F1 for dummies?

In 1985, for reasons known only to itself, Coca-Cola opted to change the formula for its world famous product and relaunch as ‘New Coke’.

Long, long before social media, the public reaction was swift and overwhelming. The company had got it horribly wrong and was forced to change, reverting to the original formula just three months later.

Regular readers of Pitpass will be aware that over the years we’ve had issues with the F1 Timing App that allows fans – for a price – to follow much of the live data available to the teams.

An update to the app in the middle of last season meant that for several races fans were unable to properly follow qualifying as the app failed to reset after Q1 and Q2 and as a result it was impossible to see who was improving and who wasn’t. However, the issue was soon resolved.

This weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix saw another major update to the app and the web-based timing system, unfortunately the errors of last year’s upgrade pale into insignificance by comparison.

In all honesty, rather than a litany of what they’ve got wrong, it might be easier to say what they’ve got right, and other then a live telemetry feed allowing fans to follow speed, throttle and braking information, there’s precious little.

While nearly all the relevant information was previously shown on one screen, fans now have to switch between a multitude of screens. Basics like current tyre, whether the driver is on track or in the pits and even (yellow flag) notifications from race control have been dropped.

Whereas fans, depending on the device they were using and its screen size, could previously follow all twenty cars, courtesy of the update this is now limited to seven, and in some cases just five. We are talking F1 here remember, not greyhound racing.

A brief glimpse at the many 1-star reviews left on the Play Store at the weekend, not to mention the angry and frustrated exchanges between fans and @F1help on Twitter, gives some idea of the mood as the sport’s powers-that-be continue to put style very much over substance.

Messrs Carey, Bratches and Brawn ensure that almost every single sentence they utter, contains the word ‘fans’, but for the most part they are merely paying lip service, and for ‘fan’ read ‘punter’.

Quite how this wretched botch-up of a job was signed-off is anyone’s guess, for anyone who seriously believed this would improve the fan experience clearly has no understanding of their customers.

Then again, isn’t that the issue, Messrs Carey and Bratches, in particular, have no understanding of the sport, and for them ‘fan’ is merely a soundbite to be used at every available opportunity.

Rather than listening to the fans – the customers – and giving them what they want, the powers-that-be are interested only in giving them what they want to give them, with a keen desire to monetise every aspect.

This was demonstrated in the feedback from @F1help on Twitter, which was clearly not prepared for the backlash but continued to insist that what was being provided was good and aimed at “improving the experience”. All that was missing from the tweets was the now obligatory… “your comments are important to us…” guff.

At a time there is talk of all twenty drivers being given points, what use is it only being able to follow seven (or five) drivers on your screen?

While it is claimed the font size has been improved to assist those with impaired vision, this doesn’t account for much of the previous data that has been removed leaving ‘acres’ of empty screen, though we’re sure the (newly announced) betting company logos will take up some of that.

Of particular annoyance to this user is that the updated app doesn’t even include a ‘stay awake’ function and as a result the tablet would ‘sleep’ every ten minutes unless one hovered over it counting down the seconds until the next time. If nothing else, our editor’s reactions are now almost on a par with Valtteri Bottas‘ start at the Red Bull Ring last year.

Rather than enhancing the fan experience – at a price – it was clear at the weekend that for almost all, the app update actually ruined much of the weekend.

However, let’s not forget that F1 has history on this, following the numerous issues encountered with the official streaming service, which resulted in fans being refunded for at least one race weekend, Chase Carey subsequently admitted to the issues, telling an investors meeting that this year was basically all about beta testing and the full product will be rolled out next season. Those people who have paid for the streaming service – much like the F1 Timing App – didn’t pay for Beta testing, they wanted – and paid for – a product that works.

F1 has done itself serious damage here. How seriously it takes the situation, and how seriously it really feels about the fans, will be reflected in how it reacts and when.