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What can F1 learn from the Olympics?
Posted By: James Allen  |  13 Aug 2012   |  9:44 am GMT  |  170 comments

With the closing of the 2012 Olympics in London the “Greatest Show on Earth” has ended. It has been an amazing two weeks of sport, particularly for those of us who live in the host nation and have seen another side to our country.

These were the “Happy Games”; in fact, to borrow a couple of adjectives from the British national anthem, “Happy and Glorious” would be the best way to sum up the London 2012 games.

So what can Formula 1 learn from the last two weeks? Is there anything that could be adopted to make F1 better, any methodologies which would suit our very own ‘world class’ sporting event?

These last two weeks were all about sport, we must never forget that and the way these games were organised and presented, ‘sport’ was at the heart of everything. Yes many of the competitors were professionals earning millions back home in their professional leagues and series, but in these Olympics the cynical and the mercenary were put to one side in pursuit of pure sporting excellence.

However there is a balance to be struck and London 2012 struck it perfectly; for all the spirit of “togetherness” and the heart warming enthusiasm of the competitors, fans and volunteers, winning was still very much at the heart of it.

The coveted gold medal at the end of four years of hard training is what all the serious athletes were in London to achieve. The public naturally looks to the medals table to see who is doing the best and where their country stands.

So winning is the main thing, but it’s not everything.

No-one is naive enough to think that the Olympic motto, “it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part” covers anything more than the few heart warming stories of fighting through adversity, overcoming racial or gender barriers to compete and simply to be there.

But the Olympics has shown that it is possible to compete at the highest level and engage the public in the process. London’s triumph was the way the fans were drawn in, right from the start with the wacky opening ceremony to the very end with the final medals to be handed out.

People love ‘people stories’; the triumphs and the tragedies, the comebacks, the failures, the elation and the despair. The Olympics gave fans a chance to engage, to feel part of it.

Sport was both the spectacle and the end in itself; human beings pushing themselves to do amazing things in the name of competition. But as they did so they dragged along thousands in the stadiums and millions around the world to share in their experience and that was the lesson F1 can learn from the games.

Our sport is the world’s largest year-round sporting event, it has huge and passionate global fan base; so on the one hand, it is hard to engender such enthusiasm week in and week out, compared to an event which happens only once every four years.

But on the other hand, the way the sport takes fans’ money without giving much back, the way F1 has gone racing in new countries without trying to build a lasting legacy, shows how much there is to do in engaging with fans and building F1’s following into new generations and new markets.

F1 takes its races into new territories, like Asia and Middle East, primarily because they pay the highest sanctioning fees. This is spelled out very clearly in F1’s flotation prospectus.

Yes the sport needs to embrace emerging markets for many reasons; to offer new opportunities for manufacturers and sponsors and to “inspire a generation” of youngsters in that country to race, so one day one of them may become their country’s first F1 champion.

But the way we go about starting up in a new country is often too cynical; Country X will pay the most so we’ll race there, end of. When they run out of money, move on to the next place with deep pockets.

F1 can learn from the London Olympics first by evaluating carefully what a new host country can bring to the sport besides money. Then in engaging the local people, thinking about the legacy it is building in a country, working closely with the organisers on long term projects, focussing on building a following, rather than simply pocketing the cash and moving on to the next showground.

In terms of other lessons, Bernie Ecclestone was impressed by a visit to the Beijing Games in 2008 and felt that the idea of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals was something F1 could take from the Olympics. He was unable to garner enough support from within the sport so it has not happened and I don’t think it’s any more likely today. Medals work brilliantly for the Olympics, but F1 has a perfectly good podium ceremony and big trophies and champagne spraying are the heart of that.

In terms of hosting the event, the 2012 Olympics has proved that Britain can put on a world class event with no problems – there was anxiety about whether the UK could pull it off after the bid was won and especially after organisers saw what Beijing laid on. Visitors to the events were treated to the best of British professionalism and enthusiasm. That mix is often hard to strike.

F1 is organised with great professionalism, especially when you see the inner workings of FOM, as some of us on the inside are lucky to see. But again, the enthusiasm of the volunteers and the security staff at London 2012 is in sharp contrast to what we experience at a lot of F1 venues, like Spa, where black-shirted heavies present a cold and menacing front, rather than enthusiastic and welcoming.

As for the idea of motorsport having any kind of place in the Olympics, I don’t think there’s any chance, nor is there any point. Mechanised sports have no place in the Olympic games. Powerboating was once an Olympic sport but was dropped and rightly so.

F1 has many things going for it, but the Olympics has shown it could do a lot of things better.

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The scholar sits downward to engrave, and all his years of meditation accomplish not supply him with one high-quality thinking or else glad expression


James, firstly F1 needs to put in place some clear rules regarding on track incidents. It is unacceptable that we get different rulings every weekend, with no explanations given, that have major championship consequences.

