F1’s sporting MD Ross Brawn outlines the sport’s digital vision, why it must cater for all fans and how tech will never stop the human element of racing
Formula One is the most technologically advanced sport in the world, with its teams spending millions on R&D to get a faster car and adopting innovations such as 3D printing and superfast communications.
Analytics has always been at the core of the sport, with race engineers poring over every piece of data. Given there is a saying within F1 that it was doing Big Data before the term was even coined, it is unsurprising that the Internet of Things (IoT) is pervasive.
So it seems a contradiction that the sport’s management have been behind the times. There have, however, been some improvements.
In 2012, F1 agreed a communications deal with Tata that replaced satellite transmissions and races are broadcast in 4K for example, but its new owners, Liberty Media, are now embarking on a huge digital push to attract new fans and retain existing ones.
“Several years ago was the right time but it never happened,” said Ross Brawn, managing director (sporting) at Formula One Management (FOM). “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do and we’re putting the infrastructure in place.”
Last month FOM appointed a head of digital and is working on social, content and technical projects to make the sport more appealing.
“In 2017 you’ll see some movement, but 2018 is when you’ll see [most] of the changes come through. Formula 1 is a massive data environment – It’s almost unique in the amount of technology that exists.”
Brawn said FOM was looking at race data and social sentiments to see what makes for an exciting race, what information fans are interested in, and what kind of content they want to see.
For example, there could be a particular appetite for certain teams, drivers or topics.
“Our website is not a great example [of digital] but it’s going to become a great example,” he added. “It will become the go to site for people to come and find out what’s going on. That’s what our group are now focusing on.
“We have a massive opportunity in Formula One. A really rich environment, great technology and gladiators [drivers] battling. We need to be able to present that to the fans no matter what way they want.”
For decades, Formula One was broadcast live on terrestrial television in the UK. However in 2011 the broadcast rights were split between the BBC and Sky (at the former’s behest), marking the first time F1 was not on Free to Air TV. In 2019, Sky will become the sole broadcaster of F1 in the UK, meaning the sport will go behind a paywall entirely.
This means many fans, particularly younger ones, will not be exposed to the sport. However viewing habits are changing and Brawn is adamant that F1 will experiment with a strategy for social media and applications.