Social media can be your best friend. It can bring new viewers to your product as an event builds to a crescendo. In the UK, you only need to look at television programmes such as The Great British Bake Off or The X Factor as examples of this over the years. On the other hand, social media can be your worst enemy. Unfortunately, Formula 1 fell into the latter category today.
Of course, we are talking about the elephant in the room. Elimination qualifying. Qualifying has its exciting moments, but you can’t expect every minute to be exciting, irrespective of what format you bring in. In the old days of one-hour qualifying, the first 20 minutes would be empty, but nine times out of ten, the format built up to a fantastic conclusion. I think it is fair to say that most people were prepared to give the new format a chance. The end result was a lot different to what I expected. Today, Formula 1 got it wrong.
This isn’t the place about talk the what and the why of the new format, what is worth talking about on here is the broadcasting and social media element. What social media brought this morning was instant reaction to the format, as it unfolded.
All times below are UK:
05:38 – Sky F1 Insider: Very excited to see the new Qualy format are you?
05:47 – Adam Cooper: This will be a fascinating session. Will be interesting to see what happens if the VSC comes out at a critical time.
06:00 – Q1 begins.
06:07 – Q1 eliminations begin, but the countdown graphics do not show immediately.
06:08 – Byron Young: Almost everyone in the press room talking – a real buzz in the room. First time in a long time.
06:10 – Andrew Benson: Knock-out countdown is on the timing screens but not on the TV. Seems a bit of an oversight.
06:12 – Countdown graphics make an appearance.
06:16 – F1 Broadcasting: Countdown not really needed for final elimination given that the driver can finish their lap but sensible graphic. Like it.
06:16 – Q1 ends.
06:18 – Dimi Papadopoulos: I like the new format? Lots of action!
06:18 – Racecar Engineering: Q1 – that was utterly awesome. Super entertaining. Teams misread it a bit it seems.
06:19 – Glenn Freeman: In the spirit of making a snap judgement, new-style Q1 is rubbish. Less action, if anything, other than the first few mins.
That was the reaction to the first part of qualifying. A mixed response, but positive feelings in there as well. Watching at home, I did feel like some teams got timing badly wrong, which was somewhat strange in itself for a sport which times itself to perfection. Moving onto the second part:
06:24 – Q2 begins.
06:28 – Byron Young: On first experience I’ve got to say that was quite fun. Will it be the same when it all settles down and the ‘panic’ factor disappears?
06:32 – Glenn Freeman: Cars being eliminated while sat in the pits. How is this better than what we had before?
06:38 – F1 Broadcasting: Problematical now at the end of each session where there is an empty track and not a crescendo build up any more. Not sure about this.
06:38 – Marc Priestley: So as predicted, teams happy to settle for P9/10 & free tyre choice over running at end of Q2.
06:39 – Q2 ends.
06:42 – Adam Cooper: I tweeted the other day that those in 9th and 10th would ‘stick’ and take the free tyre choice for the start and look what happened…
06:42 – Joe Saward: General feeling in Media Centre is new qualifying is rubbish…
Quite clearly, as Saward’s tweet shows, things are heading downwards. The main issue here is that both Force India’s decided not to go out, leaving three minutes at the end of Q2 of dead-air. The further issue that became apparent was that viewers were spending time looking at the timing wall rather than watching the cars. Q3 was almost ‘anti qualifying’:
06:46 – Q3 begins.
06:55 – Glenn Freeman: F1 qualifying – even worse than I thought it was going to be. To those who came up with this system – hang your heads in shame.
06:55 – Simon Lazenby: Hmmmmm.
06:55 – F1 Broadcasting: If anyone in F1 has sense, this system will be quickly trashed and no one will remember it ever existed.
06:57 – Byron Young: Not a single car in the track with three minutes to go. That’s shameful. I can see fans getting up to go!
06:57 – Joe Saward: The strategists said nothing would happen in the last few minutes. They were right. Who invented this daft structure?
06:57 – F1 Fanatic: Another triumph for Ecclestone and his Strategy Group cohorts (sarcasm).
07:00 – Q3 ends.
07:01 – Jon Noble: Don’t forget that at Barcelona testing, teams agreed plan to revert Q3 to how it was last year. But it never went back to F1 Commission…
07:03 – F1 Broadcasting: Remind me. Who said qualifying was a problem in the first place? Because the fans certainly didn’t.
Within Q3, the reaction turned completely negative. The above is just a snapshot, but the negative reaction was widespread. Formula 1 launched their new Facebook page on Wednesday, and three days later their comment feeds are littered with negativity about the new qualifying format. It was even worse at the track, where the fans in the stands had no timing wall to look at on the big screens. If Formula 1 wants to do the right thing, then the format has to be changed for Bahrain, without question. Whether we go back to the 2015 format, or something else.
There will certainly be pressure from broadcasters to change the format after today. As regular readers will know, 2016 marks a new broadcasting deal in the UK with Channel 4 taking over the BBC. Channel 4 want to bring a new, younger audience to Formula 1. The new qualifying format risks undermining the fantastic publicity work that the broadcaster has carried out in the past few weeks. They can work around today’s problems in their highlights edit later today. But, if this format remains for Bahrain, Channel 4 will have a real issue: casual viewers are not going to watch a new qualifying format that has been lambasted. That in turn has a knock-on effect for their race day programming… and so on and so forth.
Broadcasters’ will not like what they have seen today. And neither do the fans…