I’ve been on a motorsports kick lately, what with Le Mans coming up and the Indy 500 in our rearview. I’ll even be attending an F1 race this year, but it won’t be Las Vegas. It’s clear F1 Vegas is going to be the party-to-end-all-parties for people who are richer or cooler than I am, which is not a high bar to clear. With race packages topping out at $5 million, the question is: who is this race for, exactly? If you’re not into motorsports, I’ll also touch on the return of Chinese car-incentives, a Consumer Reports plea to standardize crash alerts, and a big UAW fight that’s coming over battery jobs.
F1 Las Vegas Will Be The Most Expensive F1 Race
Saying your F1 race will be the most expensive F1 race is a little like saying you’ve got the biggest Hummer. It is a superlative on top of a superlative. I’m not sure there’s a cheap F1 race, but there are plenty of pricy affairs. There’s the Monaco Grand Prix, which is effectively a parade running between a wealthy principality and a yacht show. There’s the sexy beach party that is Miami. Hell, Stef Schrader did a great job in her article talking about how the F1 race in Austin is not as much for car fans as it is for the elite of the elite.
That the costs for F1 Vegas are going to be outrageous is no surprise. My pal Jenna Fryer had a great writeup last year that previewed what was coming:
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali told The Associated Press the Las Vegas Grand Prix will be the most expensive fan experience on next year’s 24-race calendar, particularly from a VIP experience.
Tickets were scheduled to go on sale late Saturday night with the price of admission starting at $500 for a three-day general admission pass. Those seats were only added after fans complained that hotels planned to purchase massive ticket blocks and repackage them\
Another pal, Hannah Elliott, has an even bigger roundup of the $5 million experiences, crazy events, and other excitement around the event in Bloomberg.
“I don’t know anyone who’s going to Vegas who’s not involved in F1, media or with a brand,” says Lily Herman, who writes the F1 culture newsletter Engine Failure. “These Grand Prix weekends have become more like music festivals in terms of the vibe, the money spent. I don’t know an average Joe American going on a median individual salary to Vegas.”
Meanwhile, Vegas is “an easy sell to stakeholders,” says Vincenzo Landino, who writes a motor sports newsletter called the Qualifier. The Clark County Commission’s landmark decision on Feb. 8 to grant permission for the race to be staged on the Strip until 2032 only strengthens the appeal, he says.
This delta between the audience that brands want to reach directly and the broader actual F1 fan base has created a dynamic in which high rollers flock to glitzy cities such as Vegas and Miami for weekend-long orgies of opulence. Meanwhile, devotees of the sport who follow weekly standings and geek out over their favorite drivers—but lack access to corporate boondoggles—save their money to attend one race a year in a less expensive market, or don’t go at all. To wit: Netflix Inc.’s gossipy F1 documentary series, Drive to Survive, has pushed the sport’s popularity perhaps more than any other single activator. Still, half of the platform’s subscribers make less than $50,000 annually; an additional 30% make less than $100,000.
The Formula E race in Brooklyn was a lot of fun the two times I went, even if it felt more like a business conference than an actual race. Liberty Media, owners of F1, are an in interesting position here. It’s done an incredible job of making people in the United States care about F1 and has given us three races within our borders and two nearby (Mexico City and Montreal). We’ve got two street courses and one honest-to-goodness real track. Everyone is talking about the sport. The flipside, as Stef pointed out, is that regular fans without a huge amount of disposable income can get pushed to the side a little.
Currently, it seems like the Vegas and Miami races are for: rich people, celebrities, the media, and fans who are wealthy enough to afford a ticket. Austin F1 is a little more affordable and seems to attract a lot of new followers of the sport. The Bloomberg piece mentions that European races are less expensive and so it’s sometimes easier to just make a trip elsewhere if you’re an obsessed fan.
The pendulum will probably swing back towards affordability once the hype dies down and, hopefully, Liberty Media can find the sweet spot between popularity and approachability. In the interim, it’s hard to blame them for making money while the money is there.
Consumer Reports: Automakers Shouldn’t Charge For Automatic Crash Reporting
Consumer Reports is in the interesting position of being a non-profit news agency backed by regular folks (and some rich, mostly progressive people). In addition to reporting on toasters and cars and such, the magazine also has advocacy as a part of its mission. The latest target? Automatic crash notification systems.
