Sprint format criticism mainly from “avid” F1 fans on social media

2021 F1 season

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Formula 1 insists its sprint qualifying format remains overwhelmingly popular with casual and new fans, and its doubters are chiefly “avid fans” voicing their criticisms on social media.

The series will run its third and final sprint qualifying event of this season at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix next week. It plans an expansion of the format to six events, with some modifications, for the 2022 F1 season.

A recent, F1-backed survey of over 167,000 fans revealed the split in public reaction to the new format. Asked whether they felt sprint qualifying had “improved the show”, 40% (two in five) agreed and 34% (more than one in three) disagreed.

However F1’s motorsport director Ross Brawn pointed out that even critics of the format had watched the additional races on Saturdays.

“The avid fans, our real, dedicated fans, have not been convinced yet, they’re indifferent,” he said. “They all watched it, by the way, they didn’t turn off. They were fascinated by [it].

Report: F1 could name ‘Sprint champion’ among other possible changes to format in 2022
“But the majority of our ‘normal’ fans and particularly our new fans were positive about the concept. They particularly liked the action on a Friday. They felt Friday was now worth watching which it hadn’t been before.”

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has repeatedly talked up the public reaction to sprint qualifying races. Speaking after the second sprint qualifying race at Monza, which Sergio Perez described as being “boring for fans [and] boring for drivers”, Domenicali said “the vast majority of the comment that we receive are totally positive”.

Brawn said the positive response F1 has seen in its surveys to sprint qualifying was not reflected in the social media reaction.

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“Given the millions of fans we have watch the event, then it’s true to say that the fans we have who are so engaged that they enter into social media comments are a relatively small percentage – an important percentage, don’t get me wrong – they’re the ones which I mentioned at the beginning, the avid fans who were a bit indifferent about it. We’ve had them say ‘yes’ and we’ve had them say ‘no’.

“But as you delve down into all the other surveys we do with ‘medium’ different fans and casual fans and all the rest of it, we get a very strong positive on this. So I think that’s the comment that Stefano was making. And I think, as I say, we all recognise that social media isn’t always the best perspective on the sport where we’ve got 14 million fans watching a race.”

However Brawn said the sport intends to proceed cautiously with the expansion of the format to six events next year. This is likely to include revisions such as making it a stand-alone race which awards more points.

“From a fan perspective we’ve had a good response,” he explained. “We look at the demographics and we seem to have engaged some more younger and casual audience with the sprint.”

“In terms of how dramatic we make a change […] we’re going to be relatively conservative in the step we make for next year. What we don’t want to do is lose it because we’ve been overambitious.

“We need to have enough content, enough engagement to make it worthwhile and we don’t want to spoil it by overstepping and people feeling it’s gone too far. Plus, we have the new cars next year, which in themselves are going to be quite a big story.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 121 comments on “Sprint format criticism mainly from “avid” F1 fans on social media”

    1. Of course, the ‘avid’ fans are the fans who know what they’re talking about.

      Gotta be careful about disregarding the core fan’s opinion too much, otherwise you turn into modern NASCAR.

      1. No, just being an avid fan or watching Formula One for decades doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about. Motorsport forums are proof of that.

        But these avid fans will voice their opinions more than the casual fans, leading to the false impression, that they are the majority.

        I think the formula is very simple: watching qualifying is more fun than watching free practice, watching a race is more fun than watching qualifying. Only the most avid of fans will argue that Formula One needs less racing and more free practice, because watching free practice is what the fans really want.

        1. The structure of a Formula 1 weekend is rooted in a more ‘old fashioned’ paradigm of building anticipation towards a big main event. The modern world doesn’t have the patience for that, we live in a society where anticipation and patience are not considered virtues in the same way they once were, so you see a lot of the sports world looking for ‘more’ and ‘quicker’. We want more action and more quickly!

          The trouble is this only serves to water down whatever spectacle you’re building to. Much of the excitement and fulfilment in engaging in an activity is the anticipation in the run up to it. I fear if F1 pander too heavily to this trend then they will (after an initial rise) start to see a drop off in interest from the more casual fans.

          Formula 1 is a relatively high investment sport, that’s why fans tend to stick around for a long time. There’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to broaden its appeal, but it will come at a cost.

