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Is Formula One Losing Its Soul?


Do you remember when Formula One used to be a relatively niche sport that only appealed to people with a genuine interest in motorsport?

It feels a long time ago now, but I do.

I still vividly remember the days of being a devoted F1 fan at secondary school. At my school, there were 2,000 pupils. But for much of the time I was there, I felt like I was the only one who was interested in F1.

There was one memorable occasion when, whilst waiting in the corridor outside a science class, a group of my classmates were having a lively discussion about Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. One of them turned to me and asked "what team do you support, James?" I responded, "Ferrari". His reaction stays with me to do this day. His expression changed to one of disproval, he mumbled something about how boring Formula One was, and barely spoke to me for the rest of time that we were at school.

But these days, things are a lot different. Sure, Formula One has always had a decent following. Yet in recent years, thanks in part due to Netflix's Drive to Survive smash hit and increased social media presence, F1 has reached a whole new level of popularity - particularly among young people.

Surely this is only a good thing? You don't have to turn the clock back too many years to hear complaints that F1 was dying - that its audience was ageing and declining, and that younger fans just weren't interested in motorsport or cars.

In many ways, you have to give Liberty Media - the current owners of the sport - due praise. They've done far more in just a few years than CVC Capital Partners ever did. But has it all been good?

No doubt my younger self would be delighted at the way F1 has become more mainstream - perhaps there would now be more people to talk to at school about it.

Certainly, it has given me a laugh to see some people I knew who once delighted in telling me how boring F1 was, now going to races.

But more recently, I've felt that F1 has been transforming into something I find increasingly hard to recognise. It seems obsessed with celebrities, being 'trendy', and appealing to people who don't really care about motorsport at all.

The most recent example of this came last weekend, for the sport's second visit to Miami.

Formula One always seems to go over the top whenever it visits America, and this was no exception to the rule.

Drivers had their vital pre-race routines disrupted as they were announced to the grid, in what can only be described as utterly cringe worthy scenes, by American rapper LL Cool J. No, me neither...

It didn't go down well. In fact, many of the drivers have spoken out about it. Their awkwardness was evident even from the TV screen. It's entirely understandable that F1 wants to put on a show and hype up the event. But as the drivers would readily confirm - they're there to race, and not be some sort of circus act.

Despite many of them being recognisable figures and household names in their own countries, a lot of the drivers are very private individuals. Many actively avoid the limelight - it's why you rarely see F1 drivers appearing on the red carpet at film premieres or other such events.

Yet the sport seems increasingly reluctant to let them "just" be racing drivers.

And there's far more to suggest that F1 is rather losing the plot. For instance, it has even started releasing music. Yes, really.

A new partnership with American rapper (another one) was recently announced. He is F1's "Global Artist in Residence", and will be releasing Formula One inspired songs throughout the rest of the 2023 season.

I promise you this isn't some sort of very late April Fool, as the first song was released at the weekend, imaginatively called "The Formula". I'd advise you not to listen to it, instead, here's just a small selection of the lyrics.

This my recipe, watch me go top speed (Zoom)
Go that full capacity, I got energy (Woo)
My ability is zoom through your vicinity (Zoom)
Here's an FYI, you need to F your insecurities, ayy
I'm in a quick whip (Vroom)
Lightning quick, y'all can't stick with it (No)
I stay slick like I'm liquid
Super complex, ain't comin' simplistic (Ayy)
I told 'em, I told 'em, I told 'em I'm sick with the cold
So let me encode 'em
I got the ammo, so watch me reload 'em
I'm comin' with flammables, time to explode 'em (Yah)

Wonderful. What the hell this actually has to do with Formula One, well, your guess is as good as mine...

And that's not all, because there's also now a Hollywood produced Formula One film in the works. It will feature Brad Pitt, and there were reports (later denied) that this actor, who has never once raced competitively, had been granted an FIA Super License for filming purposes.

A Super License is usually only granted to the very top drivers, and has become increasingly difficult for some young drivers to gain - even when they're talented enough.

Last year, AlphaTauri were hoping to be able to sign multiple IndyCar race winner, Colton Herta. However, there was a problem. Herta hadn't yet accrued the necessary points needed to secure a Super License and when Red Bull asked the FIA for an exemption. It was denied.

