Whitmarsh: “We are in the entertainment business, we have to make the show”

2012 F1 season

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Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren MP4-27 launch, 2012

Martin Whitmarsh said F1 must strive to keep up the action-packed racing it has produced in recent years.

Speaking at the launch of the McLaren MP4-27, Whitmarsh said: “For a few years I think people were a little bit worried.

“They recognised that Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motor sport: it’s the most technically advanced, has the best drivers in the world, the best teams.

“But they were a little bit concerned about the spectacle and the show. I think the last two seasons have been full of drama, fantastic overtaking, great races, and just a great television spectacle.

“We can always make it better – the sport sometimes is a little bit inward-looking, a bit introverted, it doesn’t always do the best job of promoting itself. We’ve got perhaps too much cynicism in a our sport because Formula 1 and soccer are the only true world sports.

“And we can make the sport a lot bigger and a lot better. It’s sometimes a challenge for teams to work together as we know – we’re trying to compete and trying to beat each other on Sunday afternoon. But we’re learning slowly – not quite as quickly as everybody would like!”

Asked if the sport was too reliant on “artificial” devices to increase overtaking, Whitmarsh said: “We often within the sport view it from a very purists’ perspective: we don’t like artificial elements. It’s the same argument for people who don’t like DRS. And I can understand and respect that.”

“But I think we have to accept that we are in the entertainment business, we have to make the show.”

Whitmarsh suggested the reduction in the performance gap between the tyre compounds offered by Pirelli may affect the quality of racing negatively: “The probability is that the gap between them will be narrowed. Purists will prefer it – I wonder, though, whether it will be to the detriment of the show.”

He urged the sport to make a success of its return to the USA ahead of the forthcoming race at the Circuit of the Americas in November: “I think of all the teams believe it’s very important.

“We’ve got to make a success of it this time. We know that our time in America has been spasmodic and unsuccessful. We treat it almost as a new market.

“But actually there’s a huge interest in Formula 1 that’s untapped in the United States. We’ve got to work hard and what we’ve got to accept is America doesn’t need Formula 1, we need it more than it needs us. So I think the onus has to be on the teams, the promoter, and the commercial rights holder, to work hard and ensure that we educate, we promote, we develop the interest, and we reach out in America.

“We’ve got to work harder than at perhaps for a Grand Prix in Europe or Asia or South America where there is a ready interest, a ready uptake. We’ve got a real challenge. But it’s important to our commercial partners, the States is a rather big market for any multinational company.

“As I mentioned earlier there are only two world sports – soccer and Formula 1 – and for us to be a great world sport we’ve got to conquer the States.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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60 comments on “Whitmarsh: “We are in the entertainment business, we have to make the show””

  1. So why the most boring ever launch Whitmarsh?

    Next year I propose a new livery, fireworks and Ron Dennis on a unicycle.

    1. As far as I was concerned it was a perfect launch. Good view of the car, decent Q&A session with the major players, internet connection didn’t die, and I can get back home again in less than an hour :-)

      Better than sticking dark renderings of the car in a magazine, and then getting caught out by someone posting the pictures online 24 hours before it hits the shelves.

      1. Well it wasn’t hard to beat Caterham.

        I’d like to see a launch that’s a bit more Rock N Roll but that was never going to come from McLaren.

        1. money saving, I guess. To be honest, I don’t care about the launches: they don’t show the definitive car anyway.

          McLaren’s launch was good: a few words and the new car… we got our pictures, and there we go. Now roll on testing!

        2. Well, it also beats a lauch buried under snow from Ferrari @tommyb89!

  2. He’s right. F1 does a rubbish job at promoting itself.

    Even when the races are dead boring, you have to promote youself the best way you can. That’s something to learn from America…

    And then you have to back the promotion with a really good show… to think they’ve spent years without an official game on the consoles says a lot: that’s a very important bit of promotion there that they never cared to exploit for half a decade…

    1. And they still exploit badly since the right given to the game developer that gets the right are restricted and his unable to put some old tracks or f1 cars and staff.
      It’s ridiculous. Bernie wants to get a tone of money out of every little thing and that’s why the marketing of F1 sucks. Do make good marketing you need to give something to the fans and Bernie isn’t willing to give even hair with out getting a tone of cash.

      For example why don’t we have Blu-Rays with the races and lots of extras sold in stores? How many fans will love to buy those? But Bernie things that every minute of video from the FOM archive should be payed in gold. The guy is crazy.

      1. The Internet is full of those races so anyone can download them for free and show bernie the finger.

        1. they could exploit that even further and make an income AND raise interest in the sport at the same time.

