For the first time in a long while, key figures in Formula 1 are asking ‘what if?’ and ‘why not?’ – questions shamefully ignored by the sport for too long.
“What if F1 had a non-championship Race of Champions?” mused F1’s new MD of motor sports Ross Brawn shortly after taking the helm of the oil tanker (and instantly steering it towards uncharted social media debate). Then more recently a ‘why not?’ from Zak Brown, McLaren’s executive director, in response to Fernando Alonso’s desire to compete in the Indy 500 (a story broken by Motor Sport in July 2016, no less).
Someone at Force India over winter clearly asked “What if we painted our car pink?” And correspondingly someone in management said “Why not?” Likewise, when Lewis Hamilton declared very publicly that F1 should let drivers and teams engage with its audience via social media, Liberty said “Why not?” and went off to have what was undoubtedly a tricky conversation with the sport’s broadcast partners.
In general, F1 has benefited from these news stories – at a time, lest we forget, that the world champion walked away from the sport and the championship’s popularity and ability to attract a new audience is under huge threat.
However, I refuse to believe this attitude has been absent from F1 over the past 10 to 20 years; creative thinking is ingrained in every person seeking a competitive advantage on or off the track. What we’re seeing now is the confidence to express repressed ideas and a willingness to spark and then engage the audience in debate.
Of course, all this was triggered by Liberty Media’s arrival on F1’s bridge – and Bernie Ecclestone’s short walk from a plank. “This would never have happened if Bernie was still in charge” is a phrase oft heard in F1 circles recently, from Force India’s pink livery to Red Bull’s proliferation of trackside selfie movies. While it has been taken to extremes in some instances (like the pink paint scheme), a genie has definitely been released from a bottle.
Personally, I love it. I love it all. Motor racing is a soap opera and F1 is the ratings champion. To see drivers and teams engaged in competition off-track (views, comments, headlines, videos, stunts – the list goes on) is a joy, and to witness the sport actively encouraging freedom of expression and new ideas is manna. It’s creating new micro-competitions and sub-plots too – chiefly in the area of attracting a new and bigger audience.
For instance, I can’t help thinking that Red Bull (hitherto the social media champion) was caught off-guard by McLaren (hitherto greyest team on the grid) with its Indy/Alonso announcement – and reacted rather churlishly to the attention directed at Woking. “He [Zak Brown] must be barking mad,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner…
I’ve no doubt that Red Bull is currently plotting to fight back in this battle of media one-upmanship – Verstappen to the moon, perhaps?
There is, of course, a very real risk that F1 will get carried away in this competition for ink and pixels and lose focus on its primary purpose – to provide bloody good on-track racing. For all of Bahrain’s drama, and the developing Vettel vs Hamilton title fight, F1 needs to create a stage to allow the three remaining ‘top five’ drivers (Verstappen, Ricciardo, Alonso) to battle for victories – and it needs to do so soon. Nothing can energise the sport like good, hard racing by champion drivers in cars that are beautiful to look at, frightening to the ear and engaging to witness on the limit.
A shameless plug, if you don’t mind, but one that you’ll hopefully find agreeable. Motor Sport will be hosting some fabulous guests at the Hall of Fame awards dinner on Wednesday June 7 – Murray Walker, Brian Redman, Freddie Spencer, Jackie Oliver, James Toseland and David Richards are all confirmed to attend – and you can rub shoulders with them on the night. Also, I can confirm that a wonderful McLaren F2 M4A raced by Piers Courage in the late ’60s will tackle the Captain’s Drive course along with a few other cars to be confirmed (watch this space). Only 150 tickets are available to members of the public – head to page 46 to find out more.
Jules Bianchi’s death, nine months after his accident in the 2014 Japanese GP, rocked Formula 1. Among the sport’s brightest young talents, Bianchi would surely have gone on to become Sebastian Vettel’s team-mate at Ferrari and in all likelihood be giving the German a hard time. F1 misses him.
Bianchi’s accident and subsequent coma have inspired an app that aims to assist those suffering with severe immobilisation by creating a digital communications link between them and families, friends and other communities. “Our technology has been developed to support the most recent studies in rehabilitative neuroscience and occupational therapy, allowing communities to play an active role in the recovery path of patients with severe brain injuries,” says Mattia Lattanzio, CEO & founder of FamilyPlug. “We were not quick enough to release this app for our friend Jules, but we work hoping that our experience will help other patients and their families around the world.” To find out more, visit http://familyplug.healthcare.
Finally, Motor Sport’s own Le Mans in Focus bookazine is now on sale. This collector’s special celebrates the greatest drivers, cars and teams that have competed in the legendary 24-hour endurance race. Also, at the Motor Sport shop online we have a number of new DVDs including Roman Polanski’s documentary Weekend of a Champion, which follows Jackie Stewart and his attempt to win the Monaco Grand Prix in 1971.