The RACER Mailbag, November 16

The RACER Mailbag, November 16

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, November 16

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Q: Peter Carey’s comment/questions about F1 got me thinking. I get that DTS has contributed to F1 being more popular. But what demographics are buying these tickets at Miami, COTA, and Vegas at the prices they are looking for? I listened to a scribe discuss concerns about the age of F1 fans at races being 45 and older, and it makes sense. So the ticket prices are ridiculous. Even if I had the money, I would rather put it in my kids’ or future grandkids’ education fund. Or, fund an addition to my house.

So the question is, does F1 expect these prices to hold indefinitely?  Where are the future ticket buyers coming from?

Steve Selasky, Rockford, MI

CHRIS MEDLAND: To be honest Steve, I’m pretty sure F1 doesn’t expect prices to hold indefinitely. They’re cashing in at the moment in certain areas. You have to look at the calendar as a whole, and only a few weeks ago the Mexico City promoter said the U.S. events are good because fans do both, and those who can’t afford tickets to Miami or Vegas see the value of Mexico.

Vegas is a three-year contract and is really F1 testing to see if it can have a race that is exclusively good for TV and with huge ticket prices in such a location – there’s none of the support events or other action that a racing fan will really want. That already exists with Austin, which is why that race has such big demand (also driving up prices) but I think COTA is more likely to fluctuate based on interest and be long-term, rather than a Vegas or Miami that might be shorter-term and then another city will want to host a race and people will also pay as a one-off.

What COTA does really well (and Miami did too, to be fair) is the same as any other U.S. sport and that’s ensure a whole event that is fun, regardless of the race itself. When you look at it as a three-day festival rather than just a Sunday grand prix, then tickets for Austin are around the ballpark I think you’d expect. The other two push the limits because of demand as new additions.

Future ticket buyers are going to be different for each race. I’m generalizing of course: Vegas is a demographic I can’t claim to be part of, but Austin is going to be more your general fan who already watches on TV and want to go to a great track, and Miami attracted a crowd through FOMO, creating a very shareable event that marketed itself through fans posting on social media and downtown parties. There will be some crossover, but unless first-time F1 goers in Miami get hooked on the racing, they’re less likely to go to Austin, but might seek out Vegas.

Having those differences keeps each race viable, and while it’s understandably frustrating for hardcore F1 fans in the States who love racing and want to go to as many as possible, they haven’t lost anything – those two new races didn’t replace Austin, only added to it. Hopefully if the growth continues then if there’s a fourth race in the States it would also be more in the COTA mould and provide a better value-for-money option for invested fans, but sustained demand would need to be high enough for that to work.

If Miami ticket prices are too steep you could always try disguising yourself as a palm tree. Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images

Q: Chris, I have a problem. I have been watching F1 since live broadcasts began in the U.S. and have been following since the early ‘70s. My favorite F1 drivers are Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.  My favorite teams have been McLaren and Ferrari. Now Danny has been ousted and I can no longer support McLaren, Seb is retiring and Fernando has made another bone-head career move to join a lesser team. And of course Ferrari, season after season, have let me down since Michael Schumacher left. I’m no fan of Hamilton, Verstappen, Russell, Ocon or Norris.

I have watched all seasons of Drive to Survive, but I don’t know why. It has made celebrities of the team principals but has made me dislike Wolff, Horner and Brown and I think Steiner is more showman than a competent leader.

I am also angry that Red Bull pushed aside Porsche, Andretti is being shut out and Herta didn’t get a Super License. (And I consider Sargent as much of an American representative as I did Cheever, not much of one.)  I think the Sprints are stupid, making the race a two-day, two-heat event and that the stewards and race director(s) look like amateurs, instead of the sport pinnacle. And Pirelli is backing down to the “world’s best” drivers, who are afraid to drive on cold tires, like drivers in other series do. And don’t get me started on the inability to race on wet tires.

I’m struggling, so can you give me any reasons to keep watching or should I just give up on F1?

Bruce K in Philadelphia

CM: A nice easy one for me here Bruce – it only feels like my job is on the line!

I’d start off with the racing. The stewarding still needs improving (as I mentioned in my answer to Eric), but the on-track action is improving and this was year one of the new rules – teams should be getting even closer over time. Plus, can I ask if you were entertained by last year’s title fight? That had many people hooked all year long, and those protagonists look set for another battle next year but with added contenders.

I genuinely think we could be on for a three-way fight for the title next year. Ferrari should have given Red Bull a harder time this season and while I know that failure has hurt you, remember how far off the pace the team was a year ago, and even in 2020. The gains have been big and quick, so now it needs to make a much smaller step to properly fight for the title across a whole season. 

And Mercedes’ gains are a good sign too, because it shows it is understanding its weaknesses and should start next year closer to the top two at the very least. All three teams have drivers capable of winning the title, and Hamilton v Russell could be some power play in 2023 if regular wins are on offer.

Aside from that, your favorite three drivers all emerged long after you started watching, and who knows who will grab you attention moving forward as the one you want to support? It could be one of the current crop, or Logan might surprise you, or maybe a rookie such as Piastri comes in and keeps you interested. I’d have loved to see Colton get his shot too and it’s a shame that won’t happen for a few years now at least, but I’m pretty hopeful the FIA will adjust the Super License weighting for IndyCar moving forward to open that door a little bit more. 

For Pirelli, it’s still going with the cold tires plan, it just changed the step it’s making next year before a whole new tire comes into play and tire blankets are banned in 2024 (I don’t think they’ll fix the wet tire issue though – it’s not the tires, it’s the spray, and if you want cars this incredible in the dry, they’ll always throw up loads of spray and make it impossible to see in the wet).

I’m almost asking everyone to reply again this week, but did you not enjoy the Sprint in Brazil? I can see when races are dull it’s just amplified, but when it works, it’s really good – at Interlagos we had a shock pole position on Friday, then two races full of drama, hard racing and controversy. And the fastest and most deserving guy that weekend still won.

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