Currently, most new vehicles have some sort of automatic crash notification system that alerts the authorities if there’s an accident. Here’s an analysis from Consumer Reports on the availability of crash detection across the market. Right now Acura/Honda, Hyundai, JLR, Mazda, Audi, Polestar, Porsche, and Volvo offer this for free on their vehicles for life. If you get a Jeep, Kia, Lexus, Mercedes, Ram, Toyota or Volkswagen, you get it for a period of 5-to-10 years on most or all vehicles from those brands.
Everyone else charges at some point before five years or doesn’t offer the technology at all. This is bad. This should be free. Consumer Reports thinks doing so would save 700 lives a year. According to The Detroit News, there’s a big campaign coming to convince the holdouts to make this a widely available and free feature:
“People injured in a crash shouldn’t have critical medical care delayed because they choose not to pay for features like remote start or a mobile hot spot,” said William Wallace, Consumer Reports’ associate director of safety policy. “It’s one thing for automakers to charge extra for conveniences, but this is about safety, and safety isn’t optional.”
[Editor’s Note: I’d have to think about this a little more. I’m fine with this particular tech being free (and in general I don’t like subscriptions for car features), but I’m not sure I agree entirely with CR’s broad point about “safety shouldn’t be optional” (Even though I understand that aligns with one of CR’s main missions). I think there’s no limit to how many safety features an automaker can offer, and to require every one to be free doesn’t seem reasonable, and could disincentivize an automaker from developing it in the first place. This is a complex topic, of course. -DT].
The Chinese Government Is Doing Incentives Again
One of the default positions of late capitalism and quasi-capitalist controlled markets like China share is that the graph always has to go up-and-to-the-right. This means that there always has to be growth, because it’s someone’s job to make growth occur. Grow, grow, grow. This isn’t sustainable, of course, and rather than try to flatten towards an average, instead, societies under these economies have to endure large and costly downward shocks followed by quick upswings that don’t often benefit everyone proportionally.
I mentioned earlier this week that Chinese suppliers were complaining that the sudden loss of demand due to the lack of incentives meant those suppliers were getting squeezed. The solution? Incentives are back, bay-bee.
The commerce ministry said it would coordinate and push local authorities to roll out targeted policies and measures in favour of car consumption. Financial institutions will be encouraged to introduce measures to boost lending for auto purchases, it said.
The campaign will target multiple car sales categories including both new and secondhand vehicles, it added, and push to replace gasoline cars with new energy vehicles (NEVs) such as battery-driven cars and plug-in petrol-electric hybrids.
It’s their country and we’re not ones to talk, but the world turned orange outside my window yesterday and the sun became an eerie phosphorescent copper color so I’m not super excited to read sentences like “targeted policies and measures in favour of car consumption.” At least they’re hybrids and electric cars, I guess.
The UAW Is Rushing To Help Battery Workers
With the rush to build as many battery plants as possible is also a campaign by the United Auto Workers (UAW) to secure fair wages for those individuals. None of this is going to be straightforward or easy, and it could be a plant-by-plant fight, especially given that these new facilities need fewer workers-per-vehicle than traditional automotive production facilities.
The dispute could be lengthy and complex, since the 18,000 or so workers those carmakers — General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis — plan to hire in the U.S. will work for a patchwork of joint ventures not covered by existing labor contracts. The new corporate structures also mean the UAW might have to craft new deals for each plant.
The outcome of the negotiations, due to kick off in July and accelerate in the fall, could have far-reaching consequences — not just for auto workers sweating the move to electrification. As producers of everything from EV batteries to semiconductors, along with miners and processors of lithium, try to bring manufacturing back to the U.S., unions will fight to represent a new generation of workers doing jobs that moved abroad decades ago.
I’m a union man so you’ll get nothing but solidarity from me. The Inflation Reduction Act (and CHIPS Act) should result in foreign manufacturing coming back to the United States for the first time in generations so it makes sense that the UAW sees this as an existential issue.
The Big Question
When was the last time you went to a race? Are you going to a race soon? Do you care, at all, about motorsports? If not, why not?
Photos: Petronas F1, BYD
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