Formula 1 vs. Formula E: which has the worst gimmick?

Abu Dhabi F1 2013

Formula E's fan Boost or F1's double points in Abu Dhabi - which series is stretching its credibility most?

The motorsport community's reaction to the inaugural Formula E race last weekend was largely positive. It had an impressive grid of drivers, some decent racing, and we were even treated to a grandstand finish as Nico Prost pitched Nick Heidfeld into a terrifying final-corner accident.

There were a few inevitable teething issues. The fact that drivers must change car mid-race looks ridiculous and does nothing to enhance the series' green credentials. However this is a short-term solution; in a few years time, the technology should have moved on sufficiently to allow for one car to last a full race.

But one of the main complaints about the series is something they dreamt up all by themselves: Fan Boost. To get closer to the action, the viewing public is able to vote for their favourite driver, with the top three each receiving a five-second power boost during the race.

Precious few fans seem to think this is a good idea; even those who voted appeared to do so for the novelty value.

And aside from the three winners being announced on Saturday, it seemed to go unmentioned during the race. You would think that, having implemented the system, there would be more noise made about it; you would think that we might be told when the winning drivers were using their Fan Boost, so as to bring the voters closer still to the action. Ultimately Fan Boost felt contrived, like something dreamt up by a focus group who don't know a great deal about motor racing.

Nevertheless, Formula E made a bright start, despite a few flaws. But F1 shouldn't be too worried about it just yet. The current grand prix campaign has been brilliantly exciting - and only looks set to get better - with Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg battling for the title.

Add to that a monopoly on the best drivers, teams and tracks, as well as heritage that you simply can't buy, and it’s clear that F1 rules the roost.

But it has its own dreadful gimmicks - namely DRS and double points at this year's Abu Dhabi season finale. Are these worse than Fan Boost, or is F1 superior in that department, too?

The biggest criticism of Fan Boost is that it's simply a popularity contest, which is absolutely not what motor racing should be about. It should be about the fastest man or woman in the best-prepared car; there should be no outside interference beyond what happens on the circuit.

It is also biased towards drivers who come from populous countries with a significant racing heritage. It is no surprise that two Brazilians (population 200 million, huge racing heritage) were among the winners this time out; conversely, it is unlikely that Sebastien Buemi of Switzlernad (population 8 million, minimal racing heritage) will ever receive it.

Let's not get entirely bogged down in negativity. Formula E's gimmick could be seen as a genuine, if slightly misguided, attempt to embrace a generation of fans who are used to seeing their will exercised on TV through voting. When you have grown up in a world where everything appears to be a talent contest, perhaps you expect sport to be the same. Formula E is reaching for a group of fans Formula 1 has not yet tapped into. Perhaps they are being very smart.

So what about F1's gimmick? In the interest of fairness, let's focus on just one, double points in Abu Dhabi. DRS is horribly artificial too, but it is at least fair. Everyone has access to the system and it is regulated by perfectly reasonable rules. While we many feel it has no place at the pinnacle of motorsport, it cannot be accused of giving anyone an unfair advantage in the way Fan Boost does.

Somehow, double points are worse still. Perhaps that is because their chief aim is nothing to do with sport. Let's drop the pretence and agree that the idea is primarily to ensure that Abu Dhabi - which pays an absolute fortune to host the season-closing grand prix - receives value for its money. Double points makes it less likely that the world title will be decided before the final race, meaning a great deal more people should tune in to see the grand prix at Yas Marina.

Put simply, it is about keeping a customer happy; the fans' views have no baring whatsoever. This has been repeatedly demonstrated throughout the season, with the F1 community consistently voicing their opposition to the change and the sport completely ignoring them. Instead they have moved to ban performance-related radio messages, a slight annoyance but nothing compared with double points.

Why? Because no one has a vested financial interest in radio messages. They are easy to ban as the only people they upset are the teams, who are expendable so long as the sanctioning fees continue flowing in from circuits. On the other hand, Bernie can not call the Abu Dhabi promoters and tell them he's ditching double points; that would be a shoddy way to treat a customer, and that is what all this is about.

Even putting the motive aside, double points becomes no less ugly. It makes Abu Dhabi the most important race of the season, a bizarre message to send which implies it is twice as important as Monaco, Monza or Spa. Indeed, you'd get more points for finishing third at Yas Marina than for winning on the streets of Monte Carlo. Surely that is not right.

It is hard not to conclude that, of the two series, F1 has adopted the worse gimmick in double points. It is worryingly cynical, emblematic of a sport that cares more about money than its fans and which has the arrogance to ignore overwhelming opposition. Fan Boost doesn't have that; it is trying, whether we agree with it or not, to include fans. Most of its detractors would probably call it silly, not cynical.

Fortunately, neither has to blight its respective series for long. But with news that Abu Dhabi will host next season's F1 finale, it is easy to believe that double points will be back for 2015.

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