Formula 1: How to win the online race

Let’s be honest; US-based Formula One fans have to be devoted or insomniacs, or both. Formula One may be the world’s most prestigious and highest-profile category of four-wheel motorsport, but the endless expansion of the series’ calendar to far-flung destinations has made it increasingly difficult for American fans to keep up. What was once ostensibly a European-based series with a few exotic races thrown in now sports Grands Prix in destinations as far afield and diverse as Abu Dhabi, Japan, Malaysia and Bahrain. The 2015 calendar packs 19 races in as many countries between March and November, but fewer races than ever are held in US-friendly timezones.

With TV broadcasting rights for F1 tightly restricted and the 200-plus countries that televise the sport receiving the same cookie-cutter approach to vision provided by commercial rights holders Formula One Management (FOM), the web has become the primary alternative source of information for the sport’s devotees. But like the rules that govern the sport itself, following Formula One online can be confusing, a mess of dead-ends, faux Twitter accounts and tabloid press beat-up stories that can seemingly contradict themselves between paragraphs. The challenges for US-based fans are (a) where to get the best information from the coalface in a timely fashion, and (b) how to interact with the sport a long way from its beating heart in Europe. Fortunately, help is at hand – which is where I come in.

By way of background: I’m a British-born, Australian-raised and international freelance sports reporter who has covered F1 for close to two decades. As a fan of Formula One first – and a time-poor Formula One media person in my professional life – knowing where to go for my F1 online fix and where to avoid is something that has taken no small amount of research and plenty of trial and error over many years. And it’s only right that I share that knowledge with like-minded fans.

I’ve put together a Formula 1 News playlist on Speedette that’s a collection of the who’s who of the sport from a media perspective as well as the best sources of information for F1 news. It’s a news aggregator, for lack of a better term. Yes, it has room for improvement, as does Speedette – more on that later. But it’s simple to use and concise; better than that is its ability to cut through the sources that don’t matter to find the ones that do. So let me take you on a lap and point out some of the things I’ve included along the way.

Formula One is, at its core, a British sport; British drivers and teams dominate Formula One’s 65-year history books, and it’s no surprise that the best sources of F1 information originate from the UK. My Formula 1 News playlist taps into Autosport, long considered the oracle of the sport in print and web form, and while its news-gathering is impressive, its database may be even more so. FORIX, Autosport’s statistical hub, is quite staggering for its depth, while those with a technical mind or interested in the business side of the sport can engage with the likes of Craig Scarborough and Dieter Rencken, renowned world-over as the must-read writers in their respective fields. The BBC website and the F1 content offered by Sky Sports (which sends an army of staff – more than some of the F1 teams! – to every Grand Prix for some of the most comprehensive coverage of sport anywhere in the world) is also available at a click.

My colleagues in the travelling Formula One press corps have earned their stripes – F1 remains one of the most difficult sports to gain press access to – so reading the words and listening to the opinions of the true insiders is increasingly valuable as F1 teams remain more tight-lipped about their secrets of speed than ever. My Formula 1 News playlist taps into the blogs of the media kingpins: BBC Radio’s James Allen, a broadcaster who honed his skills working beneath the voice of F1 for so many decades, Murray Walker; Joe Saward, a renowned author with more than 40 years of Grands Prix under his belt and an endearing world-weary cynicism to his writing; premier newsbreaker Adam Cooper, whose blog is compulsory reading; former Williams and Ferrari team manager and long-time reporter, the encyclopaedic Peter Windsor; and Will Buxton, one of the more forthright younger writers in F1’s travelling troupe.

If Buxton’s name sounds familiar, it should; he’s been a key part of NBC’s coverage in the US for the past three years, and while NBC’s online presence could be better, Buxton’s personal blog more than makes up for its shortfalls. NBC could take heed of ESPN’s F1 offering; in a familiar template style that is the bedrock of all ESPN sites, the experienced Irish journalist Maurice Hamilton offers instant credibility and a global view of the sport along with a contacts list that ensures he has access to anyone in F1 that matters.

As those who have attended a Formula One race can attest, the passion and voices of the fans drive the following in the sport to a different level, and Keith Collantine’s F1 Fanatic blog might be the best of the many that have popped up in recent years. Its forum of like-minded fans are ever-ready to engage in a spirited discussion on the sport’s biggest issues, while Collantine’s exhaustive trawling of news sources prominent and obscure make his daily round-up posts essential reading.

That room for improvement I mentioned? Glad you asked. Yes, my Formula 1 News playlist has the stories behind the sport covered from the perspectives of the professionals and the enthusiasts. But if you’re looking for the sport’s drivers, ex-champions and insiders on social media, you won’t find it here – Speedette, as yet, has no Twitter interactivity. YouTube remains a black hole for F1 – FOM’s insistence at removing fan videos to protect its broadcasters at any cost is a constant bugbear for F1 fans – so don’t expect Speedette to fill that void. And it’s not just moving pictures that miss out; F1 is undoubtedly one of the world’s most spectacular sports photographically, but you won’t see any examples of that – or any photos at all – in the playlist. It’s words – and lots of them – and that’s all. For some, that may be a gripe – a minor one, but a gripe nonetheless.

Given the global reach of F1, the sport remains very much a made-for-TV product, which is a great shame as television arguably dumbs down Formula One more than any other sport. You don’t get the smell, the exhilaration, that otherworldly sensation of speed, that feeling when your heart beats that little bit faster when 20 cars capable of 200mph sit restlessly still on the starting grid, awaiting the start of a race and the frantic rush to the first corner, by sitting in your lounge room. There really is nothing like being there. And in the US, ‘there’ is a venue that looks set to stand the test of time.

F1 struggled to find a permanent home in the US for years before arriving at the spectacular Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in 2012; it’s an undulating, challenging track that hosts what has quickly become one of the sport’s best-attended races, while with Mexico City coming back onto the calendar this season after a 23-year absence, there are two Grands Prix within relatively easy reach for the hard-core American fans. But the time needed and expense incurred to attend a Grand Prix in person remains a stumbling block for many, which is where my Formula 1 News playlist comes in.

For a small investment of time and no financial outlay, it will help you cut to the chase. You’ll be better informed, need less coffee and be able to bank more sleep for those early-morning or late-night race start times as the sport criss-crosses the globe. Since I created it, the playlist has changed the way I interact with one of the most intriguing, complex sports of all. Try it. To my mind, and unlike F1 itself, everyone’s a winner.

Check out my Formula 1 News playlist

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