How F1 has fans “wired up” to test emotions during races

Formula 1’s depth of research to try to improve the sport has gone as far as monitoring skin responses of fans to work out what really excites those who watch races, Pat Symonds has revealed.

Speaking on stage at the Autosport International Show on Thursday about where the sport was heading, F1’s chief technical officer said the level of analysis was going as far as monitoring the emotional arousal of fans who had been wired up in front of screens.

“We absolutely are focused on what’s good for the sport and what makes a good race,” explained Symonds. “You’d be amazed at the amount of analysis we’re doing on that.

“It’s even down to things like we have people who are wired up while they watch races, and we look at that galvanic skin response to see their emotions while they’re watching races. From that we’re starting to understand what are the things that are important.

“The human galvanic skin response refers to changes in the sweat gland activity that reflects the intensity of emotions – so judges properly how excited people are at a specific moment.”

F1 was using its research to analyse all aspects of the rules to evaluate what elements of a grand prix work and what elements perhaps take away from the spectacle.

Symonds added: “Safety cars are a very good example, because sometimes they enliven the race and sometimes they kill the race. 

“So it is looking at all these various research areas that we’re doing, and the many others, to really start to build a picture of what makes good racing. And then we can try and design, not just the technical rules but also the sporting rules as well to ensure that we get a higher percentage of those good races.

“You’re not going to get 21 races like Germany last year, it’s not going to happen. But what you can do is you can ensure that you get 15 really good races, and the other six are pretty good as well.”

One element that F1 had understood was the need for a grand prix to evolve in a way that excitement peaked just before the chequered flag rather than in the early stages.

“It is actually a well-known psychological factor called peak effect,” said Symonds. “If the end of a race is good people judge the race as being good. If the middle of the race is good but the end of the race is a little bit predictable, they don’t judge it as highly. 

“We are aware of that. We’re working an awful lot with Mario [Isola from Pirelli] to try and figure out how we design the tyres that give this type of sporting spectacle that leads to this peak-end effect.” 

Symonds said that with much of the focus last year having been on framing the 2021 technical rules, more effort would now be put into looking at potential sporting regulation changes.

Pat Symonds

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

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