It was therefore Herta who summed up the Pitt news the best, in a tweet that went viral.

'Brad Pitt got a super license before me. Tough.'

It's this type of stuff that has made me seriously wonder what is going on with the sport at the moment. Does any of this really have any benefit?

The over-the-top driver introductions and desire to massively hype up races just looks all the more ridiculous when you consider the contrast to the lacklustre on-track action so far this year.

We're only five races into the 2023 season, but on the face of it, it doesn't look like it's going to be a particularly memorable campaign. Red Bull has won every race, and taken a 1-2 finish in all but one of those. The championship looks like it's only ever going to go one way.

This is the problem with F1's obsession with increasingly expanding the calendar. There's still another 18 races to go, but barring the FIA suddenly announcing that Red Bull is banned from using DRS, an engine or wheels, we're just counting down to when Max Verstappen wins his third title. We can only hope that Sergio Perez manages to keep the 'title battle' relatively close for a little while longer...

This wouldn't be quite so bad if the racing was still decent. Unfortunately however, the change in regulations - specifically to the cars' floors - seems to have undone most of the good work that was achieved last year. Drivers have spoken out about how much harder it is to follow closely and overtake compared to a year ago. The Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which was universally panned for how boring it was, saw just 23 overtakes in 51 laps of racing.

I appreciate that releasing music and making films is very different from fixing these other issues - but surely, if the sport wants to continue to grow in popularity, the priority should be on making the racing the best it can be. Not all this other extra stuff that no F1 fan - new or old - is really asking for.

When I first became an F1 fan all those years ago, I fell in love with the things that Formula One should be about: the incredible tracks, the captivating racing and compelling storylines, the amazing cars and the incredible drivers who raced them.

I hope that's not being forgotten about in favour of excessive glamour and celebrity endorsements. Because, just lately, it very much feels like F1 is a sport that is in danger of losing its soul.

Then again, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe, as I get closer to turning 30, I'm increasingly at risk of becoming a curmudgeon.

James Singleton



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1. Posted by BrightonCorgi, 14/06/2023 19:59

"F1 needs Bernie Eccelstone back.

We need pit girls and focus on the core consumer.

F1 should be aspirational like a luxury good. Not a mainstream mass market garment. "

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2. Posted by intrepid, 26/05/2023 15:25

"Having curmudgeoned more years ago than I'm willing to admit, let us say - Amen! I was subscribed to the old Autocar magazine that came to New York three or four at a time, in the old Queen Elizabeth or Queen Mary, when I was in Columbia Law School - 1952-55. Then whilst in the U S Navy, raced a Windsor blue TR3 in SCCA races in California and a Porsche 356b Super 90 coupe in France (with an unlimited F1 license issued by the R.A.C. in London. Graduate law studies in Paris in the 1960s and attending F1 races all over western Europe. Unhappily, BIG BUSINESS has infected world-class automobile racing."

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3. Posted by Spindoctor, 24/05/2023 14:16

"@James Singleton
A nicely worked piece which plots most of the ways in which F1 is declining into irrelevance for fans of Racing.
I'm not *intrinsically* opposed to the PT Barnham stuff. A bit of razamatazz & showmanship can sometimes be entertaining. Liberty (& hence F1)'s big problem is that F1 is becoming a hollow caricature: lots of surface glitz, but devoid of significant content.

I am of course merely a old fogey who's followed F1 since the early 1960's. Thanks mainly to luck I have a sufficient disposable income to interest sponsors & advertisers ("F1 Partners"?) but I'm also in danger of shuffling off this mortal coil before they can part me from much of my dosh. I'm pretty sure this consideration is a key driver in their enthusiasm to capture instead a Yoof market - through Social Media, Netflix, Gimmicks & assorted other nonsense.
In short F1 is rapidly becoming a "Product", not a Sport. Sport is mainly about heart & soul, Products are mainly a matter of profit & marketing.

There is no Universal Law, of the Miss Physics variety, which insists that in order to survive sports must become products in this way.


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4. Posted by Max Noble, 20/05/2023 12:18

"To quote…
“Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
Tender to me the promise of His Word;
In God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.”