          I think they are doing a rubbish job. But well, we waited long enough for HD TV too… NASCAR had to for years, and they are getting 3D TV too…

        2. Well i did found a few races in the internet but seriously you can’t find any race you want. Maybe in some of those private trackers and staff but i never managed to get any invitations.
          Besides when he has customers willing to pay him good money to buy such disks nice and legally instead of becoming internet dwellers of pirate copies of races why the hell doesn’t he take advantage of it? The guy is 2 decades behind.

          1. You don’t need to look that hard to find every full race since the 80’s (and some older)

  3. Population of the USA: 300 million.

    Population of China: 1.5 billion.

    We should have five races in China next year.

    1. kenneth Ntulume
      1st February 2012, 15:45

      topdowntoedown, what is the per-capita income, thats where the magic is?

      1. In that case, 5 races in Monaco and Abba Dhabi.

    2. If China can build exact replicas of Spa, Suzuka, Monza, the old Nurburgring and the old Zandvoort, that’s fine with me. I don’t care where they race.

      1. @Chris Never underestimate the Chinese counterfeiting ability. And I say that despite my ethnicity

        1. Yeah, if anyone could do that, I would bet on the Chinese for this one @raymondu999!

      2. If anyone can built exact replicas of anything then the Chinese surely are your guys. And they have people to do it fast too.

    3. LOL! That made me laugh. 5 races in China and 5 in India too.

  4. Interesting comment: “Formula 1 and soccer are the only true world sports”. I don’t for a minute think that F1 is a true world sport – how can you have a world sport that completely ignores a continent (and I don’t mean Antarctica)?

    1. Football (soccer) and basketball are the most played sports in the world. Not too many countries who dont have a national team or some form of participation.
      Whitmarsh must mean global audience, as viewing numbers worldwide would be quite large for F1?

    2. I was also ticked off by his comment. Africa is ready. It is afterall just a race.

  5. This is really the entertainment bussiness. Really funny!

    Jonathan Neale said that the MP4-27 will be a revolutionary machine.
    Perhaps something`s hidden on the underbody, and probably is a really fast and refined car, but mate… If this car is revolutionary I will call myself Che Guevara or Osama Bin Laden…

    1. @Cole They tried revolutionary last year, it didn’t really work as well as they planned. No harm in a conservative approach, if it wins races!

      1. Of course it may be fast as I mentioned on my comment, my point was Neale`s comment on the car being radical.

  6. I think Whitmarsh speaks as honestly as he can about the US. I would love to see F1 take off in the USA. Admittedly he’s missing out on Africa but from a business view point, let’s not pretend Africa is anywhere near as commercially important to the sports myriad of investors.

    Business before pleasure.

  7. Amusing that he chose to mention both Soccer and F1 (and called it Soccer, I thought it was football to you guys?). Neither of those “world sports” have truly permeated the American consciousness yet. We’re aware of them, no doubt, but ask an average person off the street to name one player or driver and you’re likely to get a blank stare. I do agree with him that if they want to tackle it and really garner the market, they’ve got to promote it more. But more than that, it has to be made more accessible here. Of course NASCAR is popular when most states have a race and you’re likely to get more than one opportunity to be within driving distance of one. 2 races a year will work to start since the hardcore fans will make the journey. But if it’s going to get bigger than that, it’s going to take a combination of being accessible by location and mentally/culturally accessible. Drivers don’t live and work over here. They don’t even show up much over here (The Stewart/Hamilton car swap was a great idea to give F1 presence). Even the teams rarely have a car over here. Red Bull are the only ones I can think of who’ve brought one for people to see: out at the new CotA and bringing the RB7 at the Detroit auto show. Two grands prix will at least give them the incentive to improve the accessibility to American fans and I hope they capitalize on it.

    1. Are you really telling me that most Americans don’t know who David Beckham is?

      There is also the small matter of the huge crowds when the US held the World Cup.

      1. Haha, maybe I’m just out of the loop on Soccer, then. I didn’t know who that is, so I leaned over and asked my boss and he rifled off any number of information. Sooo… shows what I know! XD

    2. I think it was a RB5 (didn’t look like their usual mongrel of a showcar) at the Detroit auto show, dressed in last season’s livery.

      Ferrari also had a showcar/mockup in their LA store, if memory serves.

      1. Yeah, I doubted it was the RB7 as the sign next to it stated. Knowing how secretive they are, I cast a suspicious eye on.

