It’s time for the Formula 1 World Championship to be brought to the fans

Constructors' Championship trophy

Sebastian Vettel has done it. His fourth consecutive World Drivers’ Championship, at the age of just 26, surely must secure his status as one of the all-time greats of Formula 1.

He had the celebrations to match the occasion. He took his car to the pit straight in front of the main grandstands, performed spectacular doughnuts, worshiped his car, then climbed the fence to embrace the fans and throw his gloves into the crowd. His beautiful gesture will surely go down as one of the most memorable victory celebrations in the sport’s history.

David Coulthard had the unenviable task of being the party pooper. As he conducted the podium ceremony, it was his uncomfortable job to remind the drivers, the thousands of people in the grandstands, and the millions of viewers watching on TV, that Sebastian Vettel would not officially become World Champion until December. Sebastian Vettel will not be handed his trophy until the FIA Gala Prize-Giving dinner.

Most fans sitting in the grandstand and watching the race on TV will not have heard of the FIA Gala. The FIA website describes it as “the biggest motorsport event of the season”. In reality, it amounts to little more than an annual jolly for FIA officials. It is an awards ceremony in which all the winners are known in advance.

Motorsport, and Formula 1 in particular, thrives on this exclusivity. Formula 1 wants you to feel lucky to be a part of it. This is why the official Formula 1 store used to sell official Formula 1 mousemats for £260. The exclusivity provides the allure. It is an aspirational sport. This is the business model of F1.

Bernie Ecclestone’s masterstroke over the past few decades has been to increase the exclusivity of Formula 1, while simultaneously improving coverage and access for the fans. It is a tricky balancing act, and he does not always get the balance correct, as the £260 mousemats demonstrated.

But Formula 1 gets so much right. Broadcasters are able to pester the drivers and engineers for an interview on the grid mere minutes before the race starts. You would struggle to find another sport that provides this sort of access. And the increasing availability of radio transmissions in recent years has transformed the way the sport is understood by fans.

The emphasis on improving “the show” may sometimes dilute the purity of the sport. But at least it shows a serious concern for the fans and how to keep them entertained.

Podium 2013 British GP

For this reason, F1 evolves all the time. The official podium ceremony has been improved in the past two years, so that the fans at the circuit can hear directly from the drivers at the first opportunity. While there are a few shaky moments (particularly when the ceremony is conducted by people with not much broadcasting experience), it is a vast improvement over the sterile TV unilaterals and press conferences.

This is why the lack of a public ceremony for the World Championship is such a notable omission. It is ridiculous that the whole world can know who has won the World Drivers’ Championship, yet they cannot see him collect the trophy.

AC Milan team celebrate

When a football team wins the FIFA World Cup or the UEFA Champions’ League, everyone fan in the stadium and every TV viewer sees the ceremony take place within minutes of the final whistle. When an Olympian wins a gold medal, the world sees their moment.

So when a Formula 1 driver or constructor wins the championship, why is it hidden away in an inaccessible ceremony that takes place months after the event?

It is time for Formula 1 and the FIA to get over itself. After a driver’s sweet victory celebrations, we do not want the sour note of being unable to see him actually receive the trophy.

The sport must get its act together and arrange for the Formula 1 World Championship prize-giving to take place in front of the fans, at the race where the title is clinched.

No doubt there are all sorts of technicalities that explain why the champion cannot be confirmed until the end of the season. But there has to be room for pragmatism as well.

We are talking about a sport that allows the driver behind to reduce his downforce to artificially increase his speed, all in the name of “the show”. F1 should do something that actually would improve the show, and allow the fans to see the champion collect his prize.

9 comments

  1. It’s an FIA issue rather than an FOM issue. The FIA Gala is also where they award the champions for all FIA-sanctioned series, including the WRC and WTCC. And the FIA always wants a good excuse for a junket.

    And this is the same FIA that fined Vettel for doing donuts. So as much as I’d love this to happen, I’d be more than happy to settle for the FIA allowing post-race celebrations first.

  2. Hi Journeyer, thanks for the comment. While this is definitely more of an FIA issue, I am sure if Bernie really wanted to he would find a way to make it happen. Unfortunately, I am equally sure he is not interested in the slightest.

  3. Another brilliant, brilliant post. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    If F1 is about ‘the show’ why don’t we get to see it?

  4. Great argument. I knew the point you’d be making before I even clicked the link!

  5. Couldn’t agree more. I’m not a fan of Vettel’s but watching his celebrations at the end of the race really warmed me to him, showed a side that is not often shown to the public. I can only imagine how much better it would have been if he was given the trophy there and then, I think it would help the public see a more human side to any of the drivers who we’re lucky/skilled enough to be in that enviable situation. Like you state the FIA has done a few things to open up the sport but it still has a long way to go, your suggestions would be a very good starting point, great article.

  6. I mostly agree with you. However “Sebastian Vettel would not officially become World Champion until December” is somewhat wrong as he has been (reining) World Champion for the whole year already.

  7. I’m all in except for the ” You would struggle to find another sport that provides this sort of access.”
    Here in the states, every event has more access than F1. It’s sad really.
    That is the most limiting sporting event we have in terms of participant access in this country.

    It’s sad that is the case over there.

    I really hope a decent way to present to Sebs (what for another 3 years straight right?) his championship trophy with somewhat more excitement.

    Manufacturing exclusivity is one thing, having a banquet at the end of the year so all the F1 players can get together is another altogether. However to share with the people that cheer them all year long is just robbery.

    At the very worst give them the trophy at ROC or some other fun event that is truly an event with fans. Otherwise, what’s the point?

  8. *Reigning
    He wouldn’t get his 2013 title until December Rob..

    Plus the posisbility is there, potentially not realistically, of him doing something stupid and getting a DSQ penalty from the entire championship (see 97 Jerez). And losing his position and all points and therefore the title. It’s extraordinarily doubtful, but Possible.

    Also I read somewhere ages ago in light of the whole Crashgate thing, that had Piquet have admitted to it before March 2009 the 08 championship could have retroactively been changed (the Singapore GP results annulled). But because the 09 season had started the last season and it’s results can’t be touched.

    I.e. the actual point where nothing can genuinely touch you in the history books as being champion from last year is the first race of the new season.

    However it always takes pretty unlikely extreme events for these things to ever happen.

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