Analysis: Can fan input really change Formula 1?

In an era supposed to be marked by a new focus on fan engagement and improved access to Formula 1, fans are being asked to share their views on the sport. But are the teams and drivers listening?

Analysis: Can fan input really change Formula 1?
Lance Stroll, Williams, signs autographs for fans
Esteban Ocon, Force India, signs autographs for fans
Chinese fans wave Brazilian flags
Felipe Massa, Williams, waves to fans
Nico Hulkenberg, Renault Sport F1 Team, signs autographs for fans
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG, signs autographs for fans
Fans watch from above the pit lane
Ferrari fans
Fans of Kimi Raikkonen
Fans watch drivers being interviewed on stage
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing signs autographs for the fans
Ferrari fans
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 with fans
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG, signs autographs for fans, while throwing his cap into the air
McLaren Honda fans

One of the strongest messages being broadcast by new F1 owners Liberty is the importance of improving fan engagement and access.

Following the relaxation of former rules regarding filming and social media in the paddock, teams and drivers are now better able to communicate directly with the fans who make our sport possible.

But there is also a sense within the paddock that taking fans' input too literally can also be damaging to the sport, with Jacques Villeneuve saying earlier this year that F1 had taken a wrong turn when it started listening to the fans.

To be fair to Villeneuve, his objections were largely related to the introduction of the DRS, and not to fan input as a whole.

"Where F1 went wrong was, sadly, when it started listening to the fans, because the fans complained there was not enough overtaking," Villeneuve said on stage at Autosport International in January.

"By listening to that, what did F1 do? Put in DRS. Because that way we'll have a hundred overtakes in a race. But name me one overtake you remember since DRS. You don't, because you don't see the driver work."

While the Canadian world champion is known to be more controversial with his opinions than the current crop of racers, the paddock is divided when it comes to the wisdom of endlessly seeking out the feeling in the fanbase. Pragmatism is key, as Haas' Kevin Magnussen acknowledged.

"I think it's very important to make the fans happy, but in terms of how the sport should be, I think it's difficult to ask fans, because everyone has different opinions and they will never agree," he said. "You can never make everyone happy."

Of course, asking fans for their opinions is not infallible, even if there is consensus: the last GPDA fan survey showed widespread support for the return of in-race refuelling, despite the fact that said in-race refuelling was a contributory factor to years of processional racing, and one that in no way helped efforts to cut costs within the sport.

"I think it's definitely important to listen to what [the fans] have to say, and how they see the sport from the outside - I think it's definitely good to have that," Renault's Nico Hulkenberg said.

"I think not everything that fans may wish for is realistic and possible, but I think it's important to find the right balance there. We all want to race hard, we want it to be a good show and to be entertaining, so I think the balance must be right."

For Australian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel, F1's constant quest for self-improvement raises the prospect of the baby being thrown out with the bathwater.

"I'm maybe very old-school on many things, and I think that some things we shouldn't change," the Ferrari driver said. "The way people look at it now after one race, after a couple of races, they would like to see a change, but I think it's wrong to change too much. I think it's important to keep a certain framework consistent throughout time.

"I think every now and then it's important to listen to people, but I think with surveys it's always difficult to get a very clear picture," Vettel continued.

"I think too much change, equally, is wrong. Just to give an example, when there was talk about the race format, I think it would be quite bad to get rid of one race, one grand prix - I think it would take away the highlight of the weekend by putting two races, for example, or to make the race shorter because they say it's too boring and lasts too long.

"I think that's the grand prix, and that's how it's always been. It's been even longer in the past, if you look a long way back, and it should remain a challenge."

Overall, the consensus in the Shanghai paddock was that Formula 1 needs to listen to fans, but needs to be measured in how it chooses to apply the input and feedback given.

"We need to ask [the fans], we cannot ignore [them]," Daniil Kvyat said. "But sometimes people don't know what they want, so you need to be careful what you are relying on, studying the data. And once again, you know, people wanted faster cars, they got them, and now [we've moved on to] the next big topic.

"Overtaking is the next big question to tune. But generally I think it's moving in the right direction, I think it's been OK. Maybe sound would be great. To have back V8 or something. I think it was the greater sound and I think people would love it a lot more with the sound."

Max Verstappen agreed.

"To be honest, I think it's always good to get different opinions," he said. "It's a good thing to also listen to fans, of course. I think one thing I miss a bit is of course the engine noise -- I think when you were a little kid and you were standing next to the track it was something…

"You know when they were not going 350 but they were going 310 or 320 it was still something magical when they passed, a Formula 1 car.

"Now we're going really quick, but on the straights sometimes it doesn't look as quick as a few years ago, when we still had the engine noise," the Red Bull racer continued.

"That makes a big impression to the fans as well, and I think that there also needs to be a bit more action in terms of overtaking.

"As soon as you get that back, wheel-to-wheel, it doesn't matter how fast the cars are around the lap. The big engine noise takes over a lot more than having a car which is a few seconds faster compared to last year."

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