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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

Why the over-commodification of F1 leaves a shaky legacy

Heavy corporate involvement and an expanding audience discredit the pure emotion of the sport.

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A 2015 Formula 1 race is pictured.

On many Sundays throughout the year, more than a million people tune in for the greatest spectacle on Earth: Formula 1. Crazed fans travel across continents and spend their life savings to see a nanosecond glimpse of their team’s car virtually flying on the track. Others scream in their hall’s common room when the camera suddenly pans to their favorite driver in the barriers (apologies to anyone impacted by my shrieking). F1 is a sport loved by so many people, but its legacy is headed toward a questionable future.

On Jan. 24, the Red Bull sister team AlphaTauri (formerly known as Toro Rosso) announced their brand new name for the 2024 season: Visa Cash App RB. Beyond the expected social media posts ridiculing the over-corporatized rebranding and logistics of referring to the team lies a genuine debate on money in F1.

There’s no denying the prevalence of money in F1. Only 20 people in the world get to race at a time — most coming from wealthy families or even children of former motorsport drivers themselves. Drivers’ careers depend partly on their ability to bring sponsors to teams, logos of which decorate every nook and cranny of their cars. Unlike any other sport, developing the cars, hiring thousands of people from engineers to media managers to the actual drivers (whose salaries are pretty hefty), as well as traveling across the world 20-something times a year requires heavy corporate involvement and sponsorship. Although it is easy to forget, one must remember that at the end of the day, the group responsible for the commercial rights of F1, Formula One Group, is still a business seeking to maximize its profit to the fullest extent. In the case of Visa Cash App RB, both of the name sponsors being American-based opens up a broader discussion about the increased popularity of the sport in the United States and the steps taken by the Formula One Group to fully capitalize on a deep-rooted consumerist culture.

Mainly in credit to the Netflix documentary series “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” the past few years of the sport have been characterized by more races in the U.S., an expanding American audience and therefore higher demand by American companies to invest in F1. While “the more, the merrier” is certainly a valid outlook on this situation, it has brought a list of real complaints by the fans. Some think the new Miami and Las Vegas races are uneventful with little to no elevation change, technical forethought or any real passion for racing. The biggest selling points for these Grands Prix are not the actual track or racing experience but instead the external infrastructure like a Monaco-style fake yacht dock in Miami for influencers to share online or track-side DJ booths in Las Vegas. Drivers aren’t impressed with the overly commodified feature of races either: Three-time world champion Max Verstappen said in an interview, “I understand that fans … need maybe something to do as well around the track. But I think it’s more important that you actually make them understand what we do as a sport because most of them come to have a party, drink, see a DJ play or a performance act. ... But they don’t actually understand what we’re doing or what we’re putting on the line to perform.”

In addition, the price for fans to attend a race has become unbelievably expensive. When the amount of people that can be accommodated around the track remains the same but the demand goes up due to an expanded demographic, long-time fans of the sport can no longer afford to attend races while influencers and brand-affiliated public figures are prioritized. General admission tickets for a three-day race weekend at Silverstone went up from £170 to £349 in the last 10 years, not to mention newly introduced behind-the-scenes packages like F1 Paddock Club that cost around  £27,000. An F1 fan has to decide between paying hundreds of dollars for a standing position around the track where they can’t even witness the action or not going to races at all, signaling the end of the times of attending races for the fun and passion of it all.

We cannot have drivers constantly risking their lives going out on a track with up to 200 mph of speed and being met with such indifference and disrespect. New fans are always welcome — after all, they keep the love and passion for the sport going — but there is a line to be drawn on the amount of entertainment and commercialization surrounding F1. Our responsibility as fans of the sport is to make sure that it stays as close to its legacy as possible, in honor of the drivers whose stories are forgotten and those who drive now to keep them alive.