JANUARY 13, 2005
They are all stark raving mad
When it was announced last autumn that Formula 1 qualifying would be on Sunday mornings, no-one really took the whole thing seriously. It was obviously a bad idea, decided upon by people who were not looking at the problem from the right viewpoint. But, at he time there were bigger fish to be fried and more important disputes going on and so the whole concept slid quietly into the rule book. As the new season approaches, it seems that Formula 1 really is planning to go ahead with qualifying on Sunday mornings and most of those involved seem to be quite happy that the system will have no effect on the viewing figures.
They are all mad.
The Formula 1 broadcasters tend not to make a big fuss because of fears of falling out with Bernie Ecclestone but there is obviously not much enthusiasm amongst them for the new idea. TV stations are convinced that the timing will reduce the audiences rather than increase them. There are several reasons for this. The first is that the time zones will get in the way for large numbers of fans, particularly those in the Americas. Qualifying will be taking place in the small hours of the morning and so one cannot expect much of an audience in places like Brazil and Colombia, where there is interest in F1. In Asia qualifying will be at prime time but it is unlikely that the show will go live because it does not have a massive draw in its current form.
Add to this the fact that holding qualifying on Sunday mornings will in effect wipe out any major coverage from the written press because it will miss the deadlines for daily newspapers and will be swallowed up by what happens in the race in the reports which come out on Monday. Thus what might once have been 1000 words will become 250 (if that). Even the specialist magazines will reduce the coverage because the workload for the journalists will become too great in the course of Sunday and printing schedules will also have an effect because in the past sections of magazines have been sent ahead of the main race report. Now these early sections will have to be filled with other coverage and the qualifying coverage will have to be squeezed into the space for the races. None of this has been taken into account by the decision-makers.
The coverage will give the fans at the race tracks something more to watch but it will probably mean a reduction in the number of tickets sold on Saturdays as F1 will be of less importance on that day. It will also mean that those who enjoyed a pitlane walkabout on Sunday morning will now have to be at the circuit earlier (not a good idea when it comes to VIPs).
There is also the question of competition with other activities as Sunday mornings are much in demand in the demographic groups that like to watch F1. It may seem odd to the heathen folk of the F1 paddock but there is a large number of people in the world who go to church on Sunday mornings. There are others who like to have a lie-in or to spend time with their children. There are others who use Sunday mornings for sport.
The Formula 1 decision-makers have made a complete mess of qualifying in recent seasons and it seems that they have learned nothing from this. There is a small possibility that they will get together at the end of January and do something sensible about qualifying - but at the moment there is no sign of that happening. The logic one must suppose is to prove with the new system that race meetings can last for two days but there is likely to be opposition to this idea from the local race organizers as they cannot easily charge have the local hotels charging five-night minimums for a two day event. As local income is a big issue at most venues the opposition is likely to be strong. This of course will not stop the Formula 1 world trying to do less for more money.
The big question, which few ever ask, is whether this is good for the sport.
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