With the Formula 1 roadshow rolling onto the hallowed tarmac of Silverstone this weekend (15th/16th July), we thought it was only right to shine our spotlight on the billion-dollar motorsport that revs up fans from all corners of the world.
Formula 1 is one the most renowned sports in the world. The unmistakable roar of a 200mph F1 car coming through the TV on a Sunday afternoon is a sound familiar to most. With its core foundation of support hailing from Europe, F1 has now expanded worldwide, holding 20 Grand Prixs in 20 cities across the globe, from old faithful tracks like Monaco and Spa to new territories that are further afield, such as Azerbaijan and Singapore. This famous old sport has been around for decades now, and it’s only growing stronger with each year.
How It Got Started
Formula 1 traces its roots back to the early days of motor racing. The very concept of F1 was first discussed in the late 1930s, but overshadowed by the onset of World War Two. It wasn’t until 1950 that everything was finally in place for the very first world championship race, which was held at – where else? – Silverstone.
Since then, we have witnessed many an F1 legend, with some even being depicted in blockbuster Hollywood movies. From the merciless rivalry of James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 70s to the triple championship winning Brazilian legend Ayrton Senna, the sport has had an overwhelming number of heroes. And they don’t stop coming in the modern day thanks to the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and, of course, Ferrari maverick Michael Schumacher, who roared to an unprecedented five straight world championships between 2000 and 2004.
Thanks to such heroics, F1 has continued to grow and build a spectacular brand through various sponsorships, partnerships and ultimately a successful global strategy has seen the brand infiltrate markets few sports have. Such coverage has given Formula 1 a global reach that has put it on a level playing field with other global dominators such as Apple and Coca-Cola in terms of brand awareness. Not even the Premier League and some of the biggest football teams in the world can boast such ubiquity.
The Digital Drive
Although F1 has successfully branched out worldwide, it is not exempt from the ongoing digital revolution that is happening in industries across the board, and to sport in particular. F1 has been criticised for being outdated and failing to engage new fans, with some complaints even coming from within the sport itself. TV ratings are falling and fan engagement on the digital frontier is not living up to its potential. In response, the sport relaxed rules about team and driver use of social media to allow fans a greater insight into race weekends, but there’s still much work to be done.
To get the ball rolling, changes have been made at the very top, with Liberty Media arriving as new owners and making fresh appointments. One such newcomer is the sport’s Head of Digital Frank Arthofer, who told The Drum that F1 needs to honour the past, whilst also looking to the future if it’s going to succeed. “Marquee sport is one of the most valuable assets in today’s media and entertainment landscape, and Formula 1 is an incredible brand with a very rich history,” he said.
“Equally, we have a truly unique opportunity to build on more than 50 years of success by investing in our digital and licensing businesses. We have more than 500 million fans globally, and they want more from us. Our goal is simple: we will elevate the way we serve our fans, and we believe we can unlock tremendous growth and value for the sport, the teams and our partners in doing so.”
The enhanced attempts to engage fans is well-timed as F1 has recently begun making a fresh push into China by partnering with marketing specialists Lagardere Sport and Entertainment, who already play a key role in promoting football in China. “I am proud of the strong connection between F1 and Asian motorsport,” said F1’s Commercial Director Sean Bratches. “Hopefully we could make it an exceptional live entertaining experience, make the fans more engaged, to increase the impact of the F1 brand.”
It is a step in the right direction, but it goes without saying that for F1 to really grasp its full potential and reach these new emerging markets then it will need a digital strategy that is as meticulous and fine-tuned as a Mercedes car.
What We Can Learn
As marketers, we can learn a lot from the whole F1 ideal. Behind every F1 team, whether it be McLaren or Force India, are 100+ specialists who cover and perfect every single aspect of motorsport racing, from the vital car mechanics to maintaining the drivers’ physique and mental capabilities. Huge amounts of real-time data are analysed, processed and measured. Hour upon hour is spent on preparation and perfection: there is no room for error in such a high stakes and demanding sport.
What’s more, the sport is now starting to wake up to the new age digital has brought in. By hiring a Head of Digital, and giving teams and drivers more freedom to engage with their fans on digital platforms, they’re opening this grand old sport out to new generations that will keep it alive for many more years to come. This desire to move forward shows that F1 is ready to make its marketing as innovative as the sport itself. And that will be vital as a sport as a whole goes from strength to strength across the digital frontier.