In terms of the show, the very first thing they have to do is have an end of season podium ceremony where we see the winner lift the championship trophy. I’d wager 90% of F1 fans don’t even know what the thing looks like.


James, great article for sure!!!

Enjoyed the Olympics very much without a doubt.

The closest feeling to F1 was the track cycling events especially the Omnium races, it was similar to F1 statergy except its human power and pacing similar to tyres.

But I don’t think F1 can be applied to the Olympics, vice versa. F1 is an elitist sport, please do not pretend it’s not.

How many people make a team for Phelps or Bolt, c’mon let’s not kid ourselves.

As a fan the number one priority is the price of the tickets should be dropped by at least 30% to 50%. Having more interaction with the drivers and pit crews would be most welcomed (fat hopes). Hosting fees at the moment are daylight robberies IMHO, no wonder so many circuits are in trouble!

Then again as a sport fan for ages I must admit that no other sport can make me more excited than F1 and other forms of motor racing.


Agree. F1 is very pretensious.


Hi James,

One of your best articles and a great assessment of F1 from outside the sports introverted spectacles. Can’t help but think the summer break and the amazing London Olympics have helped catalyse your views. Think we can all agree the games have been life altering in some way and a breath of fresh air, especially for Londoners, it felt like a different city such was the difference in atmosphere. And the weather surely helped!


Thanks James – one of your best in my view. And gutsy because you are effectively critising the F1 heirachy. Not something I expected of you – sorry. I had you down as a lacky – sorry again.




Cheaper tickets @ Spa. As Belgian I went for 5 years now to Spa, but this year i’ll have to skip.

+- 130 (bronze admission) with a stupid fence in your way + sitting in the grass/mud.

For me it should be the price or lower like Magney Cours (80 €) for an grandstand-ticket instead of 230 € and more.


I am lucky enough to live in London and after being foiled by the ticketing system went to some of the free events (the marathons & speed walking) and what struck me was the generosity of the spectators in their support of the athletes. I was at the marathon on sunday and the crowd was cheering itself hoarse and clapping until their hands were raw for EVERYONE! Obviously the leaders got huge cheers & the British athletes but the biggest cheers were for the guys at the back of the field. Standing amongst the crowds hearing them shouting ‘Come on Andorra!’ at an athlete they don’t know from a principality they probably can’t point out on a map was truly amazing.

I’m a regular at Silverstone and although that has a great atmosphere it’s not got the same generosity of spirit and I’ve been trying to work out why. I don’t believe it’s the ‘fault’ of the fans it’s the sport itself lacking some of the human element that made the Olympics so compelling.

In a roundabout way I’m agreeing with what several others have already said – F1 needs to embrace it’s human element, become less corporate, allow us to see the emotions at the heart of it. They are there! Let us in!

Rubinho's Keyfob

I think it was very telling that in the drivers’ press conference before the Hungarian GP all the drivers basically shrugged their shoulders and said that they were simply not interested (give or take the odd “I may watch something involving my country’s athletes” lip-service answer).

IMO, it shows how much of an introspective bubble F1 is. To dismiss with a shrug the efforts of thousands of athletes from hundreds of countries who are doing their all after four years of effort just for the sport and prestige and not for their paycheck was incredibly disappointing.

I’m becoming increasingly disillusioned.


F1 could go a long way if it adopted the version of the UK National Anthem that was used in the Olympics…. Lively, spritely and fun, rather than the traditional dirge that gets used for most events, including F1



As for the idea of motorsport having any kind of place in the Olympics, I don’t think there’s any chance, nor is there any point. Mechanised sports have no place in the Olympic games.

I disagree on this though. Some form of motor racing (with identical vehicles of course!) would be a perfect addition. Something Race of Champions style perhaps.

I don’t see why this could not be part of the Olympics.

Stone the crows

One of the other key differences is how often we have the Olympics. The amount of time it takes an athelete to prepare and the possibility that this might be his/her one and only shot at a medal is very compelling. Formula 1 is the opposite, there’s always another race and there’s another season. Not that I want Formula One to only happen once every four years for two weeks, but the infrequency of the competition also builds an anticipation and makes it unique in its own right.


Well, you can’t get Mr. Allen, or anyone else on this site to believe that fans play a consistently strategic role in F1, but it sure sounds like the fans have a strategic function in Olympic competition. So, perhaps that is the lesson that F1 needs to take away from the London Olympics. Enlisting the fans can give a significant competitive edge, and accordingly F1 should invest in accessing this magic, not doubting its existence.


Nice article James, and great work London on a fantastic Olympics- brought back memories of Syd in 2000. Put in perspective : memory=legacy=fans=money=investment=growth

Even from the pragmatic business view F1 should use the sense of spirit Olympics bring to grow its Business and equally inspire the spirit of the sport in the longer term.

