Shorter F1 races, less practice amongst format changes being considered
Formula 1 is considering "fundamental" changes to the race weekend format which has remained largely unchanged for more than a decade, in order to ensure it continues to appeal to the changing consumption habits of a younger generation.
Steve Nielsen, F1's sporting director and former manager of several teams including Renault, Caterham, Toro Rosso and Williams, says it's imperative that the sport considers everything as it seeks to reverse declining television audiences.
Although weekend format changes are often met with a negative reaction amongst F1's current hardcore fanbase, Nielsen says Liberty Media is conducting fan-based research on a scale never seen before in the sport.
"One of the things we are actively engaged in is a huge amount of fan research," he said. "It isn’t completed yet, but what we want to know is what fans really want from Formula 1, from avid fans to people who don’t really engage with the sport, what they like, what they don’t like and what would make them watch more.
"The scale of this research has never been done in the sport before and it will have a big impact on how F1 is shaped for the future."
Every aspect of the race weekend from practice, qualifying and the race is up for discussion, with F1 potentially looking at cutting practice on a Saturday, keeping qualifying to determine the grid for an afternoon 'sprint' race which would then decide the grid for Sunday's Grand Prix, which could be shortened in length to attract new viewers.
"There are some fundamental questions being asked, of all of us, as well as fans. For example, we’re asking about what kind of weekend format we should be pursuing; how much free practice should there be; how many races should we have; should there be more than one Formula 1 race on a weekend, what should qualifying be? We have our own ideas but we want to gauge opinion, as many opinions as possible," added Nielsen.
"Viewing figures were declining. There has been an improvement but Formula 1 needs to change to engage with a wider audience. There are many people under the age of 30 for whom Formula 1 is of little interest. We need to retain the core values of the sport, while at the same time appealing to a younger audience.
"If we neglect that the sport will be in trouble. It is a difficult line to walk but that is what we have to do. Perhaps that does mean a shorter race, or slightly less free practice, more sudden-death situations. People engage with sport in a lot of different ways and they don’t necessarily want to give up a Sunday afternoon or a Saturday afternoon to do it. So every idea has to be on the table."