Formula 1

F1 team bosses looking to restore popularity of the sport

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Formula 1 team bosses are becoming increasingly outspoken as the sport looks to overturn a recent drop in popularity.

With TV viewing figures down in most countries and some races failing to attract fans to the circuit, leading figures are raising some potentially very contentious questions with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

High ticket prices

The one that will catch most people's attention is the issue of high ticket prices. Over the years the increasing race fees asked by Ecclestone have forced organisers to put the price of tickets up in a bid to recapture most of the expenditure.

At some races there is enough of a fan base that are prepared to spend potentially hundreds of pounds just to watch three days of action, however, even at some of the races where you would expect a full house, filling the grandstands has proven difficult.

The best example of this is Germany where, despite four straight world championships for Sebastian Vettel as well as Nico Rosberg fighting for this year's crown, the famous stadium section at Hockenheim was mostly empty for much of the weekend as most opted to simply go for the race.

Indeed after the weekend, one of my friends in Germany sent me a photo of his friend's ticket for the race which had cost him approaching 500 Euros.

The sea of empty seats was in direct contrast to the previous three races in Canada, Britain and Austria all of which were close if not sold out during the entire weekend.

Maintaining traditional races

In recent years too, some of the sport's traditional venues have found it increasingly difficult to provide the income to match the high cost of putting on a Formula 1 race.

Circuits like Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and Silverstone had to spend millions upgrading facilities to match those at the modern tracks - even altering their classic layouts to make way for the changes.

Currently under the greatest threat is Italy's famed Monza circuit with Ecclestone threatening to either move venue or axe the race altogether if upgrades are not made.

Already some alterations, including the installation of a tarmac run-off area at the Parabolica, are being made in a bid to save the race, however, with just two years left on the current contract whether enough can be done to dissuade Ecclestone from pulling the plug will be one to watch.

Daring

Usually these topics are towards the bottom of the list that team bosses would dare to bring up to Ecclestone directly, however, with concerns over the future continuing, Mercedes Commercial chief Toto Wolff says talks have been held.

"We have dared to discuss ticket prices, and we discussed the impact and the importance of the traditional circuits like Spa, like Monza, like Hockenheim," he told Autosport.

"Races like that need to be part of the race calendar. This is a global sport.

"We need to go abroad and we need to conquer new territories and new countries, this always has been the case, but I guess it is pretty clear what needs to be done to fill the grandstands in the traditional races such as Hockenheim and Monza."

Finding the cause

Wolff's comments come after a call from McLaren CEO Ron Dennis for greater analysis into why some circuits are able to attract the fans while others are not and only then can F1 start to make the necessary adjustments.

"How can we go to Silverstone and Austria and it be absolutely full, and then we go to Germany and it's half full?" Dennis queried. "There must be a reason."   

"We can all guess, but that's not very scientific. We've really got to understand why these things happen.

"Is it ticketing prices? Is it national heroes etc? Whatever it is we have to address it."

Asian dream

While much of the focus was on the fate of European races, the questions posed are just as relevant to the Asian rounds.

Now 15 years since the sport began to look East with the arrival of the Malaysian Grand Prix in 1999, Formula 1 is still yet to really capture the Far East market as many thought it could.

Races in India and Korea came and went within a few years and the impact in China, now on the calendar for 10 years, is still minimal with the Shanghai circuit also mostly empty during the weekend.

Singapore success

However, one of the races that continues to buck the trend is this weekend's Grand Prix venue in Singapore.

Now heading into its seventh edition, after joining in 2008, the night race set among the skyscrapers and along the marina attracts fans from all over the world.

Yet the funny aspect to that is the price of going to a Singapore race is among the highest of all the 19 races.

But the marketing and the overall experience of going to the Singapore race is what manages to make it one all fans want to go to and are prepared to spend a good amount of money to make what is likely a once in a lifetime trip.

Making it worthwhile

And therein lies the problem, currently most races are not offering enough to persuade the casual fan to get out of his or her comfy armchair in front of a TV and get in the car, train or plane and spend the money going to the race itself.

It is about making the trip worthwhile and over three days seven hours of F1 action is not enough. Of course there are the other race series like GP2 at the European races but at the Asian rounds its turn up, watch F1, go home and at prices that can take up a large proportion of disposable income even the most active of fans would rather stick to the TV.

Appreciate loyalty

Making the experience match the price tag may work for casual fans, but one of the big criticisms of F1 currently is appreciating those who visit races and show loyalty to the sport.

Countless number of fans around the world make the pilgrimage to their home or nearest race an annual event.

By offering some kind of benefits for regular race goers that would also attract some who may go to a race only when they can but more often than not stay at home.

If the sport could offer multi-year packages at discounted rates at one race or packages to visit three or more races per year again at a discounted rate then that is how you attract fans back to a race each year or broaden their horizons and go elsewhere.

This is a topic that certainly requires some fan feedback so feel free to write how you would attract fans to your race in the comments below or send me a tweet (@BenIssatt) because at this moment in time it seems the powers that be might just listen to our concerns and ideas so lets grab it with both hands.

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Formula 1

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