We are fortunate due to scheduling here is Aus we watch free to air but I certainly would not watch live otherwise.

F1 needs to allow fans to get closer to its product- pit walk throughs, general seating near corporate grandstands,more public- driver teams interaction (sure they need to be controlled) but it needs to show people it values them a little and they will come back

I miss Indy on the Gold Coast terribly for this reason. I went almost every year because it was so Accessible and entertaining and the sporting side was no less diminished.

Its incredible to think that in a country like Australia many people don’t even know what F1 is and the sport hardly gets a mention in the papers.

There is still a great deal of potential if F1 just relaxes its pretentiousness just a little and reaches out the way that the average bloke can relate to in these difficult economic times. This in turn can change perspective of the teams,sponsors, so we don’t get these cold scripted interviews where drivers are too scared to say anything.

Is it true that Martin Whitmarsh stepped down as president

of FOTA for 2013?.. I think he has don’t a terrific job in bonding the teams in the public image of the sport.


I remember the Indy racing at surfers paradise. Especially that huge crash in the rain, 2002 I think it was.

Champ Car was awesome about ten years ago when it had less oval tracks. It was kind of like 80’s F1. The new IRL is just not that great; it’s just open wheel NASCAR racing.


Yeah I was on the beach straight when that happened. But I saw lots of accidents. The point is you could walk through the pits & talk to mechanics and drivers, you could mingle with them at night spots , beach,etc, it was just so relaxed great fun.


“Done” not * “don’t ” apologies


Yes and we’ll have a story on that shortly


F1 will learn very little from the Olympics.

It can learn more from its motorsport peers.

F1 is far to bureaucratic for its own good.

Athletics has Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake.

Moto GP has Rossi, Lorenzo and Lorenzo Land.

Indycar has Helio Castroneves and his Spiderman antics.

Doughnuts have become de rigour in NASCAR.

What or who does F1 have? We get Placido Domingo trying to get the crowd sing ‘happy birthday’ for his friend Alonso.


Giving the drivers their end of season awards in private makes no sense but F1 rarely does. It use to be the case that F1 would be held outside the city so the issue was how to get the people to the track now the issue is how to the track to the people ie build a track in a city. However the atmosphere is still too stale. Went to Melbourne track this year and got a little bored to be honest watching little dots drive round.

One part that F1 does hold all the aces in coverage is Martin’s gridwalks. Do we get Wayne Rooney talking before a match? Does Andy Murray talk about his game on the sidelines before playing? No but we do get that in F1.


If merchandised sports have no place in the olympics, as you say James. Then tennis, soccer, basketball, even swimming and running (which are integral to the olympics) would have to go. For example, Usain Bolt is a runner and he is probably the most marketed Olympian there has ever been, with

commercial endorsements as far as the eye can see!


Mechanised, not merchandised!!


Well I’ll try to read your articles much more closely in future to avoid these kinds of rather embarrassing mistakes. LOL.

But still, my position remains the same. Just because a sport is mechanical should not prevent it from being part of the Olympics. Its not as if there is robots driving; human talent, stamina, thinking and competitiveness are still required.

It kind of denigrates motorsport to say there is no place for it in the Olympics.


btw, in your view would “mechanised” include the heroic but mechanically-aided sprinter from South Africa?




What a superb article James. Possibly the best article I have read in the 4 years I’v been coming to this site. There is so much to learn from these London Olympics. I had never witnessed a sporting occasion where sport and the people were at the heart of everything until the Olympics came to London. It was undoubtedly one of the most human experiences ever. And “human” is the key word here for F1. Formula One compared to motorsport is lightyears ahead of football. But it is still a world away from capturing anything near to the Olympics spirit. Formula One drivers are still probably the most intense and intriguing of all sportspeople. That’s where the spirit of f1 has always lay. However this aspect has been let down and massively overshadowed by the commercial aspects of the sport when in days gone by that wasn’t the case.


Lovely article James,

As has been commented on here, I also believe that engagement between the paddock and punter is where F1 falls apart.

Could I suggest James that you try and persuade a couple of big-players in F1 to experience what paying customers get a a GP? Make them pay for tickets, take away their paddock passes and make them drive and queue to get into the circuit like the rest of us. They can then watch not-a-lot happening from behind three layers of fencing with a tannoy system that doesn’t work properly (yes Silverstone I’m looking at you!) and screens that are so far away they’re probably showing something else anyway.

Don’t even get me started on the food and drink…

It seems, at Silverstone at least, that they have to sell so many tickets to make the GP worth doing, that you could argue that the place is too busy. It’s like a cattle market in there and it is a deeply unpleasant and frustrating way to spend money.

F1 doesn’t need to wait to learn from the Olympics, just pop down to Donington or Oulton Park to the BTCC – they know how to look after fans!


