Singapore GP: the Fortuitous Lighthouse for F1's Future
The second edition of the F1 and Beyond conference was held in Singapore's Victoria Theatre on Wednesday, 18 September 2019. The conference featured engaging talks from F1 experts Ellie Norman (Director of Marketing and Communications, F1), Dr Julian Tan (Head of Growth & Esports, F1), Emily Prazer (Head of Commercial Development, Race Promotion, F1), and Michael Shearer OBE (Managing Director, Asia Pacific, McLaren Applied Technologies).
How McLaren is integrating the technology developed in F1 into everyday use, and how F1 Esports will be utilised to grow the sport, were amongst some of the topics discussed. Perhaps the most interesting point of discussion however, was the marketing strategy Liberty Media has adopted since they acquired the sport in 2017.
Bernie Ecclestone at the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix. A photo by Ryan Bayona. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en
Before 2017, during the reign of Bernie Ecclestone, F1 amazingly (but not unexpectedly) had few investments in the marketing of the sport. The engagement with fans through social media were next to none, and with that came the baggage of an ageing fanbase. With the sustainability of the sport in question, Liberty needed to respond with immediacy and speed. And that they did.
At the helm of the marketing team is Ellie Norman, who oversaw initiatives such as the revamping of F1's social media accounts, the creation of a new F1 logo and theme song, and F1TV. Change is never easy to deal with, and the initiatives predictably sparked huge debates online. But in true F1 spirit, Liberty took innovation by the scruff of the neck, and ran with it. And while F1 is still far from perfect, there has been an undeniable growth of the sport.
During the conference, it seemed that the novelty of the Singapore GP, is one which Liberty is keen on emulating at other countries' races. With its stunning backdrop and air of festivity, Singapore in theory possesses all the elements of the quintessential modern Grand Prix with the potential to grow an audience for F1. Undoubtedly, more Singaporeans have been exposed to the sport because of the Grand Prix. Yet, (speaking from personal experience) despite living at close quarters with the racing, local F1 fans are still ironically few and far between.
Therein lies the question of whether the expansion of the sport's global audience is enough to ensure its sustainability.
To which the answer is an obvious: no.
10-12 July 1987. Nigel Mansell (Williams FW11B Honda) 1st position. Ref-87 GB 17. World Copyright - LAT Photographic. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode
The more Liberty tries to create new destination Grands Prix like Singapore, the more important classic tracks become. As tracks like Hanoi are added to the calendar, the more indispensable become tracks like Silverstone and Monza. Because in these historical tracks is a rich heritage and staunch following that forms the foundations for the existence of the sport. F1 lives off its fans, and casual viewers simply do not possess the capacity to play the vital role of sustaining it. If left only with new circuits and audiences, the sport will collapse. Thankfully, Liberty seems to have understood this concept, and have thus far done a commendable job at building F1.
In this way the Singapore GP reminds us that as we look forward in anticipation to the future developments of F1, we must not forget to look back and stay grounded in the sport's history and heritage. Only from there should we then aim to achieve greater heights.