Business Strategists, Motorsport Marketers and Journalists based in UK, Mexico and Zimbabwe discuss developments in motorsport marketing and sponsorships. In Episode 16, we explored the following topics with these panellists:
Bridget Schuil (ZIM) – Bridget is the founder of Thrive Sanctuary, a motorsport niched personal growth brand. She also works as an ergonomic/ecosystem consultant and venture capitalist in Zimbabwe.
Rosa Elena Torres (MX) – Rosa is a driver PR/Media & is the third female journalist in motor racing in Mexico. She is a Mexican racing writer and has been published in several global racing magazines.
Hazel Southwell (UK) – Hazel is a motorsport journalist and has written for various publications including DriveTribe, Racefansdotnet and Jalopnik. She is also currently social media editor for @Digitalspy.
Dan Selby (UK) – Dan started his passion for design and motor racing through online gaming and has successfully turned this into a career after working for many years as a freelance graphic designer as well as spending time in the education sector. Dan also assists in the design of virtual race circuits for simulation, as well as the running of the in-house simulator itself.
Q1: Force India went into administration and re-emerged as Racing Point Force India. How was the process perceived and what is the potential implication on those involved?
Hazel Southwell (UK): It has being perceived as huge demonstration of what is wrong with Formula1 and how difficult it is to change the sport. I don’t think the Motorsport world realise how close to the brink it was to the end for Force India and that it was F1’s own regulations would prevent them to go racing.
Losing their (accrued WCC) points is one kind of the reason but the reason why they couldn’t go racing in Belgium was because that when they completed the sale – this is where it gets absurdly complicated – in terms of the legal entity or attributions. The British football and Premier League has some archaic rules (but they aren’t as bad as F1’s).
Dan Selby (UK): Most of the information I got was through international press. Of course it is a huge positive that hundreds of jobs have been saved but there’s a big issue with the prize money distribution – the fact that a team that finished 4th last year may not be able to finish this season. To me, it really highlights several issues that need to be dealt with very very quickly within the sport. It looks as though Lance Stroll is a shoe-in for a seat at the team so there has to be an element of bittersweet in that a fairly average driver is replacing a very talented one. [since this roundtable, Lance stroll has been confirmed by the team]
Bridget Schuil (ZIM): F1 has lost road-relevance as electric vehicles are about to take off and they have serious problems with the way millennials and Gen Z watch content. The number of premium TV subscribers under the age of thirty-five is lower than older generations, because they tend towards online distribution. F1 has several policies – broadcast rights, team phoenixing protocols, etc – that could do with simplification so that people can understand without an explanation in a dedicated YouTube video. On new business models, look at the rise of Uber and AirBnB. What F1 is offering at the moment is not at the same level of service and interpersonal transparency that other brands have achieved by being more agile regarding new technologies.
Rosa Elena Torres (MX): Perez was under a lot of stress these past few years – occasionally he skipped training sessions, he was doing some crazy work schedules. Here in Mexico city, they are very happy that he is still in F1.
Q2: F1 recently launched F1 Extreme Innovation programme which aims to provide an opportunity for the next generation of global C-suite executives to hear from MIT Sloan faculty researchers and F1 experts on successfully driving innovation, F1TV and F1Live— have you or your clients experienced these initiatives? How are they being received?
HS: Although F1TV has a few issues, it’s actually working well here in the UK. I think Liberty Media had decided to be more open (with content) but Sky has exclusive rights in the UK and next year, only the British Grand Prix will be shown live by Channel Four because it is costly to take the crew to races where they show only highlights.
One thing to note – The Engineered Insanity campaign doesn’t make sense and it is poorly made. The campaign was mostly aimed at millennials; but F1 is not chaotic; it is engineering to precision and that is what really appeals to young people. Unfortunately F1 is not doing a good job of marketing itself because not everyone realises F1 cars are hybrid or that they use batteries. Whereas in FormulaE, the commentators explain the format and the technology at the start of the races.
DS: I think Liberty has done a good job of expanding F1’s offerings and strengthening the brand, with Esports being a prime example of this. I actually became an F1 fan by playing the F1 game with my uncle. We’d play the game for hours until he’d say “let’s watch the San Marino Grand Prix” and it got to the point where I started tuning in as well because I feel I had got enough information from the game to be able to follow the sport. As much as that was 20 years ago, I’d like to think the same process still rings true to the younger generations today especially the fact that the games are so much more advanced. I think they’ve done a very good job in that regard.
