Honda website
Honda website

MARCH 7, 2006

Face-saving and the future of Formula 1

It seems to be very clear that a solution is coming in the battle between the car manufacturers and the Formula One group and its ally the FIA and everyone involved will be keen to seem to have done all right in the outcome. It is very important that neither side crows about winning and that everyone moves forward with a positive attitude.

Both sides have done all right. The car manufacturers have always argued that they wanted better terms than those being offered by the Formula One group and the FIA. The principal objectives being to establish a framework for the future of the sport to provide the best possible sporting spectacle giving good value to the fans; to consolidate the sport as the most exciting, technologically-advanced and global motorsport series; to have a long term plan for the prosperity of the sport and its key constituents; to support and encourage the participation of independent teams by enabling small teams to secure stable engine supply and to be open, transparent and fair in commercial, technical and sporting governance.

It seems that the automobile firms are pretty happy on most issues. There are questions about how technologically-advanced F1 will be if there are standard ECUs; and there seem also to be questions about how the rules are made. Otherwise it is fair to say that they have got more or less what they wanted to get. The Formula One group has improved the money on offer and the FIA has made a number of changes to the way it operates.

Is everything perfect? No, but then it never has been. Could it be better? Undoubtedly, it could. Is it enough? Yes, and most importantly it means that the sport can stop gazing at its own navel and turn around and get to work promoting itself.

The sporr currently spends next to nothing on central marketing. There is a strong need to improve TV coverage and invest in some of the new technologies that exist and could enhance the coverage. It is very important as well that the sport focusses on trying to attract the younger generations. The sport wastes opportunities to promote itself, particularly with TV and movie companies which can help F1 grow if the sport will give them access without feeling the need to charge for everything. NASCAR is at the centre of a stream of recent films because the series welcomes the interest and uses it. Formula 1's attitude to merchandising lacks true professionalism and opportunities are being wasted all the time.

One needs only to look at the way that NASCAR operates to see that F1 has been very blinkered in its approach in the past. NASCAR uses interest from the media to spread the word, rather than making it hard for journalists to get access and to work. NASCAR would never think of charging journalists $300 apiece for a weekend just to have an ADSL line, while at some other races there is free wireless Internet available. Small wonder that some editors shun F1 because they see this as racketeering.

There is still plenty of room for growth but that does not mean that there need to be more races. NASCAR is showing that right now with the announcement that the city of Charlotte will be the home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Charlotte has agreed to pay $154.5m to build what is basically an official NASCAR museum. The city wants the attraction because it believes it will drive up income from tourism. The principle is exactly the same as with Grands Prix. NASCAR will get to keep all the money that the museum generates and Charlotte will also be paying an annual royalty for the privilege. NASCAR is paying $1 a year in rent for the land.

Now is the time for F1 to move up a gear, sharpen up its act and open its eyes to new ideas.