I do not believe Liberty sing this wonderful song, with full pipe organ accompaniment, ever…

I like it.

It has a message.

…but dang, so many capitalist captains never hear that call.

Sleep well dear readers. The obsessive behaviours of the rich do not always damn us all…


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5. Posted by Malemoi, 18/05/2023 16:00

"Lost it soul years ago :(

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6. Posted by Chester, 18/05/2023 14:51

"Sorry folks. I guess I'm a hedonist. Every time I see the picture (nice looking women) for this article my heart leaps. I do miss grid girls. "

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7. Posted by Stitch431, 18/05/2023 9:58

"I have been following the Formula 1 since the early 70s as a kid and was relieved to see that gradually the fatal accidents became rarer, and rarer. I have been watching it for the racing. Yes, most of the time there is one team ahead of the others but that has always been like that and is in the DNA of the sports. Now we are seeing more and more street circuits, the racing is becoming more and more difficult. It seems to me that cities pay loads of money to be featured in the F1 series... It is like advertising movies instead of racing. Only yesterday I saw the Barcelona circuit is to be replaced by yet another street race in Madrid ... Please stop this nonsense as street races have nothing to do with racing at all. And then I don't even lose a word about cheerleaders ... First the pit girls were banned because they were "not of this time", only to be replaced by their equivalent of American football??? Dear Liberty, Please give us back real racing and stop making a circus out of it."

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8. Posted by JamesHSingo, 18/05/2023 9:43

"@rtw91 - Thanks for your comment! I can completely understand your disillusionment with the sport at the moment. Notwithstanding the entertaining 2021 season, it's a feeling I've known well in the past few years. However, F1 has been such a big part of my life to date that giving up on it entirely is something I'd struggle to do - I'm not quite at that stage just yet, but maybe will be soon if the sport carries on heading in this direction.

I agree with you that other forms of motorsport offer a much better product at the moment. I'm hugely enjoying IMSA with the new GTP cars, and can't wait for Le Mans later this year too. IndyCar, whilst by no means perfect, still offers plenty of great racing too. And whilst MotoGP seems desperate to copy many of F1s mistakes - particularly in regard to its recent obsession with aero - I thoroughly enjoyed watching the French Grand Prix last weekend. "

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9. Posted by JamesHSingo, 18/05/2023 9:36

"@Chester - It's a good question, and this may sound like a cop out answer, but I consider myself a fan of entertaining racing over and above any driver. I grew frustrated by the years of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton dominance, and was delighted to see Max win his first title. However, prolonged dominance by anyone does become rather tedious, and it's a shame that the sport seems to have gone from one era of dominance (Merc) to another (Red Bull) straight away. I had high hopes for these regulation changes when they were introduced last year.

I'd have no problem with either Max or Lewis winning, if there was an exciting championship battle! "

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10. Posted by Max Noble, 18/05/2023 0:59

"@Tardis40 - I think it was Meatloaf who had a song about “Too much is never enough”. I believe it is Liberty Media’s theme tune, played at every internal meeting…

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11. Posted by Tardis40, 18/05/2023 0:37

"On the one hand you have the Purists. On the other the Dilettantes.

The Purists will always be outnumbered by a large margin. So when it becomes all about the money ..."

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12. Posted by Max Noble, 17/05/2023 13:50

"Great observational piece James. It is time for F1 to have some self reflection, and consider the future… but as you note I’m not sure anyone is doing that right now. Us fans can only hope they soon do!"

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13. Posted by Cobra Driver, 17/05/2023 13:34

"The circus clowns (aka inmates) are clearly in control. If further explanation is required, just read the latest musings by the head guy at Liberty Mutual. Apparently, there will be no limits. It appears that there is only one group that can exert enough pressure to persuade LM to tamp down this insanity and that is the Grand Prix Drivers Association. Or they may turn out to be another "toothless tiger"."

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14. Posted by Abies, 17/05/2023 11:52

"Sadly, F1 is becoming another Woke Diversity Sh*tshow... "

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15. Posted by Superbird70, 16/05/2023 19:07

"F1 didn't lose its soul. It sold it, to the highest bidder."

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