A little while ago, Sidepodcast wrote a series a of posts that looked at the way Formula One is presented online, specifically the teams’ and drivers’ official websites. Co-authors Christine and “me” looked at the sites from both a technical and fan perspective, and the series was an enjoyable read. But a recent conversation on Sidepodcast got me thinking; what about the general way Formula One is presented online? Is it enough? Does it even work? Is it worth the trouble?
There is no better way to start than at the top. Surely the official Formula One website is going to be the most visited, the most visible and the most informative offering to those of us who seek their F1-fix via the Internet. Therefore, Bernie-web needs to be top-notch. It needs to lead the way for all other sites to follow, to set the example and to offer more and better information than any other piece of cobbled-together F1-related code on the Internet. Quite simply, F1.com has to be the best. If it isn’t, we’re in trouble.
Alas, I feel we’re in trouble.
Now please do not get me wrong. F1.com has improved dramatically over the years, more so recently with a redesign and improved navigation. But it doesn’t go anywhere as near as far enough to keep Formula One hungry fans full. Being the official site for the sport, I’d expect a continuous flow of news items, which to be fair, happens for the most. I would also expect a number of features exclusively available via the site, which also happens to a degree. F1.com offers live timing during race weekends, but perhaps due to it’s popularity, or perhaps because of the way it is presented, it doesn’t always work as well as hoped.
In truth, the only reason I ever visit F1.com is for the live timing. I have little-to-no reason to visit Bernie’s online home during the week. So what could entice me to swing by more often? The key is what a flurry of other sites achieve, although mostly separately from each other.
Bernie’s Interview Technique
F1.com obviously has great access to Formula One, and often the exclusive interviews posted are worth a read. But being the official site, it lacks a certain edginess to it. The questions asked in interviews tend to be the same old, mundane and already talked-about-to-death topics. But what the smaller independent sites (and some of the larger ones as well) achieve is much more readable.
Without getting into the realms of tabloid journalism, because that is not what anyone wants from the official source, sites like Pitpass can approach an area of contention with a slightly different take. They offer the reader with something more than the standard. In short, Pitpass’s articles tend to actually discuss the interview as well as post the original Qs and As. Obviously F1.com cannot go as far as some of the independents, but they could put the comments into context. Or to go one better, F1.com could allow readers to put the article into context through a comment system. A key word to remember here is ‘discussion’.
So aside from adding more to their articles, F1.com doesn’t do too badly in this area. Well done Bernie, have a gold star.
Bernie’s Music Videos
Other media though, is lacking somewhat. F1.com have recently added a video section to their portal to F1 online. Although it is certainly a step in the right direction and massively long overdue, it isn’t exactly thorough. A few moments ago I loaded the European Grand Prix video and was presented with lots of sweeping artsy shots of Valencia, accompanied with some music. Then I got to see some of the highlights from race itself – all the major talking points – but that was really about it. And what made me most confused was the lack of any commentary. There wasn’t even a narration of what was happening. Just music. So really, Bernie-web have just produced a series of music videos themed around each race.
Not so good Mr. Ecclestone. Stay behind after class so you can think about what you’ve done. And I’m taking that gold star away from you as well.
Bernie’s Less Than 20:20 Vision
So what should F1.com have in terms of video content? Well, to be perfectly blunt, the owner of the television rights to Formula One (this is Bernie, by the way) should have the footage of each and every session available on the website, archived for the current season at minimum, and accessible for free to anyone who wishes to watch.
Now I understand that Bernie has struck a deal with ITV, and will likely strike deals with other broadcasters in the future regarding online viewing of races, but really, it should be available on the official site as well. If this conflicts with ITV, then delay the video by 24 hours. Let ITV show the event live, and then put up the footage on F1.com a day later. With the live timing set up and in place, it can’t be too hard to add pre-recorded video that actually means something as well.
Bernie’s New Splinting Technique
Another area that Formula One are failing to latch onto at the moment is the rise in popularity of podcasts. Some F1 teams have noted this and Renault produce (arguably) the most famous one among the squads themselves. BBC Radio 5 Live also have a ‘cast which is worth a listen, and there are a few small independents producing top-notch quality shows for their avid listeners. How is it possible for a small independent fan to produce a high-quality and well-written podcast with a budget of next-to-nothing? Yet FOM, with a budget of I hate to think, cannot even have a go.
Bernie Ecclestone, I fear, probably believes a podcast is a new-fangled way of splinting a broken limb. But with access to all of Formula One’s most notable people, along with the recording facilities and staff under control, the media output from FOM could be spectacular. Unfortunately, it isn’t, and Bernie now owes me a gold star.
I mentioned earlier in the article a key word, and I would like to talk about this if I may, for I believe it is a very important aspect of online activities, and another area that Bernie falls over on. However, for once it isn’t just Ecclestone who tumbles, it is a lot of F1-related areas on the Internet that hit the deck when it comes to this…
You’ll note at the bottom of this article are four labelled boxes. If you quickly fill in the first three with some basic details, you can fill in the fourth with your opinion on what I’ve written here. Click the button beneath and after a short whirring of Internet-magic, your thoughts and comments are shown to the world, organised with others and open to further conversation. It’s almost like us blog owners actually want to talk about something, isn’t it?
While the previous paragraph was a little sarcastic, I hope the point was clear. It seems as though Formula One Management and the teams don’t really want to interact with the very people who keep them in business. From memory, I can only think of two teams that have attempted to blog their experiences to the wider world, and even then, one of them was just annoyingly impossible to use. The first one, although perhaps a little annoying to use, has achieved a fair amount of success though.
Renault started a blog in 2006 and since then it has garnered a lot of fans. But Renault didn’t just get their PR-people to copy+paste the press releases over to the site and leave it. No, they have put someone in charge of the blog, and this person is regularly seen in the comments, responding to questions put forward by the fans. And you know what means, don’t you? Renault are interacting with their customers.
Now I admit that Renault fell over themselves this year, but they crashed to the ground trying to further their already admirable attempts at interaction. Renault, along with Force India, have tried to create a community around their sites, a place where experiences can be shared and opinions can be voiced, all the while meeting others and uploading content for all to see. For Renault, it didn’t work too well, but at least they’re trying.
Do BMW interact with their fans in such a direct way? Probably not. Does Rubens Barrichello? Again, probably not. And although these two institutions (along with everyone else) of the Formula One paddock are likely to be incredibly busy throughout the year, Renault have proved that direct interaction is perfectly possible to achieve. Alas, it seems as though F1 would prefer closed doors for the time being though, and we fans are left with reading the same old press releases race after race, sans-personality. Even Red Bull have apparently lost their playful attitude to press releases recently.
But should I expect conversation at Formula One’s official site? Well, I think it is perfectly possible, and just because the site has to be professional and informative, interaction with fans shouldn’t detract from this. The sport is often criticised for not listening enough to the very people who keep it ticking over, and a little two-way conversation could go a long way to ending this poor reputation. If carefully managed, a blog can be both insightful and professional. And in this day and age of the social-web, it really isn’t hard to do.
I’m Not Done Yet, There’s More To Come…
Some of you will know what sparked this post, others will be scratching their temples, wondering why I’m even attempting to talk to the very people who close doors and refuse to embrace the massively-potential marketing tool that is called ‘The Internet’. However, this article has gone on for far too long already. Instead, I will post an explanation tomorrow, along with the second part of this article where I look at two other institutions of Formula One media – the printed publication and their online presence. I will name some names, offer praise to those who get it right, and criticism to those who get it wrong. Until then, feel free to voice your opinion – the comments are always open…