Formula E vs Formula 1…can we stop pretending now?

I’ve been curious about Formula E. Firstly, because I felt that if the FIA were really intent on sustainability and social responsibility, then this is the series to show it. An all-electric racing series makes sense to me if that’s your thing and it provides a platform for innovation and sporting fun all under the guise of sustainable racing. Fair enough, I’ve no problem with that. Secondly, because I have seen one of the bigger social media campaigns in racing since NASCAR discovered Twitter with Formula E’s flooding of practically every timeline giving the impression nearly every able bodied human was watching the race. I found that hard to believe so I was intrigued.

According to a report at Forbes, my initial hunch was correct as Formula E grossed only 4% of Formula 1’s audience numbers in cumulative method research. For the season, Formula E had 61.5 million while Formula 1 had 1.5 billion. Again, this is a cumulative count by Repucom comparing both series. To boil that down, Repucom says Formula E netted 6.1 million viewers across each of its races while Formula 1 had 79.6 million. Let that sink in when considering F1’s value and leveraging tweets signifying its impending doom and waning status.

What I am less enthused about is the demand that Formula 1 also be some sort of electric racing series and showcase for the FIA’s commitment to social responsibility and sustainable racing. Then again, if the FIA are looking at the same numbers, Formula E isn’t the best vehicle to tell the world that you’re socially responsible is it? Formula 1 is to the tune of over 70 million more people per race weekend.

Formula E’s social media footprint is so prolific and over the top, you’d think the entire world were watching the race. If you compare the two series from a social media footprint on-event, you’d get the impression that they are gaining similar viewing numbers such is the efficacy of Formula E’s marketing efforts meaning the checks must have cleared because the marketing companies they hired to flood social media were working overtime.

That kind of social media presence and the most watched race in the Formula E series was the season finale in London with 9.8 million watching. By contrast, the most watched Formula 1 race was in Austin at the USGP and it had 96.1 million viewers.

I’m all for Formula E as an all-electric series and proving ground for the technology but I would prefer Formula 1 get out of that business and let Formula E do it full tilt while F1 focuses on new innovation within internal combustion engines design and other areas of improvement. I’m also all for branding, marketing and promotion but I don’t like a façade or blatant misrepresentation of the success or perceived success of your product.

My point here is that I follow social media fairly closely and I was getting timeline fatigue from the onslaught of Formula E tweets, posts and pics. I then got weary of F1 fans using this as an example of why F1 is failing to use social media appropriately as juxtaposed with Formula E. Let’s keep this in mind, giving everything away for free on social media makes sense when you are a racing series in serious need of an audience, folks. Not so much with F1.

The FIA have a lot of work to do if they are trying to build the Formula E brand. I’m all for it. I think this is where electric and alternative systems should live. Once again, however, I Find myself asking the sophomoric question—if electric car sales are still single digits and the world’s very first all-electric car racing series wouldn’t compete with Friday’s practice viewer numbers in F1 let alone seasonal totals, why are we all marching to the soylent green food trough and acting like this is absolutely what the world wants and the direction all racing should go in? At what point will the car manufacturers pull back on their all-in status of electric cars and realize that maybe hybrids or other fuel systems might be a better option because few are buying the or watching them race?

Formula E isn’t gaining the global, socially responsible audience totals it would like and Formula 1’s move to hybrid has cost the series a big chunk of viewers (rumored from 600 million down to 400-450 million). Last time I check, 2+2 did equal 4. So the electric car gambit has impacted both series and one of those programs was specifically developed to showcase electric car racing. It’s like much of the world’s politics, better to ignore the elephant in the room than to get some peanuts and lure it out of the room and house completely.

Look, I’m and understanding guy. If Formula E would simply say, “hey, we’re an all-electric series and we are very excited about what we’re doing. Sure, we’re small and trying to grow but we need your help in making this a terrific series of innovation. Please join us”, I would be more respectful to an honest approach rather than flooding social media to spam-like levels and giving the false impression that the entire world is on board and lapping up the electric car revolution.

I would be fine if Formula 1 said, “hey, we really believe that hybrid technologies are a supplemental part of road cars and racing cars and make the sport better but we may have over-shot the mark with the current spec and therefore, we’re going to dial it back a bit to an ICE and KERS format”, I would be perfectly forgiving in my approach to them. Just be honest, stop the heavy-handed propaganda and highlight your brand appeal and admit your shortcomings.

Here, I’ll lead by example. Hey, we’re an F1 website (mainly) and while we do serve a lot of downloads per month of our podcast, it’s not our day jobs and sometimes we can be a little light on the technical side of things and only occasionally insightful. I get it. I know we can get a little tedious with our complaining of DRS and maybe we aren’t constantly sourcing and interviewing drivers and teams for the scoop but this isn’t our day job and because of that, it makes it difficult to deliver the fully baked kind of program we’d like to create for you. We’re not a F1 newspaper, magazine or journalistic news outlet. We’re simply the voice of the F1 fan and nearly 46% of our traffic and use is by Americans so that has its own veneer on it too that may not appeal to our friends around the globe. We love what we do but that doesn’t mean the world does and we understand we’re not everyone’s cup of tea but we would be honored if you would give us a chance.

See? Just be truthful about your product and let the reader, listener, viewer decide. Anything else is pandering and patronizing.

Hat Tip: Forbes