The Formula 1 season got off to a great start in Melbourne a month ago. The Australian Grand Prix is always a great one to kick the new season off. It remains and should remain, in my view, the best way to open the new Formula 1 chapter each year.
The whole weekend has a back to school feel, that sense of anticipation ahead of seeing the cars on track for real with their new looks, liveries and brands, As the cultural and, self-proclaimed, sporting hub of Australia, Melbourne doesn’t disappoint. A few things jumped out over that GP weekend which merit some mention and discussion. Let’s do that.
A surprising lack of pre-season hype
There was a time when Formula 1 team launches marked the start of the season and teams would make a big deal of their new machines and drivers. It’s hard to tell whether the recent trend towards dull launches is in response to budgets or to the media.
It’s fair to say that the sponsor dollars haven’t been rolling in as they have in the past and traditionally the bigger launches were funded by big brands looking to make a splash. I also find the teams to be nervous around the media nowadays. Any comment is ripped apart, technical teams that dare to consult their crystal balls are crucified when their proclamations do not come true, resulting in bland launches. Renault tried to do it right and almost got it right. The multi-channel broadcast was a success and allowed Renault and Formula 1 fans ample chance to catch it. In the new era of the sport, the launch is an opportunity for hype after the quiet of Christmas and New Year. Football with the transfer windows have done this; Formula 1 needs to entertain more and the launches should be an area for an easy win.
Formula 1 needs to entertain more and the launches should be an area for an easy win.
Force India in pink
I loved it and I still talk about it with people. The first I heard of it was a few weeks prior to the announcement, like many. At that time, it seemed unfathomable, but since the brand had done similar in DTM, it was a distinct possibility. Well, they did it and well done for doing so. Perhaps SFI can up the ante and increase the pinkness on the car, Red Bull have gone for some pretty intense reds and yellows on their car and drivers kit, which looks great. Over the Grand Prix weekend, the jury seemed to be out on whether this was an inspired PR stunt or an abject failure and the team selling out.
For most commercial folk, the biggest issue was the value of the deal and the amount of real estate the brand in question had been given for the investment. Some big numbers were then thrown around, so I hope the deal represents value for money for the team.
The Australian GP leads the way in fan experience
The racing event has a festival vibe whilst hosting a motorsport event. This year, again the event stepped up. Liberty Media execs attending might be fooled into believing all Formula 1 events are like this. Australia should form a major part of the blueprint for Liberty when reimagining the fan experience at the track. The staff and volunteers were friendly, efficient and effective. The park had something for everyone, from a major Heineken bar area with live music stage, street food stalls instead of the usual burger joints and for the younger generation, there was an impressive Disney showpiece demonstrating that the quieter engines are encouraging families to attend the GPs (the technical working group needs to keep this in mind when redesigning the engines for 2021.)
It wasn’t just off-track that the Australian GP demonstrate they’re ahead of the rest of the Formula 1 field, barely 20 minutes would pass without something happening on the track. Superscars, GT cars, historic demonstrations, speed comparison demonstrations and then there was the aerial showpieces each day with the RAAF Roulettes and the FAA18 Jet display. The Aussies did it right. Others should take note.
F1 Cities do little to embrace the sport and publicise its presence. Formula 1 in turn does little to take the sport to the public either. This was evident in Australia, Shanghai and Bahrain too. Melbourne used to be a hub of Formula 1 activity around the weeks leading up to the event. Federation Square was turned into a mini Formula 1 village branded vehicles were seen everywhere. If you were staying in the CBD in Melbourne, I dare say you didn’t even know Formula 1 was in town.
The F1 Fan Zone concept under Liberty Media has a real chance to transform this issue. The F1 Village should be located outside of the race track and the brands activating should be in both locations. Global partners of the sport should be encouraged to be present in both locations. UEFA Champions League, FIFA World Cup and the Olympics should be the standard for these types of activities.
The jury seemed to be out on whether this was an inspired PR stunt or an abject failure and the team selling out.
Once again, the prancing horse is at the pointy end of the grid and on the top step of the podium. There was a renewed enthusiasm over the Australian GP, hope of better racing in 2017 and perhaps a real multi-team championship battle. Well, three races in, that’s the case so far! If the Red Bulls can raise their game, and Ferrari’s in-season development doesn’t drop off following the departure of James Allison to Mercedes, then perhaps 2017 could be a vintage year and Liberty Media can pat themselves on the back for a job well done.
This new initiative was rolled out in Melbourne, the branding could be seen far and wide. F1 Experiences offer the corporate packages to the public. This in principal is fine, however the reason the Formula 1 Paddock Club works is because it’s a networking hotspot and a place for business. Today, corporate compliance is a bigger issue than ever, accepting invitations to events is becoming harder for large corporates. Brands that partner with Formula 1 have to work hard to demonstrate the business rationale behind these invitations. By opening up this environment there is a real risk the whole thing will be diluted. There is a place for a public hospitality offering, perhaps a lower cost point of entry in a separate hospitality location, but looking at the packages online only the super-rich can apply for now.
All in all, 2017 should be a great year for Formula 1. The changes that Liberty Media can make quickly affect the fan experience mostly. This on-event and social/digital media change will have a huge impact on how the sport is perceived going forwards. The other changes to access, regulations and broadcast agreements will take longer. Let’s hope they can fast track some of the other elements and deliver on what many are hoping for.