Lovely article James,

As has been commented on here, I also believe that engagement between the paddock and punter is where F1 falls apart.

Could I suggest James that you try and persuade a couple of big-players in F1 to experience what paying customers get a a GP? Take away their paddock passes and make them drive and queue to get into the circuit like the rest of us. They can then watch not-a-lot happening from behind three layers of fencing with a tannoy system that doesn’t work (yes Silverstone I’m looking at you!)


One thing the Olympics could have taken from F1 is the equal coverage of winners, this was uncharacteristically, distinctly lacking in the BBC programs. If a GB person came second or third he/she was interviewed, the winner was not, in fact in many cases the name and nationality of the winner was not even mentioned.

F1 is much more even handed in it’s selection of interviewees.

Whilst we heard of heavy handed sponsorship policing of the Olympics, it failed in as much as the only branding I noticed was on Andy Murray’s shirt which was Addidas whilst the official sponsor was Nike I think.

Any one go? What was the branding like on the ground?

There is a move afoot in F1 to use sponsorship of food, drink and clothing to increase revenue for FOM and co. Let’s hope that it is not utilised in the heavy handed way it was for the Olympics. (Cameron had to get a law changed to allow the this to happen, a very dangerous precedent!)


Well you should be glad you didn’t have to watch NBC’s coverage in America when I visited, which is even more one-sided and they’d only show what their team was up to (e.g. not showing all much of other team’s performance in say gymnastics). Also few big events were live, but that’s another issue.

But why is that such a problem? Of course a nation is going to focus on their team, especially when they’re hosting.

And to be honest, I found the BBC to be good at covering other nations and the winners. There was so much choice anyway, that it was impossible not to watch others that interested you.


Forget about accessibility – f1 is elitist and it’s part of its attraction when we see super yachts at Monaco. What the Olympics has shown us is that our athletes were so very modest / human whilst pursuing excellence. Both aspects have been missing from F1 for too long….


Silverstone can learn from the Olympics. Every year, getting in, around and away is a joke and gets worse every year for the Grand Prix. I am not going next year due to the pathetic traffic management, parking facilities and staff who just don’t care. I was lucky to attend a number of the Olympic sites and the organisation was fantastic. Every issue had been thought of and plans in place which made for a brilliant experience.

I do not accept Silverstone’s excuses of the lack of road access, the number of fans and cars. The Olympic park were moving way more fans every day with two or three sessions at the stadium per day with fans arriving and leaving with security checks. Silverstone have fewer variables to deal with yet every year, a single accident on the A43 or rain in the lead up results in chaos. Why do they not try a more radical plan? Why not ban cars at the track for all three days, have four or five park and ride sites away from Silverstone and only allow motorbikes and campers to travel direct?



At the risk of sounding sycophantic that was a beautifully written article. I concur with everyone who says you should be back alongside Martin.



Speaking as one who studiously avoids hearing, watching, or learning anything about the Olympics, here is my answer, based on what leaked through my cone of silence:

1) There should be more top flight British drivers. Dame Helen Mirren reportedly said Brits were best at ‘seated’ events (such as rowing and equestrian.) Dame Edna’s remarks were not reported anywhere I saw.

2) Babes in bikinis will *always attract attention! An actual *driver in a bikini (Danica, anyone?) would drive the press insane. Especially in the Middle East! Helen Mirren… well Dames should not be seen in bikinis.

3) To attract more female fans all drivers should appear in Speedos. Except Danica.

4) It is ok to deliberately crash in order to gain an advantage from the stoppage.

5) It is ok to throw a match in order to gain a future advantage.

6) One receives much more press coverage for losing a medal due to doping than by just winning it in the first place.


Not particularly meaningful points if you didn’t watch it and get involved. Spoil sport!


Perfectly valid points. It makes no difference whether or not I watched anything.

I have nothing but contempt for the Olympics but these are the stories I was not able to avoid as they leaked into the real world.

The “scandal” over beach volleyball girls in bikinis, the deliberate losing in badminton, the deliberate cycle crashing – a Brit, I believe, the Japanese soccer team deliberately not winning, the doping, the endless, fawning inane bable from sports “reporters”…

Oh yeah, F1 can learn a *lot from this crap.

{infinite sarcasm here, just to be clear}


They could award medals for the fastest pit stops and make that an end of year podium ceremony?

Those guys deserve some attention too, IMO.

It would be a second tier of competition to observe. And wager on 🙂


One thing we don’t need to learn is staging opening and closing ceremonies…. Especially the sort which are high-jacked by the Union of Defunct Musical Acts!!

Sorry to be a lone dissenting voice

Beatles, OK, Fine. But Britain’s musical heritage should not be an excuse for wheeling out every arthiritic geriatric who was once a passing success……or stuff like the spice girls and Take that…..

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