As we head into the closing months of the 2019 Formula 1 season, there are few questions left to answer on the track.
Lewis Hamilton, barring a spectacular collapse, is likely to win the Drivers’ Championship, with his team, Mercedes, already wrapping up the Constructors’ prize for the sixth year in a row. And yet, despite the lack of late drama, the last few years have still been incredibly successful for the series.
Since the arrival of owners Liberty Media ahead of the 2017 Championship, the series has seen booming social and digital numbers and achieved burgeoning success in new, and hitherto uncharted, worlds of esports and Netflix documentaries.
Formula 1 has also welcomed new sponsors, with the sport’s new approach translating into a fresh thinking from its partners, too: Global Partner DHL has extended its sponsorship into the esports series, while Heineken has staged new, weekend-long activations in race host cities.
“We certainly ask partners to be creative,” Yath Gangakumaran, Director of Strategy and Business Development, Formula 1, told Sport Industry Group. “We’ve had a change in mindset here at F1 with our new management team. The answer now is ‘yes, let’s find a way to make this work. We are looking to be more creative in terms of our fan experiences, and I think that’s leading to win-win situations for us and our partners.
“The likes of Heineken, Pirelli, DHL and others come to us and say ‘we’d like to do X,Y or Z,’ - be that pool parties or esports simulations in fans zones - and if we think it’s a good idea we’re very open to supporting the execution of those activations. We will also come up with ideas and pitch them to our sponsors and if they like them, then we can find a way to make it work for both of us.”
That creativity has made its way from the physical racetracks to the sport’s digital channels, with online content playing an ever-greater role in F1.
The physical sport offers Formula 1 the chance to engage with new fans on a local level while the digital capabilitiy is also serving them with content whenever the latest Grand Prix takes the action to the other side of the world. So how has that helped the sport as it looks to grow in the USA and China - two key areas of interest?
“Previously, F1 was slightly more closed off as a sport,” said Gangakumaran. “Now we’re really looking to increase assets, particularly across digital and social and looking to expand our fanbase and grow with non-traditional cohorts such as young people and women.
“We are looking to grow in a number of major markets where we have less of a heritage – China and the US being two of the major ones – and we’re fortunate that the brands we have partnered with also see those markets as important, so they are helping to invest with us. For example, Heineken, who are sponsors of the Chinese GP, are supporting that with activations on the ground there, running a fan festival on the ground in Shanghai over the last couple of years.
“In the US, all of our brands are very keen to support. We did a fan festival in Miami where Red Bull were very keen to help out. It’s good for their brand as well, so they gifted us a car and they were doing donuts on the rooftop of one of the skyscrapers in Miami!
“So we’re definitely seeing win-win opportunities with our partners when it comes to our key markets because they’re key markets for them as well. The more activations we do with our partners the better for both of us: it leads to more compelling stories for the brands who are taking part, and it means that we can do more because we have the greater financial resource to go and do more on the ground.”
With growing success in the sport’s appeal to non-traditional audiences, and the emergence of F1 tire tracks in unusual parts of the world, all that’s left is to remedy the competitiveness at the top of the standings over the next few years. Proposed new regulations include standardising some of the costliest kit in the car and ensuring that one team can’t make a breakthrough in aerodynamics that blows the opposition away.
“With new 2021 regulations coming into play, that will have a major impact,” said Gangakumaran. “Hopefully we’ll have more excitement on track, more winners, more people on the podium, more overtaking and essentially more excitement, too.”