EMERSON FITTIPALDI YOUNG FANS ARE F1’S FUTURE
The double world champion writes exclusively for F1 Racing
As I sit down to write this, the F1 summer break has come to an end and the Belgian Grand Prix is starting our continenthopping rush to the end of the season – from Europe to Asia, then to America via the Caucasus, and back over the Atlantic again to nish in the Middle East. It’s tiring for the people who work in the sport but, I think, necessary – because for a sport to have a truly global appeal it has to create a physical connection with fans all over the world. Watching a race on television is one thing but actually being there is something else.
So I was very glad to learn that the Mexican GP is returning to the calendar next year, and that F1 will be entering new territory with a race in Azerbaijan in 2016. There’s so much passion for F1 in Mexico. I only competed in one F1 race there – it was my fth grand prix start – and the grandstands were completely full. It will be like that again in 2015, for sure, because there are two Mexican drivers on the grid – Sergio Pérez and Esteban Gutiérrez. There have been a few Mexican drivers in F1 over the years, but I think Sergio and Esteban are among the most talented, along with the country’s original F1 pioneers, Ricardo and Pedro Rodríguez, after whom Mexico City’s circuit is named. The Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez has always been a challenge to drive on because of the bumps and the altitude, but it has a great downtown location, so it’s very easy for spectators to get to.
The only downside of the urban location is that there’s now a road on the other side of the fence from the iconic Peraltada corner, so we may have to let that one go. Still, changing the circuit opens up new opportunities – just look at Interlagos, which also had to undergo a big change, but which remains one of the greatest tracks to drive, with many different challenges. It’s also moving with the times – a new pit complex is being built as I write. Azerbaijan’s arrival has prompted the usual questions about breaking new ground. Some people worry new races squeeze out classic tracks from the calendar and don’t attract enough spectators. It’s a complex issue with no easy answers. I was interested to hear Christian Horner’s answer to a question about the disappointing attendance at the German and Hungarian GPs; he said that if existing territories don’t show much interest, why not visit those crying out for it?
That’s part of the right answer – but I don’t think half-full grandstands are a sign that a country isn’t interested. Hockenheim tickets were very expensive, and I read reports that it cost 10 for an ice cream! That’s an expensive day out if you’re bringing the family – and I believe that for the sport to grow, we need to encourage people to bring their children to races.
A couple of thoughts struck me as I was at Silverstone a couple of months ago for the British GP. Firstly, how much I’d enjoyed taking part in the parade of historic F1 cars, and how the spectators had loved it, too. To pull everything together had taken a lot of
“Promoters need to have more happening at the circuit to keep people entertained”
effort from Tony Jardine and the BRDC, but it was worth it. These days you can’t expect people to make a long journey, then sit in the same seat all day waiting for something to happen. Race promoters need to have more happening on and around the circuit to keep people entertained and engaged.
More races on the support card? Funfairs, simulators and live music to encourage people to move round and change the pace of the day? Better internet connectivity so they can share their experience with friends and persuade them to come next year? The most successful races are all doing this. At Silverstone I noticed temporary mobile phone masts had been put up around the circuit to provide a better signal, and the F1 Racing Fan Village at Whittlebury Park had free Wi-Fi. At Singapore they’ll have Jennifer Lopez, Robbie Williams and the Pet Shop Boys performing live over the weekend. Abu Dhabi will have something similar.
Something else that struck me at Silverstone… my boy put down his phone and watched the race. General Motors recently did a survey and found that while previous generations of teenagers viewed owning a car as the most important thing in their lives, now what they all want is a smartphone. We must deal with this generational change. On the evidence of my own eyes, modern F1 is exciting enough to persuade the kids to set their phones aside and engage with the spectacle in front of them. All we need to do is get them through the door!
The 2015 Mexican GP is sure to draw a big crowd due to the presence of home talent Sergio Pérez and Esteban Gutiérrez