The Future of Formula 1 And The Importance of Sponsors, Not Widgets!

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With a long haul trip in November taking up much of my month and the inevitable December wind down in business due to the ever increasing commercial nature of Christmas/New Year and the lengthy breaks people now take, I should have used my time wisely and blogged more!  I have however been remiss in compiling my blog as I too ‘slowed down’ for the recess and for that dear readers, I am sorry! – Must try harder West 3/10! Ah, those were the days…

So to business:  There is much being written at the moment as to the future of Formula 1, the alleged health or otherwise of the smaller teams and should the top teams be allocated three cars each thereby spelling out the death blow for those teams at the back of the grid.  For sure, an extra car per top team would look fantastic but has not Formula 1 motor racing always been about the betterment of team and driver and the commercial abilities of the teams to raise the funds to develop and compete at the highest levels? Check out the history of some of our now famous teams: Williams before Frank and Patrick came together, Red Bull Racing when previously it was known as Jaguar, the period in the doldrums for Ferrari prior to Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn’s arrival with Jean Todt in the 90′s….think what we would have missed out on if we had given their entries to the dominant teams of the day?

Clearly the continued dominance of Red Bull Racing and the fourth consecutive World Drivers’ Championship title for the amazing Seb Vettel leads some people to talk of ‘boring racing’ but that accusation has been levied across the years when the likes of McLaren, Williams, Ferrari et al have enjoyed extended periods of success.  Teams spend many years building up their commercial and technical packages to reach these heights, so why when witnessing such an amazing run by a particular organisation do we then hear so many cries of ‘boring’…? I’ve never heard a Chelsea or a Man United fan talking of their success as boring….

Formula 1 is an extremely complex business but it is one that in my humble opinion has become too technical with an ever increasing set of restrictive regulations which in the latter case has recently been commented upon by design legend Adrian Newey in the press – he thinks being too restrictive is a bad thing…  I too firmly believe that too much regulation stifles creativity as does adding ‘false’ performance or purely ‘entertainment enhancing ideas’.  I agree totally with technical genius and former Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn when he said that mandatory pit stops were wrong for the sport in 2014 – thankfully they have been rejected.  However, technical freedom and technology costs money, but more of that later!

Whilst I am on my soap box, I also think that talk of ‘DRS zones’, ‘not getting the tyres working’ and ‘not being on the bubble’ (whatever that means) and other such issues frequently talked about on TV, whilst great for the purists, are confusing and irrelevant to the average punter who turns on his or her TV set to watch a Grand Prix on a Sunday.  The latter people turn on for entertainment, thrills and close racing…

In my role as a speaker today, it is well known that I use my historical experience from Formula 1 racing and my subsequent books and BBC World TV work to illustrate leaderships, teamwork and change issues, however when I ask my audiences “who in the room follows Formula 1?” the normal percentage is about 20% to 25% of people present.  Based on this I spend the first 10 minutes or so ‘framing’ the sport and the business of Formula 1 for them in order to make the rest of my materials relevant, however when it comes to Q&A’s at the end of my sessions I am very seldom asked about ‘grip’, ‘turn in’, ‘downforce’ or ‘DRS zones’…the questions tend to be: “Why are Red Bull so good at the moment?”  ”What was Ayrton Senna really like as a person?”  ”Can the pit stops really get any faster?” and “Is Bernie as tough as he is reputed to be?”

My point is that for the Formula 1 teams to really prosper again commercially, it is essential that the continual technical arguments, the searching for fractions of seconds at mega costs and the alleged salary levels of some senior staff as just a few examples are pushed behind the scenes into in-house team/s debate and that all areas of expenditure HAVE to come under better control by the teams themselves, for what the viewing and attending public, and of course the sports sponsors and investors want  is racing, not politics – goodness knows there is enough of that from other quarters on TV every day!

Creating a controlling ‘cost cap’ cannot in my view be enforced, as the motor manufacturers with their ability to undertake R&D and other tasks outside of any ‘declared’ budget for team purposes would be impossible to police.  Anyway, who has ever heard of a commercial, profit & loss making business being ‘capped’ as to what it spends and earns….? Formula 1 Teams are businesses and they need to be able to work as such without restriction…

What IS required  is yet further expansion of the ways in which Formula 1 racing as a sport and a business can impact on people’s lives and on the emerging economies with their tens of millions of new blossoming consumers.  In journalist Joe Saward’s recent blog he talks of Sony possibly partnering McLaren as a new sponsor in 2014.  It makes great sense as in 1993 I brought SEGA to Williams as a sponsor and although only a one year deal and admittedly a long time ago, under the guidance of then senior SEGA Directors, the brand’s involvement in F1 brought new ideas, much fun and therefore new audiences to the sport at the time.  That additional coverage, alongside great on track success with Alain Prost and Damon Hill, enabled us to attract the Rothmans monies and ultimately Ayrton Senna to the team for 1994.  It also brought a bigger youth audience to F1 which today is huge thanks to online and computer gaming…

What is the relevance of this, my latest rambling?  Simply that the real need is for MONEY and not constant technical regulation review!  Any business needs cash and therefore to earn cash one needs consumers and investors (sponsors).  Within the ever changing face of F1 and in order to keep pace with global trends we have now new inputs to the sport such as the start of the new 2014 turbo engine era, less fuel usage, the ongoing tyre challenges and ever faster pit stops and technical processes, but in these challenging times, let’s all spend some time on the subject of ‘revenue generation’ as opposed to constantly discussing technology.  The President of Ferrari recently spoke great sense in this article in Autosport magazine http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/112011

His words and thoughts make worthwhile reading…

As we approach another season of the greatest form of motor racing on this planet, the focus for Formula 1 should be on sponsorship investment, for with the money the technology can surely follow.

Personally I would bring back the spectacle of having every driver out in the same qualifying session, unlimited quali tyres and the Sunday morning half hour warm up, but I am bound to say that as I am an 80′s and 90′s F1 child….Mansell, Senna, Prost and Piquet battling for pole – Bring it on!

On a final and sadder note, one of the most likable characters from Formula 1 in the 1980′s passed away on Boxing Day 2013 – He had been fighting cancer for a number of months.  Ben Horne loved his motor racing and he loved his time with Project 4 Racing and The McLaren International Team.  I understand he joined Ron Dennis’s Project 4 racing team which then in the early 80′s morphed into McLaren International under Ron’s guidance and it was in 1984 whilst still working for Williams, that Ben approached me on a flight bound for Detroit en route to the Grand Prix and told me Ron was looking for a new sponsorship co-ordinator.  Ben set me up an interview with Ron on the Saturday afternoon post qualifying and shortly afterwards, I proudly joined McLaren. I have much to thank Ben for…

BH

Ben was a special person in Formula 1 – everyone knew him – everyone loved him.  He had many roles in the team including pit board man, sticker man, paint shop assistant, a friend to everyone and a guy who always raised a smile – I never heard him say a bad or disparaging thing about anyone, his glass was always half full.  Ben was present at the McLaren 50th reunion I organised with Matthew Jeffreys in September of last year, an event which I was also honored to host.  Ben was one of the stage guests and as ever he thrilled the audience with his humor, wit and genuine charm…his funny emails continued to me until December 22nd and he visited Matthew and Sue Jeffrey’s house for a drink on Christmas Eve and now, suddenly he is gone…

Ben we will all miss you, McLaren’s Old Boys and Girls will miss you, Formula 1 will miss you…RIP Ben Horne.

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