  8. Whitmarsh’s comments on America are true, but Formula One will never conquer the United States much in the same way soccer has not done. In saying that though, soccer is certainly becoming more and more popular among Americans. Formula One has to aim at a percentage, much like soccer has done, and focus on areas of the country inwhich F1 is popular.
    The MLS for example has excelled in the north/midwest/and western US but does not have a single team in the deep south or southeast. The appetite for soccer is just not there.
    Where the MLS succeeded was in realising they will never be as big as baseball or the NFL, but they can still attract a sizeable amount of the market to make money a become successfull. F1 will not top NASCAR in the hearts of masses of Americans, especially in the south, but it can still be profitable and successfull in its own right as a sport. Much like the MLS has become!

  9. When team principal starts to call a sport “entertainment”, it is dark days indeed. Yes, you can market the sport in an exciting manner to reach a far wider audience than petrol heads, but that does not make it “entertainment”.
    Just look at what the NBA did. Despite the marketing success, NOT a single rule was changed in order to make the “show” more exciting. Sad.

    1. Really? So the Hand-checking, the defensive 3 seconds, the under the rim circle etc didn’t come into being to increase scoring and make it harder to stop scoring then? Jordan and his peers would have had a field day with the defensive rules as they are now.

      The comparison you are probably looking for is the Premiership – no rule changes there but very popular.

      1. Pity because the first paragraph is COTD material.

      2. Erm…..i guess you mean blocking and the offensive 3 sec rule (though “hand checking” is a valid term, it is NOT used by those who play the game). The rules you mention have nothing to do with “improving the show”.
        They were clarified in the periods between 1946 and 1960; long before the NBA started its current marketing drive.

        Most NBA rules were were brought in either for better clarification of the sport, better protection against injuries or unfairness, to discourage cheating, etc.
        Please check how the basic rules that underpin the game haven’t changed for almost 70yrs!

        NB: The NBA did not start with MJ, Pippen, Magic, Olajuwon or even Bird. Try goggling Hal Greer, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russel, etc.

        1. You mean Bill Russell right…
          You really are not aware of the hand-check rules and how they changed playing defence? Or the 8 sec rule or the defensive 3 sec rule so no zone is played?

          Back on topic i always thought it was a competition not a “show” Hamlet is a show

        2. Here you go http://www.nba.com/analysis/rules_history.html
          some highlights
          • Shortened the three-point line (22 feet in the corners extending to 23 feet, nine inches at the top of the key) to a uniform 22 feet around the basket.
          • Awarded three foul shots for any player fouled while attempting a three-point field goal.
          • Any player who leaves the bench during a fight automatically suspended for a minimum of one game and fined a maximum of $20,000; in addition to losing 1/82nd of his salary for each game, he is suspended.
          • Any player who commits two flagrant fouls in one game will be ejected.
          • Hand-checking eliminated from the end line in the backcourt to the opposite foul line.
          • No contact with either hands or forearms by defenders except in the frontcourt below the free throw line extended in which case the defender may use his forearm only.
          • Defender may not use his forearm, shoulder, hip or hand to reroute or hold-up an offensive player going from point A to Point B or one who is attempting to come around a legal screen set by another offensive player.
          • Slowing or impeding the progress of the screener by grabbing, clutching, holding “chucking” or “wrapping up” is prohibited.
          • New rules were introduced to curtail hand-checking, clarify blocking fouls and call defensive three seconds to open up the game.

  10. If you’re in the entertainment business, make sure all action is real, all action needs determination, all action needs balls and first of all, make sure all action is seen by the directors and thus by the fans. Oh and I forgot, a lighted hotel, or some cookie cutter circuit doesn’t entertain at all.

    DRS fixed nothing of the fundamentals.
    DRS is like adding background music to the entire race. Possibly some noobs like it, but it alianates the real fans, who should be passing on the virus.

    1. In entertainment all action is real? Hulk Hogan and The Rock approve of this.

  11. I’m sure having ‘chicken in a basket’ style entertainer Hannah Montana at the wheel of an F1 car pressing DRS to pass Susan Boyle for the lead would be a good show, but its also a load of garbage.

  12. I think it very sad that the team principal of McLaren calls F1 an entertainment business. I can expect that from Bernie, but from a team principal? One of the main things that made F1 great was the single minded focus of the team principals on only one thing, winning. I don’t think Enzo Ferrari, Colin Chapmen, Bruce McLaren, Frank Williams or even Ron Dennis at the start would have cared too much if basically no one was there to watch, that was way down on their list of priorities, the only thing was, is my car faster than the other guy’s? and as a very secondary thought, who is going to give me the money to do it?

  13. Whitmarsh Needs to go. And F1 will NOT work in The US. No Matter what yank comes on here and says. If it’s not simple the Americans will not like it. F1 isnt Simple.

