Jan 27, 2010

F1 and North America

Formula One continues to talk about doing things to make the sport more accessible.

There's also no doubt that it is desperate to gain traction in the lucrative North American market. And the Formula One Teams Association is trying, but it's more than apparent that they have lots of work to do.

While F1 is the thing to see in Europe, apart from a small circle of die hard fans, grand prix racing gets less coverage than five-pin bowling on this side of the Atlantic.

One huge reason is that, in general. F1 insiders simply do not understand the expectations of North Americans when it comes to their sports.

In particular, F1 doesn't get the racing media over here, you know, the main conduit of the sport to the fans. The biggest problem is that F1 simply does not understand the kind of access that's expected by media to get the stories to their listeners, readers, and viewers.

For example, NASCAR and IndyCar both have a weekly teleconferences during the season and they try to keep a good supply of them going in the off season too. Apparently, F1 teams are doing this periodically now, but only to selected media. I have yet to get an invitation to any F1-related teleconference.

But it's more than that.

North Americans expect their sports heroes to want to be seen and heard.

It's not out of the ordinary for an NHL player to do an interview going into overtime in a Stanley Cup final game. Or for an NHL player to talk to a sideline reporter after a big touchdown. NASCAR has a driver be the "in-race" reporter" and answer questions about the race and strategy posed by the telecast crew during cautions.

On the other hand, F1 keeps this kind of thing to a minimum. It's all based on Bernie Ecclestone's idea that if you make F1 exclusive and expensive enough, and the drivers are on pedestals like demi-gods who don't speak to the minions who pay their salaries, then more people will want to go to races and be part of the club.

While F1 feels that snobbier is better, that kind of thing just turns North Americans off.

The result is that journalists rarely get one-on-one time with F1 drivers. And F1 drivers don't talk to reporters on the phone. In a decade of writing about motorsport, I have only had one F1 driver call me for a telephone interview (Olivier Panis for those of you wondering).

The accepted F1 excuse is always that there is not enough time for the drivers to accommodate every request. And we are not talking about Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton here. This goes for all the drivers on the grid, not just the big stars.

I say: Really? Then why can Jeff Gordon do it most of the time? I'd wager that he gets as many, if not more, media requests than any F1 driver.

But I digress.

The reason for this post is that McLaren has made a step in the right direction and decided to launch its 2010 car online. Yes, this is a good start.

Unfortunately, the brain trust at the team may have wanted to think about that pesky thing called time zones when they planned the timing of their event.

Had they taken the potential North American audience into account, my guess is that they would not have scheduled it at 11 a.m. English time.

For those of you in North America wondering about the conversion, that's 6 a.m. EST and 3 a.m. PST on Jan. 29.

I suspect that many might get up that early for a race, but perhaps not for a car launch. But for those wanting to get up to see the new McLaren unveiled, the launch is available here

UPDATE: Add Ferrari to the list. Their launch will also be streamed live online at 4:30 a.m. on Thursday (Jan. 28). You can find the Scuderia's launch here.

Hope you aren't too sleepy...

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