Dear Formula 1: we need to have a little chat. You seem to be preoccupied with the idea that swearing takes away some sort of “family friendly” aspect to your sport. Newsflash: you were actually pretty family unfriendly before the events of this past weekend. Let’s break it down.
The shenanigans after the Mexico Grand Prix were pretty epic. No one knew who’d taken third place; in the end, one driver crossed the line third, one stood on the podium in third, and yet another got to take the third place trophy home. In and around all the confusion, journalists and fans alike were in an uproar over one driver’s language on the radio.
Sebastian Vettel was put in the awkward position of sitting behind Max Verstappen after Verstappen very clearly cut an entire corner; Verstappen didn’t give up the position, but instead slowed down just enough to back Vettel into his teammate, Dan Ricciardo, allowing Ricciardo to challenge for a position. Vettel got on the radio and launched into a swear-filled tirade against Verstappen and the series’ race director, Charlie Whiting.
While that maybe wasn’t the smartest course of action, and while Vettel has made off-color comments about things before today, a few swears on the radio are honestly just a tiny drop in the giant bucket of ways F1 is pretty much the farthest thing from “family friendly” possible.
You want to make your sport more family friendly, and grow your fanbase? Start with lower ticket prices, or at the very least, cheaper tickets for kids. A nominal glance at Silverstone ticket prices, almost half a year out from the event, puts a 3-day general admission ticket for a child age 11-15 at 82 pounds, or a little over $100 USD. The Australian Grand Prix does a bit better, allowing free admission to kids under 14 when accompanied by a GA-ticketed adult, and half price for kids up to age 17.
Follow that up with better access. I’m not even talking about Indycar levels of access; Indycar blows F1’s “family friendly” levels infinitesimally out of the water. For less than the price of that “junior” Silverstone ticket, an adult and child can go to the St. Petersburg Grand Prix for three days – including one day, Friday, where the paddock is open to the public for free. That same GA ticket includes access to a one-hour full-field autograph session – mandatory for every driver at every race, with financial penalties if drivers do not attend.
Contrast that with F1 in Austin this year. Circuit of the Americas is an amazing venue, and the pageantry surrounding the race is typically very grandiose and fun to watch; however, what opportunity does a kid have to interact with his or her “heroes”? Maybe the radio swearing is such a big deal because that’s literally the only public-facing aspect of the drivers in F1. The autograph session in Austin this year felt less like an autograph session for the fans and more like an opportunity for fans to feel like cattle in a pen, held back from the drivers by concert-style barricades. In past years, this wasn’t the case; in past years fans could line up early to hopefully get an autograph or a photo with their favorite drivers. This year, if you weren’t a large dude or someone willing to put up with large dudes shoving their way to the front of the barricade, you had no chance.
It certainly wasn’t an ideal environment for children. In past years, fans could hear their heroes get interviewed on stage for a few minutes; even if you weren’t lucky enough or early enough to get an autograph, you could still see your favorite driver and listen to them speak for a short time. This year, the drivers came out, signed for the fans who’d pushed to the front, and left immediately. It plays into the elevation of these drivers to almost godlike levels, rather than fans just being able to see them for what they are: people who just happen to have the really cool job of driving really really fast in a circle.
If F1 is so worried about remaining family friendly and growing its fanbase, it can start by not selecting radio transmissions to broadcast where drivers insult the race director, and it can follow that up by making sure that fans get more facetime with the stars they’re trying to promote. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as Indy’s hour-long autograph sessions, but getting these guys out in front of the public a little more would definitely reduce the effect of a bit of radio cursing; it humanizes them in ways the F1 fanbase definitely needs. If fans had personal experiences to draw on with these drivers rather than just tired media narratives and spoon-fed radio broadcasts, maybe things would be different.
Twitter: Why did the FOM broadcast it in the first place? https://t.co/8RcgWBz9ba (@Vampire_Echelon)
Vettel is a four-time champion and there’s talk of his “reputation being forever tarnished” because he swore on the radio. Will Power and Scott Dixon have both flipped the double bird directly to the camera, and aside from a few laughs and memes, those actions barely warranted a second thought. Those drivers are dear to the Indycar fanbase for being badass drivers on track and awesome to their young fans off it; how could a heat of the moment reaction “tarnish” that reputation?
It doesn’t. And maybe for F1 that’s the answer we’ll never see in action.