First, Caterham F1 undergo a very public break-up with their founder. Then, they start a crowd-funding campaign online and make their own hashtag on social media to get to Abu Dhabi. Their slow demise and final desperate attempt at survival has been met with cynicism from the rest of the paddock. And yet they’ve raised over £540,000 through their crowd-funding platform in the two days since it was announced.
According to Sky F1, the reason given by F1 personnel for the probable failure of Caterham’s attempt is that fans pay to watch the sport, not bail teams out. But they fail to take into account the thoughts and feelings of the fans. Everybody has had, or will have, financial trouble at some point in their lives, but since 2008 more people have been feeling the strain. The awful feeling of being desperately in debt and unable to pay their bills resonates with more of the sport’s fan base than the people in charge would like to acknowledge.
Furthermore, social media has brought Formula One – and the main players in the drama – into our living rooms and offices on a daily basis. Many fans, particularly those who live near the factories, have at least one friend who works for a team. ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ applies in our community, except it’s probably less than six degrees. There were many fans who offered emotional support via private message to team members during the mass redundancies this year. It distressed the community – in a way that nobody could discuss on social media or in public forums – to hear about how the situation was handled.
Coming from the background of hearing bad news about the community and being unable to do anything, is it any wonder then that people have opened their wallets to Caterham? We should note that this is probably not a long-term solution to the team’s financial problems. Most fans have a personal budget to observe, and in all likelihood can’t afford a monthly contribution to Caterham, unless they register as a charity and make donations tax-deductible. Due to the complicated financial structures of a Formula 1 team, that is a highly unlikely option.
Most fans also understand how demotivating it is to have one’s work destroyed before our very eyes. For some, this destruction happened when someone knocked down their Lego towers as a child. For others, life has dealt more profound destructions of work done. But at our core, we all understand that to end a team before the end of a season is profoundly mean. They don’t get a final race to say goodbye. They don’t get a final chance to attract a new investor without Abu Dhabi. It would show an investor that the staff are motivated to work for the company if they’re willing to risk their professional reputations by asking for money online.
The fans who do give will experience the what some theorists call ‘the IKEA effect‘. By participating in saving Caterham, fans will feel more connected to the sport. Far from bringing the sport into disrepute, asking for financial contributions has given supporters the chance to make a difference in a sphere where they’re not normally afforded the opportunity.
By taking the very vulnerable step of asking for help from strangers, Caterham have brought the sport a step further into the twenty-first century. Tech gurus are telling us that the future of personal devices is customisation – the ability to have a choice about some features of your device. Caterham have opened a small window for smaller companies to get their logos on an F1 car. Usually, one needs five figures or more to sponsor a car. Now, for £2,000, you can get your logo on their car for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. For some companies, it may be their entire marketing budget for the year, but when they see the picture of their logo on the car, they’ll feel pride knowing that they did their bit for a team while reaching a global audience with their brand.
So let the cynics be cynics. Every bold step taken will have a crowd of people predicting doom. Caterham deserve the chance to go out either, as Bon Jovi would say, in a blaze of glory, or in a way that attracts an investor who sees them as the plucky little team who refused to roll over and die.
Neuroscientists say that surviving cancer is the surest way to achieve life satisfaction; the staff of Caterham have the chance to survive retrenchment and administration in a way that would inspire every fan who’s ever been retrenched or turned over to the debt collectors. I wish them all the best in reaching their fund-raising target.