PR people should stop treating F1 fans like idiots
Readers of the Swiss newspaper Blick really do love keeping up to date with the sound of an idling 2.4 litre V6 power unit. How do I know? Because the four latest 'stories' on the Blick website are all over it. I mean, if you want to hear all the latest goss about how Formula 1 engine tones have changed in the last few months (spoiler alert: they haven’t), then this is definitely the place to be. "So tont der neue Ferrari-Motor," reads the fourth-latest headline in Swiss-German. Roughly translated, it means "Stop your grinnin' and drop your linen - This is what a 2020 Ferrari engine sounds like". The next two headlines are "So tont der neue McLaren-Motor" and "So tont der neue Mercedes-Motor". Brilliant headline creativity, chaps, but in fairness that really is all there is to say. Then, it's all summarised with the brilliant piece of investigative journalistic achievement otherwise known as Blick's top F1 story - "Welcher Sound gefallt Ihnen am Besten?" You guessed it: Blick wants to know which sound you like the best. So which one do YOU like the best? I just can’t wait to know (insert appropriately deadpan emoji here).
In truth, until this very moment, several days after the incredible orchestra of engine orgasmia hit the Top Of The Pops, I had absolutely no idea what the 2020 engine fire-up clips actually looked or sounded like. Why? Because I couldn't care less. Or, more accurately, I just assumed that they sounded roughly what they have sounded like since 2014. But I actually have a bigger gripe than that. Like many, many things about modern Formula 1, it's just another major turnoff. Now don't get me wrong - I'm not ALL that bothered about whether Formula 1 press departments put out audio or video clips of their new cars being cranked up for the first time. But I'm just being honest here: the way the teams treat their fans these days is quietly infuriating at best, and downright condescending at worst.
As far as I can tell, and I've been following Formula 1 pre-seasons in excruciating detail for two decades, this trend actually began in the winter of 2013. It was when F1, foolishly or otherwise, threw away the guaranteed draw-card of beautiful-sounding V8 engines that epitomised our sport for the ones of today, which sound a little like souped-up vacuum cleaners in urgent need of maintenance. The audio clips of the abysmal-sounding 2014 power units were much appreciated by an F1 populace desperate to know how much auditory damage had been done to the pinnacle of motorsport. So the clips had actual, real, legitimacy.
But today, seven years into F1’s questionable green experiment, the clips are little more than clickbait, put out not to satisfy a highly informed and deeply-immersed fan's deep craving for vital and new technical information, but like a bucket of bloody, putrid chum for a rapid animal desperate for new and easy-to-digest 30 seconds of cynical digital content. We don't need to know what the new Mercedes sounded like when fired up. Why not? Because we all know what it's going to sound like. This is just marketing fluff, and that’s to put it mildly.
"This sounds like an even more aggressive version of last year's," one commenter opined on YouTube after hearing one such clip. No, dear. You can't tell that from what you just heard. You’re just gobbling up some putrid chum.
"Sounds like it's hauling a bunch of sandbags already," another quipped. No, love. This is just what it sounds like when you stuff a microphone way too close to an F1 exhaust. Nothing more, nothing less.
What the comments do reveal, however, is that people will lap up any old crap put out by a professional marketing team dallying around with the 'teaser' concept. Take, for example, Mercedes' teaser video revealing the February 14 launch date. It's 18 seconds of utterly contemptuous visual and aural digital effects set to the sound of a thousand drums drumming - and Mercedes is not even the worst offender here. Lando Norris' faux 'accidental' reveal of McLaren's 2020 car launch date was one of the most cynical and unfunny crimes I've ever seen committed by any professional marketing department in any industry, for two clear reasons. First, the premise of the 'joke' is that Norris is too stupid to know how to shut the eff up. And apparently he was indeed too stupid to say "Nah, I'm not doing that." And the other premise of the (ahem) 'joke' is that you're too stupid to realise that it's all just a joke rather than an actual live stream gone wrong. Hardy frickin' har.
Call me a miserable sod if you like, because my wife and children do it all day long, but the F1 teams' official marketing, PR and social media efforts have become the biggest bad joke of all. In this oh-so-exciting (not) period of online fan engagement, every tweet - and I mean pretty much every single tweet - is dripping with hilarious (not) emojis and unfunny comedy, and not just beamed direct from team to fan, but from team to team as well! One team says something hilariously unfunny, and a rival one hits back with an even more hilariously unfunny retort. It's like taking the most cringe worthy stand-up comedian of all time and making him Conor McGregor's tweet man. And when Khabib Nurmagomedov's hired crap comedian tweets that Khabib is hilariously impatient about his next fight, Conor's hired crap comedian quips back: "Go to the gym. I hear they have long weights!" Ba Dum Tsss! Awful Dad jokes have turned professional.
The biggest problem here is not crap jokes, because while a crap joke is definitely annoying, it's not enough to spoil someone's true passion for Formula 1. In the grand scheme of things outside the borders of this whining opinion column ... whatever. No: The big problem for me is that, a bit like David Croft who apparently thinks he's the silly one from Laurel & Hardy rather than a serious commentator, F1 marketing departments - especially when it comes to digital and social media - have basically stopped being serious about what people like me want from them. Namely, to stop treating us as though we are children wandering glee-eyed down Sideshow Alley, and sometimes - just sometimes - handle our seriously serious passion for Formula 1 with a modicum of, yanno, seriousness.
In a nutshell, and like anything in life, jokes are great. But Formula 1 isn't (always) a joke. Can a few other people start telling the PR teams that as well?
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