O Opinions & Commentary

George's News and Notes December 22, 2018

Formula 1 has released the attendance figures for the 20 F1 races held in 2018 – as provided by the promoters of each Grand Prix. Seven of the 20 races drew three-day weekend crowds of over 200 000: Britain (Silverstone), Mexico, Australia, USA, Singapore, Belgium and Hungary. Silverstone had the highest attendance of all, with 140 000 spectators present on race day. Overall, this was a 7.8 percent increase in attendance over 2017.

Even though the sport may derive funding from other sources such as sponsorship and government subsidies, the size of the fan base watching these races is the key element – for, without that fan base, there would be no point for the sponsors or governments to support the sport. And, arguably, the number of spectators at the events, while much smaller than the off-site number of fans watching a given race, is still a key measure for two reasons. First it provides visible, concrete evidence of the size of fan support (or conversely, if there are no fans in the seats, it looks like no one is interested). Second, given that one can see visible evidence of the number of fans in attendance, this evidence probably has more impact that the more abstract audience numbers quoted for television audiences.

In F1's case the growth in on-site audience numbers is good news and that, in itself, augers well for the future health of the sport.

The bad news is that, as things stand, the British Grand Prix will not return to Silverstone after 2019. The reason given? The costs of putting on the race are so high compared to their available revenue that the promoters (the BRDC) cannot make money. And this is the race with the highest attendance both one-day and three-day. And of the top seven in attendance last year, there are questions about the viability of Mexico, Australia and the US at least.

How can a franchise operation like this expect it franchisees in business if their business is to not ensure conditions in which the franchisee can at least break even? Despite the much cited tire problem at Indianapolis, the USGP went away from there because it was obvious that this race could only continue if IMS were prepared to keep heavily subsidizing the event out of their other earnings. That did not make sense. Bernie Ecclestone’s business plan was that every F1 event should find enough government sponsorship to make the event financially viable with a bunch left over for him the other owners of F1. The concept of a government subsidizing a sporting event that is not otherwise profitable has to be un-American – and contrary to the values of most other democratic nations as well. This is a high hurdle for wold-be F1 promoters in the US.

Yes, the Olympics has worked this scam for decades, leaving host countries with mounds of debt which is has taken – or will take – them decades to pay off – not to mention the huge inventory of buildings and other infrastructure that turned into white elephants the day the Olympics ended. It is becoming harder and harder for the Olympic to find cities/countries to bid for the upcoming Olympic games in the face of this reality.

It should be a fundamental principal of contracting for an F1 Grand Prix that the financing of the race (series sanction fees, ticket sales, on-site advertising, shared television revenue, etc.) should realistically assure the promoter of at least breaking even on the event. No one can count on the current levels of fan support increasing dramatically to meet this shortfall. It’s time to match the promoters’ revenue to their available income.

FE Can Am compareSports car or formula car? Single-seater March Can-Am car is a sports car; Formula E car is an open-wheeler? (FE image by Joe Portlck/LAT Images)

The first race of the 2018-2019 Formula E season ran at Ad Diriyah, Saudia Arabia on December 15. This season will feature the new Gen 2 version of the electric powered cars. The important difference is than the new cars have batteries that can store more power. Previously the cars raced for approximately 60 minutes, with a mandatory stop midway to change cars. Now a single car will run the entire race – albeit only 45 minutes plus a lap – without any required pit stops. This compares to the two-hour race length for a typical F1 race. To me the sensation of the race was Jean-Eric Vergne, who started in fifth place but he had quickly blasted his way up through the field to second place – and he looked like being able to pass the leader and drive away when he received a pass-through penalty for an obscure infraction of the power management rules. His teammate, Andre Lotterer was also charging up through the field in a manner unfamiliar in this kind of racing which normally sees little passing – but he too was penalized for the same thing. This left Andretti driver Antonio Felix da Costa, who had started from the pole, with a big lead. By the end of the race, Vergne had made his way back up to second and he was challenging the race leader, finishing half a second behind while Lotterer finished in fifth. It is always disappointing to see a race result determined by obscure penalties rather than by performance on the track.

Click HERE for the results of the Saudia Arabia Formula E race.

Talking about the new FE cars, I was struck by how much they resembled cars I had seen before. These cars are nominally ‘formula’ cars and hence (I guess) ‘open-wheel’ cars – even though all four wheels are pretty much entirely covered. To me they look at lot like the so-called single-seater Can-Am cars of the late ‘70s, especially ones like the pontoon-style March 817 or the Ensign N180B. While having similar bodywork, these cars were, by definition ‘sports cars’. (see photos above)

The F1 team formerly know as Force India has new ownership now – headed up by the Canadian owner of the Mont-Tremblant circuit, Lawrence Stroll. His son, Lance Stroll who was driving a Williams F1 car in previous years, has been named to drive for this team alongside Mexican driver Sergio Perez. The teams plans to unveil its 2019 car – with a new team name and new livery – at the Canadian International Auto Show on February 13. I know some people who are betting the new name will be ‘Team Canada’. We’ll see.

Audi Canada will sponsor an GT-Daytona Audi R8 in the Daytona 24-hour race this year – running as the Audi Sport Experience WRT Speedstar entry. The car will be driven by works drivers Kelvin van der Linde and Frederic Vervisch, who will be supplemented by Ian James and the Canadian youngster Roman de Angelis.

You may never have heard of it but there is a NASCAR series which runs in Europe with cars similar to those used in the Canadian Pinty’s Series. This year, Pinty’s driver J.F. Dumoulin ran two races in this series, running a double-header at the Zolder road course in Belgium. Next year, Jacques Villeneuve is planning to run the entire series – as is former NASCAR Cup champion Bobby Labonte. There will be ten races in the Regular Season run as double-headers at five different road courses. Villeneuve has had some experience in NASCAR race cars and his best results have come on road courses, so the road-course nature of the European series may suit him.

NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne, who has stepped down from his Cup duties as of the end of the 2018 season is planning to contest over 50 dirt sprint car races in 2019. In NASCAR, Kahne has 18 Cup wins in 529 starts. He will still carry the No. 9 he was known for when he drove the Ray Evernham Dodges and he will compete in both the World of Outlaws and the All-Star Circuit of Champions dirt sprint series. Last fall he was suffering from dehydration in the Cup races, but, hopefully, this problem will not arise in the shorter open-wheel sprint races.

The 19-year-old driver, Zane Smith, will drive the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in eight NASCAR Xfinity races in 2019. He has been driving in the ARCA series for the past three years and this past year he won four races including the May ARCA race at Talladega.


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