          1. I mainly agree Gary. I also have faith in Brawn’s approach though and believe he understands the importance of the “avid” fans and also the casually interested flitters, the key is to find a balance. I believe there’s a solution to be found in the sprint races.

            1. Gary @twentyseven Well it might come at a cost, but at the same time it might engage more people and make them avid and latch on to a favourite driver or team and want to see how they do through a season more and more as the season goes along. I do get the concept of watering down the product, but for me the big changes they have made to the budgets, the money distribution, and especially the cars shouldn’t be overshadowed by Sprints, and have only bolstered the sport, not watered it down.

              For me sticking with the current type of clean air dependent cars, and then following that up with more DRS, and then reverse grids to make up for processions would be watering it down. Rather they have a great opportunity now to offer close combat with less predictability, and I hope for the usage of DRS as Domenicali envisioned could happen…use it simply as a drag reducer on the selected straights in order to save fuel, used by all cars no matter their proximity to another car, once in the designated zones. That way, fair for all drivers and not used as a tool for a trailing driver to have an unfair advantage over a leading driver but simply as a tool to save fuel (and promote speeds on straights) by reducing drag.

          2. Formula 1 is a relatively high investment sport, that’s why fans tend to stick around for a long time.

            Indeed. Easy come, easy go.

            The more casual the fan, the harder it is to keep them engaged. This often results in the use of tribalism (like nationalism), fake drama and gimmicks to keep people entertained, but there is nothing unique about these methods. It can also make the the sport very dependent on a few stars.

            1. Exactly my take on it too. The drive for more exposure, more fans, more revenue, can become a race to the bottom if not handled appropriately. The integrity of the sport – its depth of value – can become undermined through the near constant search to appeal to an increasingly broad audience.

              I don’t know how it will go for F1. I just hope they manage to find an appropriate balance without resorting to any gimmicks or contrived drama.

            2. Gary true and I’m sure Brawn gets that with his wording about going ahead conservatively and not wanting to push things too far with Sprints. I reiterate what I keep saying, which is that the very fact they have rallied the teams to agree to budget caps, better money distribution, and cars that can race closely, not to mention the environmental greening up of the sport, as well as their initiatives towards racing as one, and paying more and more attention to mental health issues, shows they have every intention of trying to do the best they can for the sport. I personally will not let all that be overshadowed by Sprints.

            3. @Robbie, I see what you’re saying and agree really. I’m not necessarily against Sprint races, and F1 has made some awesome steps forward too, so I’m still very much intrigued to see which direction the sport goes in next. Having been a fan since 1994, and having followed it closely every year since, it will take quite a lot before I consider walking away!

            4. @robbie I think that some feel that they are being badly treated because of the blitz of publicity from Liberty Media and the statements from Brawn which encouraged people to “give it a go” and not to make a judgement before watching some of those sprint races. Having done so, the fact that Brawn is then saying “well, you watched those races” feels like a bit of an insult to those who did what he asked them to do, which was to watch and make a judgement afterwards.

              They dislike what they feel is dishonesty on the part of Liberty Media, and they dislike the other comments made by Brawn that indicate that the most important part is how much they can charge for it, rather than what it does for the sport.

            5. @anon

              Nailed it

          3. perfectly said

    2. Been an avid fan since 1986. I didn’t watch either of them and wont be watching the next one. Complete waste of time and not needed by anyone interested in the sport of F1.

      1. Complete waste of time and not needed by anyone interested in the sport of F1.

        Gotta love gatekeeping.

      2. I didn’t ether and because I knew the grid would be screwed any way I didn’t even watch the race ether. I lost so much interest in F1 that I find other things in my life suddenly sufficiently important to take priority over F1. I even missed an apparently great race in Austin. There was a sailing race worth watching if I remember. And yes ,Ross, I was an avid fan for over 50 years and worked in Motorsport for 10 of them.

      3. @laurencemeehan

        I also didn’t watch them. In fact, not watching them Saturday led to me not watching the British GP. Only watched the highlights.

        Hey but there are only alienating their core customers, what could go wrong?

      4. “That thing I didn’t watch was rubbish”

        1. Ok well I watched both and can confirm they were, indeed, rubbish.

          1. Avid fan here, i can confirm Alex is right.

            1. I’m a veritable dinosaur here, getting into F1 watching James Hunt (1976, I was 8) and I’d like to offer my full support to @kerrymaxwell view of the ‘sprint thingy’.