I’ve subscribed to the F1TV Access archive, but there have been some growing pains – there needs to be more content for sure, but that’s to be expected in the early stages of a digital content network. Releasing the app (as opposed to being just web-based), was also a good move. It’s obviously very disappointing not to be able to stream the races live (due to living in the UK, which is currently covered by a Sky deal). In an ideal world, I’m sure Liberty Media would like to have a clean sheet of paper to do whatever they want to do (in terms of TV rights) – unfortunately, I think they are beginning to realise that that is just impossible to do so from a legal standpoint.
RET: There is one TV channel that started to show live races in Mexico but people have no issue finding other ways e.g. using VPN, to watch the content from other countries. In terms of Mexican Grand Prix prices, this year they are not selling as well as previous years so we don’t expect that a full crowd. It is still a cheaper to go to Texas to watch the race – actually three years ago, it was cheaper to fly to Monaco than to attend the Mexican Grand Prix. Also, it seems the new Sports minister doesn’t like motor racing – she made some comments that it was too expensive (to fund) so we’ll see how this affects the races.
BS: With regards to the MIT Sloan C-Suite Executive programme, I agree it is good to see Formula1 progressing in the right direction and they get full credit for embracing different learning platforms and starting to fill their own management pipeline. The only thing is: are they “teaching” current business models? How much longer can they be sustained?
On TV rights, in Zimbabwe, Kwesé has FormulaE on a package that costs around US$30/month, and a competitor network has F1 on a $150/month package. So it’s entirely possible that people are going to move from DSTV to the cheaper bouquet, therefore leaving F1 behind. In my opinion, F1 is haemorrhaging money by not using more accessible TV and internet broadcast outlets.
Q3: “Alonso—Lando—Vandoorne—Sainz—Gasly musical chairs” have resulted in 2 new drivers at McLaren: how do you anticipate this playing out?
DS: I can’t see either driver making headlines quickly unless they have a consistently competitive car. I commented recently that I really feel they needed to address the technical side to the operation, and I’m happy to see they’ve taken the first steps towards that in the signing of both James Key and Pat Fry.
I personally had very high hopes for Stoffel; I told some of my friends (who are casual fans) to watch out for this guy, but I feel that Alonso has massively outperformed him , and the team mate is the only real measuring stick in an uncompetitive car. Apart from an impressive debut drive in Bahrain 2016, I don’t really feel there has been any memorable performances. You could argue that this is because of the car, but even during sessions affected by rain, the ultimate equaliser in F1, for example, he still hasn’t managed to deliver any notable results. But when it comes to Lando Norris, he’s got a fantastic opportunity to not be in the spotlight as Lewis Hamilton was back in 2007, due to the uncompetitive nature of a car which I’m assuming will continue into next season as well.
We will have to wait for James Key to get his feet under the table until we can ultimately judge drivers against each other. It’s probably better for Lando to be up against someone who has come in from another team. I think he’ll have a more stable platform than Stoffel had, but I can’t help but feel that the reason for promoting Lando is to keep him in the McLaren family – There were reports that other teams were interested in him.
Ultimately that leads me to the Toro Rosso point and I feel that it is a great opportunity for Gasly but he may end up in the same position as Kyvat a few years ago (who was demoted in favour of Verstappen. We’ve seen that Red Bull can be pretty vicious when it comes to their driver changes so it’s either sink-or-swim for Gasly.
HS: With regards to Sainz, he does have a racing name, he does have sponsorship attached to him, his dad is famous in Spain so and he is well connected.
RET: For me, Lando was an obvious choice since he was the reserve driver for McLaren. He’s been doing very well in practice one and won BRDC Autosport Award, won other series so I think they were waiting to see if they could get another driver – someone like Perez or Ocon. Unfortunately for Vandoorne, I don’t think it was he was a real option.
BS: I agree that Stoffel struggled for performance, but I don’t think there was entirely down to him. I think if there had been a bit more mindset training, it would have been easier to be Alonso’s team-mate especially as he seems to be a hard person to share a garage with.
Moderator: McLaren is famous for looking after the entire athlete – working with the likes of Hintsa performance etc
BS: Yes, they work with the drivers, but they’re missing a few areas. I know a couple of McLaren young driver program washouts who haven’t had the skills to deal with losing their reason for living. I don’t think it goes deep enough in certain areas. It is a criticism that I have in motorsport in general – it’s all about positivity and they never get a chance to acknowledge any of the bad stuff. For example, in motorsport we have a saying that the person that comes in second is the first loser. I don’t believe it should be considered a loss; but rather that there is room to improve. We succeed or we learn.