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Dreams that into a nightmare: Why F1 must improve its fan experience

Fan experience has come under the limelight in Formula 1 over the last two years since the return of full crowds to Grand Prix. Ed Spencer explains why more needs to be done by F1

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For Formula 1 fans, the ultimate birthday present is tickets to a Grand Prix weekend of their choice, whether that’s the glamorous principality of Monte Carlo or the historical rural surroundings of Spa Francorchamps.

A trip to a Grand Prix weekend doesn’t come cheap, with tickets starting from £50 to £100 for general admission, which doesn’t come with an assigned seat. Add in flights, trains, food and hotels and the cost of attending a race goes well into the thousands.

There is no guarantee that the fans will get a good view of the track or a big screen to keep track of the race, nor are they guaranteed a sheltered seat in case the heavens decide to open.

Throw in expensive food and drink, aggressive opposing fans, a woeful phone signal and a late exit from the circuit hours after the chequered flag has been waved, and suddenly, the prospect of going to a race seems less attractive.

So how can F1 improve its fan experience?

Partner with a telecoms company

In recent years stadiums have been introducing complimentary wifi for fans to enjoy during intermissions and helping them enjoy the experience with fans who couldn’t afford to be there in person.

An example of a stadium with superb internet is Marseille’s historic Stade Velodrome, which manages to have a fully functioning wifi system through its partnership with Orange for the 67,000 fans who turn up to the various events the stadium hosts.

Yet, whilst still having more space to play with, the only wifi available to fans is in the paddock club or the media centre. It means the fans’ have only two options racking up a huge phone bill or going without any communication and hoping for the best.

With fan misbehaviour rising and helplines being set up as a result, it’s a good idea for F1 to strike a deal with the likes of Telefonica to have trucks set up inside the circuit, so fans without a big screen can watch the race and phone the authorities or family members in a time of need.

Formula One F1 – Emilia Romagna Grand Prix – Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, Imola, Italy – April 24, 2022 Race fans lets off flares in the stand during the race REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzini

Beefed-up security, more water taps and restrictions on alcohol

The sub-storyline from F1’s European season was the continuing issue of fan safety. Not least, after a series of incidents which saw female fans being harassed by drunken male fans at the Austrian Grand Prix in mid-July, with some having to seek safety in the paddock.

In the wake of Austria, questions were asked as to where was the security and the lack of restrictions on alcohol, with the former being brought into further question following a vicious fight in the fan zone during the British GP weekend.

Although F1 introduced the ‘drive it out’ campaign to tackle online and in-person abuse, the movement is very much in its infancy. With the lack of internet or security at the track, it seems unlikely that the initiative will bear fruit anytime soon.

F1 is also far behind organisations such as GridClique, who set up WhatsApp groups for fans going to the race to share info and resources about the circuit to enhance their experience and keep them safe.

No fan should also feel dehydrated at a track either. At last year’s Spanish GP, fans were left feeling an extreme amount of dehydration after a combination of extreme heat, lack of stock and being unable to bring their food and drink into the circuit, which saw some being taken away in ambulances with heat stroke.

There are calls for more forms of public transport, too, following the debacle of the Italian GP, where fans had to wait hours to get back to their overnight accommodation, with event organisers already looking at improving several elements of fan experience for 2023.

Why F1 must change or risk losing new fans

All of these changes must be implemented sooner rather than later. In an era of social media and increased demand for races, circuits need to step up their game quickly or face losing their slot on the calendar as well as alienating fans from returning.

As a sport Formula 1 needs to improve its fan experience because it can catch up to the likes of football, rugby and tennis, which modernised their fan experiences before and after the pandemic.

With some sports already having restrictions on alcohol, Formula 1 will have to follow that route in the near future, particularly following Austria, but that in itself may prove tricky with title sponsor Heineken, who will lose sales if a three to four-pint per-fan limit was introduced.

Basic things such as bottle refilling stations, more help desks, and the banning of flares, which caused disruption at Zandvoort and the Red Bull Ring, are just some of the plugin play additions that will go a long way in improving a fan’s experience. 

If circuits cannot align themselves with F1’s sustainability targets or these new additions that prioritise public transport being used to go to and from the track, their position on the calendar must be questioned.

Ed Spencer
Ed Spencer
FIA accredited journalist
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