If you’ve taken even a passing interest in Formula One’s visit to Las Vegas at the weekend, you’ll have most likely been floored by the relentlessly positive PR coming out of F1 HQ.
The most amazing event you’ll ever see? Of course! Why wouldn’t it be?
In the end, the world’s fastest sport’s visit to the city that never sleeps was a success – glitz, glamour and, arguably, the best race of a predictable season.
But it also showed a side to the sport’s commercial arm which it would rather people don’t see – namely how it neglects the vital skill of crisis communications.
The weekend in Sin City got off to the most inauspicious of starts, with first practice halted after just eight minutes, when a drain cover worked itself loose and damaged several cars.
Eventually, the organisers managed to get the cars out on track at 3am (yes, you read that right), by which time, contractors on site for crowd safety had been sent home, and the fans were dispatched with them.
Sorry seems to be the hardest word
When F1 eventually issued a statement, not one word of it was “sorry”. Not one ounce of contrition was shown to the fans, who in many cases will have spent thousands of dollars to be there. The offer of a voucher to spend in F1’s shop was dismissed as derisory, with any suggestion of compensation quickly discounted.
It’s been pointed out by many commentators that F1 can’t be seen to admit fault in a country such as the United States, where lawsuits are ten a penny. But what the sport can do is treat its paying customers with much more respect than it has.
There are two possible scenarios here. Either F1 knows it should be handling this crisis better, but feels very limited in what it can publicly say about the issue, or it genuinely believes the statement it has issued deals with the huge disappointment its customers have experienced.
Bluntly, neither option is really acceptable. Any statement in this situation should really see the organisation fall on its sword, but it doesn’t even come close.
When is a race not a race?
F1 has form in this area. As recently as 2021, a farcical Belgian Grand Prix saw zero racing laps completed, but a full result was swiftly declared. Many commentators felt this was F1’s way of avoiding paying out refunds to fans, who had sat for hours in pouring rain waiting for a race which was never going to happen.
What the whole saga demonstrates is that a sport and business which clearly feels ‘size is everything’ needs to back this up by looking after the people that put it there.
The vast growth of the sport through social media and Netflix is one of the reasons it could successfully float the idea of setting up a race in Vegas in the first place. If it then goes about alienating the very people who put it there, the idea of a 10-year residency in Vegas might go back to sounding like a pipe dream and not a reality.
Need advice on crisis communications for your business? Read our blog for advice explaining what PR crisis management is and how to formulate the perfect plan.