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Car Manufacturers and F1

Pitpass dot com has a good article on the problems besetting Daimler Chrysler, particularly in America, and the possibility of a sale of Chrysler. The chances of this having a knock-on effect in F1 are quite high in view of the parent company’s involvement through McLaren. If a manufacturer gets into difficulties in the real world, it will not be long before any investment in F1 is regarded as unnecessarily expensive and short on returns.

MP4-22

McLaren MP4-22

To shareholders and bean counters it means diddly squat that the team won two rounds of the World Championship. They want to see the success of title victories pay off on the showroom floors and forecourts.

It is an excellent example of how the dominance of the manufacturers in F1 has changed the sport completely. Note that I said “the real world” up there – which is the place that car manufacturers live. Formula One has never lived in the real world before – in contrast, it has always been the realm of fantasy and dreams, a glorious world where the trials and troubles of reality can be forgotten for a while and legendary feats performed by gladiators in fireproof suits and sexy helmets.

The entry of advertising into this fantasy realm was the first chink in F1′s armor. With costs rising, the teams needed a source of money and the advertisers were happy to provide it. Fortunately (and probably because this coincided fairly closely with the restriction of tobacco advertising – F1 was a convenient loophole through the new regulations), no-one looked too closely at the figures to see if they were getting a decent return on their investment – the names were on the cars and the theory was that this was enough to sell the product.

But the manufacturers are a very different kettle of fish. Forget all the nonsense about F1 providing useful developments relevant to road cars – manufacturers have their research departments and do not need F1 to test their theories. They are there purely to prove that their products are better than anyone else’s – a marketing exercise that must show results or be excised from the balance sheet.

And, if the company experiences financial difficulties in the real world, the first thing it will do is try to cut costs. The millions spent on F1 with very little tangible return will stand out like a sore thumb just begging to be cut off. At which point, the company will leave F1.

In throwing in its lot with the manufacturers, F1 has tied itself to the ebb and flow of the real world. When car markets are buoyant, F1 will prosper with entrants and money; but, let the bottom fall out of the market and F1 will find itself in deep trouble, lacking participants and saddled with a formula designed for a more affluent era. The real world can be a cold and pitiless place at times.

The powers that be seek to offset this danger by presenting F1 as the leader in achieving low emissions – the sport that cares about the environment, indeed. If they can achieve this shift in public perception, the manufacturers will stay in for the benefits of being seen to care about green issues. Mighty Max has decreed that the majority of the public now see global warming as the major issue confronting mankind and that F1 must take note and follow the trend.

The problem is that it is a trend. In previous decades it was overpopulation that was going to end the world; then it was nuclear holocaust, then another ice age. When the present hullabaloo over global warming peters out through lack of solid scientific evidence, another threat will be invented by the alarmists and F1 will be left looking rather foolish.

The point missed by everyone is that F1 is a part of the entertainment industry. Oh, lip service is given in that the FIA are always looking for ways to improve the show and increase the audience; but the implications are not understood at all. Entertainment is essentially escapist – a fantasy world through which we can escape the real world for a while and indulge ourselves in pure, irresponsible bliss. By tying the sport ever closer to the harsh realities of the real world, Max forces us to remain in that uncomfortable environment and the possibilities for escape disappear.

Formula One is set to become a responsible, serious and relevant exercise in public relations. Which might help to improve its image in the eyes of the general public, although far more likely is that nobody will notice. And the lifeblood of the sport, the fans, will drain away as the races become just a huge advert for the car manufacturers.

Entertainment has become one of the most important industries in the world because we need it. Escape for a while is a necessary part of modern life because, for the vast majority, the daily round is meaningless and boring. And what better entertainment can there be than immensely powerful engines ripping through the fossil fuels, daring young drivers competing at the limits of human endurance and skill, and finely tuned projectiles in bright colors hurtling around a difficult track?

It’s a great show as long as you let them get on with it.

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