We meet Rob Sinfield, F1 Columnist at DriveTribe.com and creator of www.GrandPrixDiary.com to chat to him about how he sees the sport and business of Formula 1 evolving. You can find Rob on Twitter – @GrandPrixDiary.
You constantly work with Formula 1 – is the public image of it changing?
I’m not sure. The diehard fans will always watch it; we may have the occasional moan but it will take a lot to make us miss a race. I think the issue is with those who can take it or leave it and from my experience of doing what I can to convince them to give Formula 1 a go, the same opinions always come up – “you always know who is going to win”, “there’s no overtaking”, “nothing happens after the start” and so forth. With Formula 1 soon to be almost exclusively on pay-to-view, I don’t know how to attract those waverers to pay for something they need to be convinced by. Social media, being free, is a crucial tool to get new fans on board.
From your own experience, has Formula 1 changed since Liberty Media took over?
I haven’t noticed much change yet, though I have to say I feel a bit more comfortable writing some of the things I do under the new regime. There were subjects I absolutely avoided, knowing that the next time I needed a paddock pass, they might come back to haunt me! I think we need to give Liberty time to get it right, they will not change the way a sport has been run for forty years overnight. Maybe their focus is too much on the celebrity side and there is a feeling that they want to “Americanise” it. However, they pay more attention to fan interaction and a relaxing of some of the ludicrously draconian rules on social media which are a good sign.
Social media, being free, is a crucial tool to get new fans on board.
What’s the role of social media in the sport today?
Social media and in particular Twitter have changed Formula 1 for the fans hugely over the last few years, and all for the better. Sure, there are some teams and drivers who don’t really get it, check out the utterly dreadful Grand Prix Drivers Association account for example but on the whole it really works. You just have to look at how the likes of Renault and Mercedes engage with fans to see how well it can be done.
Is there something Formula 1 could learn from other series in terms of fan engagement?
Yes. Over the years, Bernie Ecclestone made it harder for fans to get anywhere near the stars and cars and a paddock pass was a thing of dreams. Sure, this had the desired result (for him) of pushing the rate card up but it pushed the real fans away to the outskirts. Look at the difference if you attend a BTCC or WEC event or compare the access fans get to IndyCar and NASCAR drivers, they are worlds apart. Liberty Media’s F1 Experience packages at races for most people are eye-wateringly expensive, however their London show was a masterstroke.
What would you yourself do to win over new territories for the sport – Asia or the USA, for example?
It would be expensive, a logistical nightmare and all of the drivers would have to buy into it but more free events such as F1 Live London in places where Formula 1 is not so strong is surely a good investment. Put on a cracker of a free show in somewhere like Las Vegas, schedule a race for the following year and get the people in with decent ticket prices and with some clever promotional work, half the job is done but as I keep saying, it has to be within peoples means, a grandstand ticket costing upwards of £200 each when a family of four want to attend won’t do it.