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Rain stops play – F1 fails the customer again

This morning’s Free Practice 1 session at Silverstone – with its scarcity of on-track running – once again demonstrates that F1 is letting the paying customer down
Friday, June 28, 2013

June 28th, 2013 (F1Plus / G. Keilloh) - Keeping the customer satisfied. That’s what business is all about. And you’d think that F1, being as it is a sport awash with entrepreneurs and acolytes of capitalism, would be more aware of this than most. But this morning in Silverstone you’d hardly know it.

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For today’s Free Practice 1 session it rained, the track saturated throughout. And the hardy Silverstone fans, who paid considerable amounts of money, gave up lots of time as well as no doubt in many cases travelled far to be there, while being rained on had next to nothing on-track to look at for the most part. Everyone did their installation laps of course, but then…an extended period of almost continual silence. It took a full 76 minutes of the 90 for the first lap tine to be set for a complete tour.

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It’s also far from the first time that this sort of thing has happened. And all of this at Silverstone today happens against the backcloth of more general malcontent about the event’s ticket prices.

I’m aware that the outcome we saw today is not deliberate, rather that it’s largely unintended consequences of cost saving measures such as limiting the number of sets of tyres (including of intermediates and wets) available per car in a weekend, as well as outlawing spare cars, meaning teams are wary of damaging the car they have. But surely something could be done to at least help the situation. Perhaps if a Friday practice session is declared wet extra sets of tyres could be made available only for that session? Perhaps too rules could be set to obligate a minimum number of laps per car in each session, unless the team can demonstrate that it had a technical problem? Perhaps the banning of the spare car could be reconsidered too.

At the very least, if it becomes clear like today that cars are hardly going to run, all could bite the bullet on the session much sooner so that the fans could at least go off and do something else, like look around the merchandise stalls or something, rather than leave all hanging on in vain.

But somewhere in all of this lies the rub: the legendary inability of F1 teams to act collectively for the greater good of the sport. Teams think almost exclusively it seems of short-term individual interest, to the point that they can barely agree what day of the week it is. ‘Making fans’ experience better? But what if it helps Team X?’ It may sound a cliché by now but it’s no less true for that, without the paying customer we have nothing.

And at times like this, I wonder why anyone would want to buy tickets to watch an F1 event, given the contempt with which paying fans in attendance are often treated despite their considerable outlay. This matter further should be especially acute in the modern age, wherein people have no shortage of options of how to spend their money. Being rained on is never pleasant. But only an entity as dysfunctional as F1 could compound the insult to its paying customers by, in this situation, giving them nothing to watch at the same time.

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