Mehul Kapadia, managing director of Tata Communications’ F1 business, catches up with the Paddock magazine about his company’s relationship with the sport and also touches on his fantasy Formula 1 team!
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Mehul, what’s your work with Formula 1 like today?
Well, Tata Communications is the Official Connectivity Provider of Formula 1. So, we work the sport to connect each of the Grand Prix locations to our global, secure, superfast network to bring every moment of every race to millions of fans around the world. And, Formula 1’s IT infrastructure and Formula1.com are hosted in our data centres around the world.
The organisation uses our data centres in a range of ways, including computing storage space for video content and live timing data for the website. Not only that – over the last five years, but we’ve also laid the foundations for the sport’s digital transformation to help Formula 1 bring fans closer to the action through more immersive and engaging race experiences.
Wherever Formula 1 decides to go next, we’ll help make it there.
Has the business relationship between Tata Communications and Formula 1 changed over the years?
We got involved in the sport to use it as a capability showcase for our B2B enterprise customers. As this is such a fast-paced and technologically advanced environment, it’s a great way for us to show that “if we can do it for Formula 1, we can do it for anyone”.
During the last five seasons, we’ve developed a very close and collaborative relationship with Formula 1 as a business and extended our expertise to all areas of the sport – working closely with Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport and around 20 broadcasters too.
We’re not a sponsor in the traditional sense, and it’s fair to say that there’s no other tech company that plays such a central role in the sport. That, and our close relationship with Formula 1, gives us the opportunity to shape what the future of the sport could look like. Together with Formula 1, we we’ve tested in action technologies like 4K and live 360-degree video to show how the fan experience could be taken to the next level. And, together with Formula 1 and the Mercedes team, we crowdsource ideas from fans for applications using technologies like virtual reality and Internet of Things that could enhance Formula 1 in some way. This annual competition, F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize – with a panel of judges that includes Formula 1 experts such as Lewis Hamilton, Ross Brawn and Martin Brundle – is a unique platform for fans to contribute to the future of the sport. It’s also a unique platform for the Formula 1 ecosystem to come together and explore what that future could be like.
How do you see the modifications Liberty Media is making to the sport so far?
Liberty Media and the new management at Formula 1 have come in with a lot of energy and a spirit of innovation which has been great to see. The last five seasons have been all about us working closely with Formula 1 to lay the foundations for what’s to come – and I think now the sport is at the cusp of a new digital era. There is a huge opportunity for Formula 1 to harness the latest digital innovations to transform how people at home and at the track are able to immerse themselves in the action. For example, how could the sport use ubiquitous Wi-Fi and mobile apps to add an extra layer of excitement to watching a race live at the track? What digital platforms hold the key to capture new audiences in the next 5, 10, 20 years? These are the big questions which both Liberty Media and Formula 1 leadership are asking – and we’re ready for the challenge to help answer them.
Mr Vinod Kumar, CEO of Tata Communications, is constantly in the Top 100 Most Powerful People In F1 list that we make annually. In your opinion, what factors matter the most in order to have influence in this sport?
The key to having influence in Formula 1 is somewhat similar to any industry. You’re more likely to have influence if you’re involved throughout the entire ecosystem. Today we work with the company that runs the sport, the team that wins the sport as well as the many broadcasters who take the sport to the fans globally.
What started out five years ago as us connecting each of the Grand Prix locations to our global network and providing backend IT infrastructure for Formula 1, has since extended to delivering crucial race data for the Mercedes team and bringing the racing action to people’s homes worldwide through more than 20 broadcasters.
Due to the central role we play at the very heart of Formula 1, we’re increasingly helping to shape the future of the sport too. The annual F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize and the many technology trials we’ve done with Formula 1, the Mercedes team and Sky, for example, demonstrate how we’re using our influence to help the entire F1 ecosystem to innovate, which will benefit the sport as a whole.
Formula 1 is gradually expanding in North America. What other markets do you think the sport should explore right now?
The sport has such global appeal already, it’s hard to say! But wherever Formula 1 decides to go next, we’ll help make it there.
Together with Formula 1 and the Mercedes team, we crowdsource ideas from fans for applications using technologies like virtual reality and the Internet of Things that could enhance the sport.
How do you see the old European races – should they stay on the calendar or should Formula 1 keep expanding to new territories?
Formula 1 is a sport that is steeped in tradition – on a race day in somewhere like Monza or Silverstone, you can still feel special energy where history has been made over the decades. At the same time, it’s a sport with growing global appeal, thanks to more recent additions to the calendar like Azerbaijan.
Crucially, Formula 1 provides huge opportunities to use technology to enable fans anywhere to experience the exhilarating world of high-end motor racing in new ways. Take live 360-degree video, for example: imagine during a race, as a driver pulls into the pits for a tyre change, fans could complement the action on TV with a live 360-degree view on their tablet of everything that is happening in the pit lane in real-time. It’s about augmenting the Formula 1 experience and enabling fans to experience the action almost as if they were there. We’re excited about working together with Formula 1 to create these new experiences and help the sport grow its global fan base through digital platforms.
Personally, what are you most looking forward in terms of racing itself in 2018?
I’m already looking forward to 2018, to my favourite race, Singapore – home to our International HQ and where we often test the latest digital technologies in action. The idea of an entire country coming together to collectively enjoy a fabulous spectacle exhilarates me. And, because it’s a street race with not an inch of real-estate space spare anywhere, it poses its own technical challenges which keep us on our toes! That’s also why Monaco is my favourite European race.
Who would you pick as your Formula 1 fantasy team’s first driver and Team Principal?
I’d pick Lewis Hamilton for my fantasy team. There have been some wonderful drivers over the years, but I’m a bit biased because I have had the pleasure of meeting Lewis several times given he’s one of the judges of the F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize. His enthusiasm, dedication and obsession with the sport are infectious. He’s genuinely passionate about driving the sport forward and bringing the sport closer to its fans. My Team Principal would be Ross Brawn. He was instrumental in coming up with championship-winning race strategies for so many teams – both as an engineer and as a team principal – including all Michael Schumacher’s seven world titles. A special mention also goes to Frank Williams who has held his position at Williams since 1977 and overseen some extremely exciting Formula 1 cars and teams.