Prior to the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, several drivers were vocal about the condensed three-day schedule, with the Friday morning media sessions and so on. It was clear that there were many drivers feeling that they were ending up doing more as opposed to less. Speaking post-race to select press, which included Motorlat, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team Principal Toto Wolff shared his thoughts and explained that “the media attention is something which we need to be very grateful for.”
Reports have shown that through the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers’ Association) the drivers wrote to the FIA to voice their concerns about changes in schedules to cater for media events. Max Verstappen and Kevin Magnussen had also questioned the increasing challenge of saying the same soundbites repeatedly to different broadcasters. Haas’ driver went so far as to say it is hard to “be authentic at the end, when you've answered the same question 30 times.” Verstappen had previously stated “I think it’s more about how we are doing the press conferences and the media activities. I think it was better before.”
For Toto Wolff though, the growing demand on drivers (as F1 reaches an unprecedented level of popularity) should be relished. The team principal of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team explained:
“The media attention is something which we need to be very grateful for. The sport is booming, the audiences are going up, the commercial revenue is going up and we need to do the outmost (sic) effort to satisfy the demands of the media and satisfy the demands of the fans.”
After what feels like 2 seasons of Formula One largely behind closed doors, the fan engagement seems to be returning to what it was pre-COVID-19. Autograph sessions and pit walks have returned and there are certainly more members of the public and VIPs at races and in the paddock. However, during these two years, the popularity of teams and drivers has also increased with a wider range of media outlets across a range of languages now reporting on Formula One which had not previously done so before. This rise in popularity is something Toto Wolff remarked on with the media when asked about it by Motorlat.
“I find that great and something that I'm proud of.” Toto Wolff stated after a less than successful Emilia Romagna Grand Prix for his team. This was quickly followed up with the type of typical good-humoured remark which has made Wolff popular with the F1 fanbase as he said: “I mean there's not many of you here in the debrief call, but I guess that's how it goes probably there's more in a Ferrari.”
Scuderia Ferrari’s team principal Mattia Binotto had already shared his thoughts with the media about the three-day race weekend trial.
“Obviously, when you've got such a change, I think you need to go through the experience and judge it after few appointments, and few events. I think certainly we can try to collect the feedback and together with FIA and F1, F1 Commission, we can certainly try to discuss and try to review if there is anything that we can do to improve. But I think it doesn't mean that implies that we need to change….I think it's important still to try to reduce the length of the weekend and that was the attempt. I think that was an important attempt, if I look at the mechanics, certainly they are resting more today. And for us, that's a key element. But certainly, open to discuss.”
This final point showcases exactly why the move was put in place to trial a condensed three-day race weekend to begin with. The hope was that it would ease pressure on the mechanics and team personnel – which it appears to have done. Nevertheless, the demand on drivers appears to have increased leaving the man leading Scuderia AlphaTauri, Franz Tost, to quip “What the media wants: to have them here on Wednesday, Tuesday, Thursday, whatever, no problem, just let us know. Drivers will be here.”
Formula One is so mainstream now, that this past week saw McLaren racer Daniel Ricciardo promoting the upcoming Miami Grand Prix on The Daily Show. This was not the first time the much-loved Aussie had been on the popular US show and his most recent appearance featured a shoey in the studio with host Trevor Noah– to the delight of the well-informed audience.
Trevor Noah reminded Ricciardo that “The first time you were on the show I had to explain to people what Formula One is, now you are easily one of the biggest stars in America, can you walk down the street without people recognising you?” Noah’s guest-turned friend replied “It’s grown a lot, it really has since Drive to Survive, that’s had 4 seasons now. Every time we get to the States it’s getting more and more, and people are spotting me and saying, ‘what’s up’ and wishing me luck.”
Grand Prix race weekends are selling out quicker than ever before – helped in part by COVID-19 prevention protocols requiring a reduction in crowd capacity. However, nothing is guaranteed and as much as human beings are filled with passion, they can also be a fickle bunch.
No one knows what the future holds but it did not go unnoticed that according to rottentomatoes.com, the 4thseason of Drive to Survive scored an approval of 14% with the audience - compared to 91% for season one. Obviously, this score was a reflection of the accusations of manipulating footage and race drama. Nevertheless, if the Drive to Survive fanbase loses interest in the manufactured drama then they may eventually tire of the real on-track drama too.
Repeating the same soundbite must be frustrating and tiresome when trying to be in the zone for a race and endlessly grinning for selfies moments before Free Practice sessions will no doubt take its toll. Inevitably, there will always be a danger of media events and public appearances taking away from team talks, race briefings and strategy meetings. However, if one day there is no one there to watch the race – that would be a matter of much greater concern.
Mercedes’ Toto Wolff is a superb team principal but also a very smart businessman. He knows that trends come and go, and opportunity needs to be embraced when it comes knocking. The fan and media attention is certainly something which teams should be grateful for because they will certainly miss it when it’s gone.