              It subtracted from the Grand Prix, it almost eliminates the value of real qualifying, it messes with a fine tradition and IMHO, the ‘sprint thingy’ is one gimmick too far removed from the essence of F1.

            2. Oops, this dinosaur fumbling the technology here, I would actually rather add my support to @f1alex ;}

    3. So the fans that matter dont matter Mr Brawn? We watch it because its F1. But we are not happy with it.

    4. I fear this sport is running by idiots.

      “they like it, you see, as they didn’t turn it off”. Err. That’s a positive then? What a clown show.

      1. we don’t want to spoil it by overstepping and people feeling it’s gone too far.

        Yet somehow I feel like this has been the exact opposite of reality since the mid 90s!

    5. Sergey Martyn
      2nd November 2021, 7:49

      If you bet on new convert fans, please don’t forget that the next year or even the next day they will easily convert to Squid Game and whatever “exciting” new formats proposed by “effective managers” and forget F1 with all their stupid new bells and whistles in just a fraction of a second.

      1. That is indeed the mistake they make. ‘Nurture the core and grow more’ is the path that should be chosen. But I am afraid there are quite some fossils running the show, so they will find out the hard way

      2. I’m intrigued to know the definition of a “new” fan, and how someone new can accurately comment on if something is better or not than before.

    6. “They all watched it, by the way, they didn’t turn off. They were fascinated by [it].
      So all they actually care about is that people are watching? Not what the loyal fans actually think?
      I am all for F1 changing as the reach grows, but this statement is worrying…. I mean if they gave the drivers a bunch of banana peals to throw on the track, i am definitely going to still watch, but that doesn’t make it good for F1……..

      1. it is some sort of “car crash” efffect. the fact that there is people watching do not necessarily mean they approve or want to see more of it.
        It is really worrying. Maybe some people watched because fia spend weeks saying it would be awesome and will have great impact on sunday. It didnt. Now many people know their tricks and it may not work again. But they might insist on gimmmick after gimmick just because people kept the tvs on to see a disaster. The fans may be watching but not as sign of support but almost as pity “F1 go home, youre embarrasing yourself”.

    7. So, your core audience that has followed for decades and over the said years spent the most money for the love of the sport and its adjunct businesses were it merchandise and other vendors/partnerships and care enough to engage in conversation, including both praise and criticism on multiple platforms even before social media….don’t matter ?

      The mystical “new” audience, to whom the sport is just one of many, many forms of consumable entertainment and (in your opinion) equipped with the attention span of a goldfish are in need of gimmick after gimmick to keep watching
      are taking precedence over your true fans. The new audience can go away and watch something else on a whim, I’d wager the most of us Racefans wont.

      …but what do i know, 1984 -> present

      1. Plus, you won’t get new fans hiding your content behind pay walls like Sky.

      2. Fia should take a lesson from other leagues/franchises. Some changes do not bring new audiences and repel old audiences.

        1. Depends on his many older audiences they repel.

      3. yeah, i doubt it makes sense to hope that Netflix keeps bringing in enough new fans to replace others who give up. And yeah, I guess it is a positive that I can now “vote with my purse” by stopping to subscribe to the (really good) F1TV app once I find that they took this too far.

        I did watch the first one out of curiosity. The second one to see whether maybe, just maybe it would be better. No interest in watching the 3rd one, it just took away the excitement for qualifying before it and lessened my anticipation for the race on top.

    8. So here is why I believe Formula 1 should listen to the avid fans more than the new and casual fans:
      In terms of the casual fans, I personally think a fan base where almost everyone who watches absolutely loves it is more pleasant than one where lots of people only watch it occasionally and don’t really care, and there are fewer fans who really love it. And the more ‘casual’ the fans are, the more likely they are to be watching for a crash, which is not good for the sport. Also, casual fans will switch off after one dull season, whereas avid fans do not.

