. Similarly for circuits, freeze, or heaven forbid reduce, basic hosting fees, and allow circuits to turn a profit. Improved racing and improved race weekends will result from the healthier more competitive environment.
So here, team owners find Mr. Chase's Dinner Invite in their morning in-tray. Opening the quality stationery they discover a gilt-edged invite card, with cost cutting being served as the entree. Does this suit our teams, circuit owners, and us, the fans?
Too soon to say really. This course has only just started coming out of the kitchen, and some team bosses are already wrinkling their noses at the odious smell. Has Chase started with a round of South Korean Hongeo (stinky fish)? Ask Ferrari, Mercedes, and Red Bull, for I believe they think so. Other teams (step forward chief taste-testers at Force India) are more enticed by Chase's offering.
I've long held that in a (relatively) free open capitalist market, products and services usually find their own worth in the marketplace. There is a reason the top teams have the budgets they command. I believe a more reasonable spread of the winnings is a far more manageable process with which to proceed than a cost cap. Other than the auditing complexities of policing such an arrangement, the manufacturer linked teams will always be able to bury budget (and hence advantage) within other related departments.
Using Mercedes as an example; they can call upon marketing, research and development, graduate up-skill programs, staff secondments, client relations, sponsor partnering, and 'internal product sharing' with non-F1 departments in its attempts to ensure the budget is restrained on paper for the FIA audit, and free as King Kong in a Fruit Store back at the factory. Force India and Haas cannot achieve the same levels of freedom.
We previously suggested retaining series level sponsors, and distributing more money across the teams as being more beneficial. Our recommendation to rebalance historic payments with a concept like dollars per lap completed since 1950, with a weighting factor to make laps in the past ten years more valuable than laps in previous decades would also aid, while still ensuring the old teams had a (reduced), but still meaningful advantage. History is worth something after all!
So far Chase has not even got the circuit owners to the dinner table. Silverstone is scheduled to walk away, Malaysia has just done so, and a couple of others are thinking about it. The business model around circuits is simply broken, and so far Chase has shown no signs of serving himself some humble pie, eating a good plateful, and starting again. I believe this issue will run and run for the next couple of years.
So, for the first course Chase's Kitchen has scored 5/10 with a general comment from the judges of "Could try harder to be more original and serve an enticing opening dish."
Part Two looked at Fan Engagement
Our previous summary here was as follows;
Lesson Two: Make the free content engaging and enjoyable. Make the paid for content value added for the hard core fan, and exciting (game based) for the young fan. Get all involved in the sport down off Mount Olympus and back in the game with the fans. Connect one-on-one to rediscover the passion. Dare to be human!
Pitpass Recommendation: Free to air is the life blood of viewing figures for Formula One, it has to be an enjoyable easy to access option globally. Then to earn the money make the paid for content amazing. Mobile apps, timing apps, personal virtual qualifying each race weekend, followed by racing your B Spec driver on Sunday in a global league. Align with teams, gain their set up and data (even Lewis'). Drag the stars down from Olympus and make them connect as humans with the fans. Use the media to clearly support that this is a complex team game. People love the technology and the humanity. Showcase both!
The Korean fish cleared from the table, the second course is looking potentially far more inviting to our guests... As long as you love American food.
Now the land of the free has an immense range of dining options. None of which is usually free, and the best costs a small fortune, but the tastes can be amazing.
Chef Chase clearly feels he and the team are cooking up a storm for this course of fan engagement.
The London fan event showed potential. And Lewis is single-handedly reaching out across social media with considerable success.
And then we had Austin...
For the thinking man's German, take a bow Herr Vettel, who elected to use the phrase "It was not my cup of tea." To sum-up his feelings over the event that was the Austin Circus is a mighty insight into the potential for the American Chefs to totally misjudge the tastes of their dinner guests.
We can at least be thankful that "Super Bowl Experience" is no longer catchphrase of the day for Chase and the team.
It was Two-Face, at the start of an earlier reboot of Batman, who, having flicked his coin, informed the security guard he was dangling over a vat of boiling acid that he would live to see another day of wine and roses, before correcting himself, and saying in this gentlemen's case, beer and pizza.
Two-Face had the insight to realise different people love different things. Chase does not appear to acknowledge that Formula One is at core a British sport first, a European sport second, and a Global sport third. It is not an American sport. Period, as those pesky ex-colonials would say. If he keeps adding sugar-sweet dressing to the salad, and feels that all the fans at the circuits need is "More of what makes America Great", it's not going to work.
Next we have more virtual, digital, engagement, and paid for engagement. Thankfully Chase's team have openly admitted too many paywalls are bad, and an aspect of free-to-air needs to remain. Sadly this does not appear to be having any short or mid-term impact on pay TV deals, and F1 is set to vanish behind more and more global paywalls over the next few years. This will continue to harm audience numbers.
Editor Balfe has been both lengthy and eloquent in his roasting of the F1 timing app. Savvy users of modern mobile applications, and the internet in general, expect significant free services, and when they do pay for something it simply has to be exceptional to survive. Currently nothing F1 is offering in the digital realm meets these criteria.
Finally eSports. F1 has made some hopeful sounds on this one, but delivery so far has been average at best. Online gaming, the virtual races we outlined in our fan suggestions, none of them have been successfully addressed as yet. This is very much a work in progress, but the potential is there. If only Chase and the team can get it right before we all stop watching.
So Chase is not cooking up a storm in this area... yet. He is clearly putting in significant effort, and once he throws out his American cook books and tries a mix of English cheekiness (Hello Jamie), and French complexity he might make it work. While this area has huge potential, the lack of development so far sees us award a 3/10 for this course.
So, for now, we leave too many cooks in the kitchen, frying-up an American super-soaked heart-attack trauma.
Some of their recipes align with Pitpass reader thinking, but much of it has been developed in an American isolation that the rest of the planet does not desire. Just because you call it World Series Baseball that does not make it so.
In the second part of this article we will continue our review of the current state of F1 compared to our reader's suggestions as we revisit the sporting regulations, and the vision we painted for F1 2021 Pitpass style.
Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here