The dawn of a new Formula 1 season is upon us… again. 15 weeks after the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix, teams are finally set to go racing this weekend at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.
As a result of coronavirus measures and restrictions, this coming season is set to be very different for the sport. With this, there will be both challenges and opportunities that will arise, and it will be interesting to see how F1 adapts. Putting on our PR and sponsorship hat, we’ve highlighted five key elements to look out for at the 2020
Australian (sorry) Austrian Grand Prix.
As we have highlighted previously, Lewis Hamilton has emerged as the leading voice for the Black Lives Matter movement within the F1 paddock, frequently holding the teams and the sport itself to account. Since then, the Mercedes AMG F1 team has unveiled an all-black livery for the 2020 season to show its commitment to fighting all forms of discrimination – and acknowledging they need to do more. Will others follow? F1 has announced the #WeRaceAsOne initiative to tackle the issue at grassroots level, supported by all teams on the grid. It will be interesting to see if this is promoted during the races; visual overlays have been used in the past to highlight other FIA projects, but for the sport to truly grow and achieve real change, it is important that F1 does more than just pay lip service.
With a reduced race weekend schedule and no VIP guests or fans physically allowed at the circuit, what will F1 do differently to compensate its loyal partners for this reduction in visibility? Will there be new and more prominent trackside advertising, better suited for the TV cameras rather than fans in grandstands? More airtime, or special social media campaigns? The extended break has afforded F1 the opportunity to identify innovative ways to get fans interacting with its sponsors; what this may entail still remains to be seen. Perhaps as the season progresses, we will start to see teams donning branded face masks adorned with their key sponsors.
Engaging with fans at home is going to be a vital part of keeping sponsors satiated, and in turn helping to ensure a long-term partnership. F1 appears committed to its move away from free-to-air broadcasts. British fans might have hoped that both races at Silverstone would be shown live, but Channel 4’s contract only permits them to broadcast the British Grand Prix as it happens. This means the so-called 70th Anniversary GP, held just days later, will be extended highlights only. In Germany, F1 is due to disappear entirely from FTA with RTL ceasing its F1 broadcasts – marking the end of a 30-year relationship. With F1 moving to paid channels in an increasing number of countries, can it prevent a downward trend in its global audience?
Cloud platform provider Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced six new real-time data graphics that are due to debut this season. Previously, this has fallen flat with F1 audiences who felt some of the statistics presented by AWS were inaccurate or misleading, or that they were being shown purely for the sake of promoting the AWS logo. 2020 will see the appearance of the Ultimate Driver Speed Comparison, which will compare the drivers to others in F1 history back to 1983, and the Driver Skills Rating (starting from mid-season) which will help identify the best ‘total driver’ on track. Will these entice or antagonise fans? We certainly predict a great deal of debate around the AWS ‘total driver of the year’, should it be someone other than the 2020 F1 World Champion…
With various esports activities filling the F1 void in the months since the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled, certain real-world drivers have emerged as the heroes of lockdown, amassing a wealth of new followers through their virtual activities. Working with Esteban Gutierrez, the official reserve driver for the Mercedes AMG F1 team, we recognise the potential for these esports stars to bring new fans into the sport. Will F1 and the broadcasters start to lean more heavily on the esports angle to further promote the sport? With the new-found popularity that the likes of Esteban, Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc, George Russell and Alex Albon are enjoying, we can’t help but feel it would be a missed opportunity in this new normal to ignore the power of esports.
While we wait for the on-track action to start, here is Esteban to guide you through the optimal lap of the Red Bull Ring.