      And new fans are not the same as casual fans, but also should not be listened to more than avid fans. I am sure that when I first started watching Formula 1 as a six-year-old with no knowledge of the sport, I would have been in favour of sprint races, and reversed grids too, but in years of learning about Formula 1 and its history, and also about other motorsport series, I have turned against those things. And I am sure that these new fans will either switch off regardless of whether there are sprint races are not, or will become avid fans and will also turn against sprint races when they realise that other series have short races, and F1 is almost unique in it’s one long Grand Prix with almost no gimmicks and is the pinnacle of motorsport. Not all will, obviously, as some avid fans like sprint races, but more than 50% will turn against it, I predict.

    9. OK Ross, so how about us ‘avid fans’ – you know, the ones whose support meant that F1 was worth the $4.4bn that Liberty Media paid for it back in 2017 – vote with our wallets and stop subscribing to expensive TV sports packages or attending races?

      MotoGP is often a more impressive spectacle, you can watch a live race from the stands for about £60 and the TV coverage is much better at a fraction of the cost.

      Be careful not to take your base for granted, Mr Brawn. Lose us and you’ll have nothing left.

      1. This. I can watch IMSA for free live or about a week after on youtube and I can watch WEC for £30 live (or immediate replay) or for free a week after on youtube. Okay, so F1 is great this season but if we see another 2011 or 2013 then my ability to care will be partly dependent upon how much casual stuff I need put up with.

    10. By now I am no longer surprised, but still disappointed to see how far Ross Brawn is willing to go to push sprint races and dismiss any opposition.

      Immediately after the British GP Sprint, Brawn said the response he’d seen on social media was “very positive” and that fans “loved” it. Now, he says criticism mainly comes from a small number of avid fans on social media. So, negative feedback on social media is to be dismissed, positive feedback is worth shouting out on TV?

      Brawn and Domenicali keep saying the majority of the fans are in favour of the format, but they have so far not provided the results of a single survey supporting that. The Motorsport Network survey shows that the majority of fans either dislikes the format or hasn’t made up their mind yet / is neutral. But saying it was “net positive” by 6% sounds better, I guess. F1 have not released more detailed results broken down by type of fan or age group, so we are just supposed to take their word for it. F1 is also withholding the results to every single one of their Fan Voice surveys and polls on sprint races. But we are supposed to take their word for it that those have all been “very positive” as well. Also, the avid fans opposing the format are not really opponents, they are “indifferent” and just haven’t been convinced yet.

      In the Global Fan Survey, fans overwhelmingly opposed the idea of having sprints at every race. Domenicali was quick to claim they were not even thinking about it. Now, Brawn says the sprint format may eventually become the standard.

      Brawn says opponents of the format still watched the sprints, claiming they were “fascinated” by them. As he well knows, fans don’t just turn off and miss an important part of the weekend. Even if they absolutely hate the format with a passion, they watch it and if they don’t like it, complain about it. Doubly so with this 3-race “trial” of a new format.

      Brawn’s and Domenicali’s recent comments seem to confirm what @gt-racer mentioned hearing a few months back:
      “One thing i’ve heard though from more than one person is that Liberty’s focus is the younger/casual audience and they are operating on the belief that the longer time/more dedicated fans will stick around regardless of what they change so they can afford to change any aspect of F1 they wish to.”

      1. @moctecus

        I guess Brawn and Domeniciali are right, us “avid” fans will stick around no matter what. I dont like the sprint race, but I watch it anyway, because it has an effect on the race…looks like they’ve got our number.

        But yeah, the context in which the “avid” fan is discussed seems to parallel politicians and the “masses”.

    11. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
      2nd November 2021, 8:57

      Damn those pesky die hard, passionate fans.

      1. Buggers aren’t they?

      2. Who are perfectly reinforcing their predictable stereotype…

        1. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
          2nd November 2021, 12:55

          Of not liking gimmicks yes. What a stereotype.

          1. Including calling features they don’t like “gimmicks” – yes.

            1. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
              2nd November 2021, 16:19

              Artificial forced entertainment is a gimmick – yes.

            2. Do F1 cars race around in nature with nobody watching, @rdotquestionmark?
              Everything you see in F1 is artificial, forced entertainment.
              Some of it you like, some of it you don’t.

              Do you watch anything else on TV?

    12. Nurture the core and grow more is the golden rule. Otherwise you become a telco focussing on getting people in at the front while leaving the back door wide open. This means you will have a totally different set of fans every two years. Better get your deep deep wallet out there since this strategy is the most expensive one, basically buying your audience over and over again. Textbook mistake from Liberty here.

