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SHOULD FORMULA1

STOP TREATING CRASHES AS ENTERTAINMENT?

Daniel Ricciardo has never been one to keep quiet when something’s on his mind, and in a recent interview the Aussie has spoken out about how distasteful he finds FORMULA 1’s use of crash footage to draw in viewers. Calling F1 ‘*beep*ing idiots’ for using crashes in promotional material and Top 10 lists, he was not shy in telling them to ‘do better’.

This isn’t the first time he’s called them out on it either - after Romain Grosjean’s horrific crash at Bahrain last year, Danny Ric was one of several drivers who vocally disapproved of the constant replays of the incident in the paddock. He’s on record as saying he was ‘disgusted and disappointed’ after the drivers and teams in the paddock were subjected to repeats of the crash from every angle. He pointed out how unfair it was to keep showing the replays when drivers were expected to get back in the cars and compete - and also how horrible it must have been for Romain’s family to keep watching it over and over. He accused FORMULA 1 of messing with people’s emotions, saying ‘it’s not entertainment’.

'DO BETTER'

F1 defended the decision to show extensive replays at the time, pointing out that no crash footage was shown until they knew that not only was Romain ok, but also that no marshals had been hurt in the accident. Nothing was shown until Romain was seen sitting in the FiA medical car, helmet off and talking with the medics. And, to be fair, how else were they meant to fill an hour of airtime while they got ready to restart the race? The problem is that the broadcast footage is the same as the footage shown in the paddock, and drivers don’t always want to see what the viewers at home see. 

 

It must be mentally exhausting for drivers to watch a crash on that scale. Romain walking away from a car that had ploughed through a barrier, sheared in half, and burst into flames, was a miracle. The drivers know that is the risk they take, and that if it happened to them there may not be a miracle. Sebastian Vettel said that after watching the crash once, he didn’t watch it again, and he did not want to get back in a car that day. He did, because it’s his job, and it’s what they do, but he didn’t want to. And I don’t think anyone can blame him for that. Daniel’s point was fair, that it was messing with the drivers’ emotions, and made it harder for them to do their job. It treated the risk they take as entertainment. 

IT LOOKED TERRIFYING AND IMMENSE, BUT WE KNEW BOTH DRIVERS WERE UNINJURED

It is odd how crashes in motorsports are often seen as part of the entertainment - at least until the unthinkable happens. We’ve all seen the footage of Fernando Alonso’s McLaren flying over Charles Leclerc’s head back at Spa in 2018 dozens of times - because it looked terrifying and immense, but we knew both drivers were uninjured in the incident. If anything that crash is particularly memorable as one of the first clear examples of how safety developments - in the form of the halo this time - have come so far that drivers can walk away from huge incidents without even a scratch. 

 

The entertainment value of crashes is especially amped up in Netflix’s Drive To Survive, where we were treated in both seasons to scenes of cars going sideways into walls, crashing into each other, and flipping over. Most of an entire episode was dedicated to the Bahrain crash, with Romain dubbed ‘The Man on Fire’. There’s no getting away from the fact that the risk of danger in F1 is part of the watchability, part of the draw. We are fans of racing because we want to see top drivers pushing their skills and their cars to the limit, and sometimes that will result in crashes. And most of the time those crashes result in overtime for the engineering team, but nothing more than bruises and embarrassment for the drivers, which is why we feel like it’s not a big deal to see replay after replay of an accident. Nowadays motorsport is relatively safe, and that means we’ve become a bit immune to the sight of crashes. If anything, we worry when they cut away from a crash, because it means there’s something they don’t want us to see.

CRASHES ARE PART OF RACING, AND THEY ARE ALSO PART OF THE FASCINATION AND EXCITEMENT OF THE SPORT

Notably with Anthoine Hubert’s fatal accident in 2019, it was obvious very quickly that the crash was a bad one, and very little footage was shown officially after the initial live feed cut. Any footage that was shown in the days afterwards was always cut in advance of the impact. It was used somberly, and with respect, and I don’t remember there being any criticism of how FORMULA1 handled it. However, that didn’t stop non-official sources from sharing multiple angles of the crash on YouTube in videos racking up millions of views. No matter how an accident is handled officially, there will always be ghouls out there who just have to see the crash footage. The difference is, that’s a choice they make - and no one is making anyone seek out and watch that footage. The drivers aren’t forced to see it while they are meant to be psyching themselves up to get in a car. 

 

FORMULA1 could certainly handle crash footage better than they currently do. Romain’s crash was particularly bad, because they had so long to wait until the track was ready for the race to restart and nothing else to talk about on air. However, we - and the drivers - have to accept that crashes are part of racing, and they are also part of the fascination and excitement of the sport. No one watches FORMULA1 just to see crashes, but they are moments of adrenaline and fear and intensity that do make audiences hold their breath, shout out loud, and marvel at the courage and strength it takes for F1 drivers to get in their cars each weekend. They are an important part of the F1 story. A balance needs to be struck, so viewers can see what happens, and experience the rush and the drama of racing at the top level, but also so it’s clear that the crashes aren’t what FORMULA1 is all about. F1 has missed that mark recently, and Daniel Ricciardo is right to call them out on it. They can do better. And hopefully they will.