F1 Future Bright
Well that was a pretty good start, wasn’t it?
The brave new post-Ecclestone F1 world has arrived. Leaving behind a stunning legacy, having created a global sporting leviathan from little more than a scruffy group of oily garagistes, Mr. E can rest well on his laurels... Not that he’ll be happy to do so, of course!
No doubt it helped all concerned that the opening race of the new grand prix era took place in a great city on a warm and sunny Sunday; the cars looked good, the fans cheered, and a Ferrari won!
The Australian grand prix organisers always deliver a fantastic event, but this year seemed to have raised their game further. The ‘buzz’ could be felt all around, from the Albert Park lake to the downtown city streets.
Late Friday morning, Melbourne Grand Prix circuit press conference room, and F1’s media folk are all in class. Up on stage and ready on their mics are Formula One Group (FOG) Sporting Director Ross Brawn and his equivalent on the commercial front, Sean Bratches.
Brawn’s many qualities are of course very well known to us all, Ross’s new American friend less so. Sure, many of the hacks present had observed due diligence via Wikipedia, Google and the like, but the character of the man is one to get to know.
Bratches, looking sharp in a wholly American Brooke’s Bros-esque style, fielded inquisitive questions from around the room, and answered in a clear, concise and erudite fashion explaining the desire, mindset and mission of FOG's plans for the future of their sport.
The overwhelming mood within Formula 1 is one of positivity, and even someof the long-in-the-F1-tooth personalities are openly and refreshingly optimistic about the exciting change we’ve craved for so long. The mood, however, isn’t uniformly positive.
We have - in F1 - a slightly bizarre mindset festering within the craniums of many of the sport's opinion formers. For a number of years Bernie Ecclestone's rather stuck-in-the-past attitude to social media and the ones-and-zeros world has caused understandable frustration for many keen to see Formula 1 embrace and engage with a vast and untapped potential audience.
Now that we have a very capable and willing-to-learn new commercial rights holder in charge, the ever so slightly disingenuous attitude - towards Liberty Media's F1 'greenness' - is disappointing to behold. Perhaps it’s a suspicion of those that would seek to change, maybe it’s the unfamiliar (to many) ‘American cooperate executive vocab’ that’s causing some Formula 1 luminaries to be somewhat dismissive. I can't be sure, but whatever it is, it’s a shame.
Knowing as we undoubtedly do that, from minute one, FOG CEO Chase Carey, Sean Bratches and Ross Brawn had – and still have – a long list of issues to attend to, doesn’t it serve us all, from both within and without F1, to applaud the fact that they're already showing a proactive desire to address some of them?
The openness to suggestions and willingness to learn the ways of the F1 clique - Ross knows that part very well! - coupled with a very real need to impart some of their knowledge of running successful sports entertainment teams, franchises and platforms, is evident the moment one engages with any of the three top guys.
As 2017 pre-season testing got underway there was the first very real sign that things will be different. An email inbox chime heralded the dawn of a new F1 age. A blind eye will be turned… Teams were informed that they had permission – from the first Barcelona test onwards – to film and post, on various social media platforms, video content highlighting their team's activities. To most of you – living in the real world – this would seem to be nothing out of the ordinary, but to those of us used to a very different (pre-FOG) universe, that email represented a tectonic shift in attitude and opportunity. Reacting as some of the more forward-thinking teams often do, a few of them have already invested in creative talent and social media experts to maximise this new area of promotion.
Something many of you will not be aware of has – over the past five to seven years – been the gradual reduction of the number of guests visible in a grand prix paddock. Seriously, at some of the more unfashionable races on the calendar the once-bustling F1 paddock, complete with multi-floor, multi-million-dollar steel-and-glass ‘motor homes’ (as many Formula 1 folk still quaintly call them) resembled a post-apocalypse ghost town! You may scoff and dismiss this trifling revelation as a minor moan from a privileged photographer but, if so, you'd be wrong.
What keeps F1 cars circulating on a Sunday afternoon is the cold hard cash stumped up by the blue-chip brands that pay many millions of dollars to have their company logos displayed on the carbon fibre racers we all love to watch.
Part of the process of attracting and persuading the men who sign the cheques to do just that, is to treat them to some of Formula 1's intoxicating glamour and excitement. If those in charge – of granting the necessary inner sanctum access – continually deny said access, the teams have little or no chance of securing funds.
Last weekend - at the Australian Grand Prix - rejoice! The paddock and pre-race start grid was alive with more guests, atmosphere and life than for many a year. Formula One Group delivered. The teams had their name-non-specific paddock-pass access quota doubled.
What's good for the goose is good for the gander...
Time will tell as to whether Formula 1’s future is in safe hands, but what's not in doubt is that we should all get behind the positivity evident within FOG's opening moves.
You can’t stop what’s coming.