      1. So the motive? Its either plain stupidity or they will be selling soon and need additional ‘subscribers’ to boost the price. My bet is on the latter. As said before, Liberty is not in this for the love of the sport. Such a sad conclusion again. The old boys are just making money.

    13. again I am not against change and I think I talk for many fans when I say that a saturday race would be ok if it didnt mess with qualifying and didnt reinforce the unfortunate processional effect many races present.
      maybe the 2022 cars will solve this thng by themselves but Sprint quali is just more of the boring same and I think this – not resistance to change – is the root of the avid fans opposition.

    14. John Toad (@)
      2nd November 2021, 9:01

      So agreement to sprint qualifying comes mostly from ‘new’ or ‘casual’ fans.
      Casual fans watch F1 because they find it entertaining.
      After a while, a season or two, they may decide that something else is more entertaining and switch to watching that.
      Casual fans are unlikely to pay for expensive TV packages, grandstand seats or merchandise.
      As most businesses have found out the hard way, it is very expensive to get a new customer.
      There are any number of examples of businesses from history who are no longer around because they spent their money trying to find new customers and neglected their repeat customers.

      1. I think ‘casual fans’ won’t even watch a full season. Casual fans hear about a race because it advertised or geographically close to them, tune in because they’ve recently been reminded F1 exists or their avid F1 fan is talking about and it’s piqued their curiosity.

        I highly doubt they watch an entire season, they jump in and jump out just as quickly.

        I’d consider myself a die hard F1 enthusiast, I’ve shared my enthusiasm with hundreds of casual fans, rarely do they watch a race, rarely do they know any driver other than the current highly promoted WDC. Recently someone asked me how Michael Schumacher is doing up against Hamilton. They didn’t know Michael was no longer at Ferrari! But they did know he was their favourite driver this year.

    15. “The avid fans, our real, dedicated fans, have not been convinced yet, they’re indifferent,” he said. “They all watched it, by the way, they didn’t turn off. They were fascinated by [it].

      No Mr Brawn not indifferent and definitely not fascinated..disappointed! You continue to push out highly exaggerated numbers and now you are telling me how I feel?
      With the announcement of the sprint series next year with the full knowledge it will diminish the Sunday GP. You and Liberty have thumbed your noses at the ‘avid’ fans to go after the quick buck, it will come back to bite.

    16. I am not sure people appreciate what is going on here.

      Liberty have locked down the grid to 10. There’s a more ‘fair’ distribution of prize money and now a budget cap. ALL the teams are going to be billion pound operations. The sprint qualifying was just the start… worse is to come in time. Reverse grids the lot.

      The ‘avid’ fan is meaningless in this equation. When the teams are turning over billions avid fan opinions will be worthless. The sport is very very different now, and going forward.

      1. In the end though, those billions need to be earned. The irregular fan won’t fork out an expensive payTV subscription or visit a track with 400 euro a ticket. The current idea can add value for short term, when the hot potatoe can be sold again to Netflix for example.

        1. F1 in the UK has been behind a paywall (live) for ages and Silverstone has no issue selling out. Formula 1 is a behemoth with no competition in the market. They know the numbers and the metrics. If anyone thinks the ‘avid’ fan is gonna hold back their plans… well… I have bad news for them.

          1. Alan Dove, it was only back in 2016 that some limitations began to come in on the number of races which were shown free to air in the UK, and it is only since 2019 that Sky was given the exclusive rights to broadcast all races live. I would therefore say it’s questionable to claim that it’s been behind a paywall “for ages” when it’s really only been since 2019 that it’s been completely behind a paywall, with the British Grand Prix also still being broadcast free to air to the public.

            The extended transition period in the switchover from free to air to subscription only services does also make the UK unique in that respect, and looking only at that can give a misleading impression. In other nations, where there has been the more usual abrupt transition from free to air to pay TV, the decline in public interest has been much sharper.

            Germany, for example, has seen viewing figures collapse by around 75-80% after they switched to pay TV only, and for Liberty Media, the worrying signs should be that not only is wider public interest dropping, sponsorship from German companies – which is significant, being the fourth largest spenders by nation in terms of sponsors – has also been declining.