    1. Whoa whoa whoa, my friend. Take it easy on the anti-US rhetoric over there. I’m not exactly sure how you presume to know so much about Americans, but I can assure you that we’re not all a bunch of bumbling, overweight simpletons who prefer our turns to be left and our rules nice and simple. There is certainly and sizeable demographic of educated (and wealthy) Americans who will possibly come to see F1 as the perfect anti-thesis to the red-state, Budweiser chugging fans of NASCAR, and thus, jump right on the bandwagon. All the U.S. needs is a bit of publicity. If ESPN starts mentioning F1 during Sportscenter, or if, God forbid, Red Bull would actually include their F1 team in one of their “world of Red Bull” commercials over here, then the American population may slowly become curious about F1. F1 has all the potential to find a great market here in the US. I’ll be the first to admit that it won’t eclipse the NFL, but, if marketed correctly, it will certainly see respectable viewing figures and a blossoming fan-base over the years.

      1. I thing Anti-RBR has a very valid point.
        This is not about denigrating a whole country (Americans are not a race), but stating a cultural phenomenon.

        MOST Americans are simple people ( the objective word being “simple”). This does not mean “stupid”, but underlines the fact that they do not appreciate complexity in their lives; be it in politics, sport, social, etc. This is why every thing is big, large and oversize, sometimes unnecessarily so – because it is simpler.

        All this is very evident in the processes and structures that underpin the country as a whole. This is one of the reasons why it is called the Land of Dreams; the dreams that many immigrants have fulfilled in America would be unthinkable and impossible in most countries in the western hemisphere much less the UK.

        I mean, in what other country can an immigrant become the President? Or another become the Governor of a state whose GDP is larger that most countries? Or another gross incompetent be elected President? This all due to the “simplicity” of the people.

        The UK on the other hand (and F1 is a very British sport, well before it became European, and then “global” as we now call it), is a complicated country. All the processes and structures are needlessly complicated (its called “red tape” or bureaucracy, to give it a nice spin). This is down to the nature of British people being very reserved.

        Nascar works because it is simple. Period.
        NO confusing strategies compounded by 4 tire choices which ALL behave differently at ALL races based on temp, weather, humidity, set-up.or the design of the car itself. NO EBD, DRS, F-Duct which ALL work different on ALL cars thereby creating more confusion. NO cacophony of aero parts making it hard for another car to follow, much less overtake, NO silly rules, made sillier by more silly clarifications and retrospective applications and changes. NO politics, bartering and underhand exclusive treatment of some teams to the detriment of others. NO constant meddling in racing by imparting punitive measures against those who do what we came to see. No one team believe they have more right than the others. NO dictators embroiled in blackmail scams, or a Svengali behind the scenes constantly manipulating teams, drivers, developers, consortium, countries, and governments all for his own benefit.

        All these things WILL make it to complex for the average American fan to follow the sport. Unfortunately, that is the direction the powers that be in F1 have decided to follow – attract the casual fan. To do that, they have no choice but to “dumb” down the sport.

        This is why it is now called the “Show”.

        1. re: “in what other country can an immigrant become the President?”, you’ll find that the USA STILL requires presidents to have been born in the USA.
          You are, of course implying that Pres. Obama is an immigrant – but he is Hawaiian. Not continental USA, but still USA. If you believe otherwise, may I direct you to your own comments about Americans needing things to be a bit simpler than Europeans.
          Maybe it applies to you too.

          1. I do know where Obama was born. It is quite easy to get the jist of what i meant unless one is trying to be unnecessarily anal.
            For all intents and purposes i called him an “immigrant” because his father was one, and he also attended his formative years out of the country.
            And it is quite telling that out of all the points i raised, you only chose to refute one.

        2. Nascar works because it is simple. Period.

          To claim any form of racing is simple is foolish in and of itself.

        3. Ever checked your utility contract or bank statement?

  14. “We’ve got perhaps too much cynicism in a our sport because Formula 1 and soccer are the only true world sports.”

    Pardon to disagree Mr Whitmarsh, I understand you’re British, but basketball is a true world sport. Actually it’s hard to find in F1 someone as popular as Michael Jordan…

    1. Was he Eddie Jordan’s brother?

    2. Basketball a world sport… What?!

  15. Dance for me, Mr. Whitmarsh. Dance like you’ve never danced before. And please wear your nicest pink dress while juggling with 3 knifes, a baby and a handgrenade on top of a burning lion.

    1. This comment made me laugh so much!

  16. I don’t think it’s about the amount of races. How many races do we have in Brazil? Actually Brazilian GP is the only race in South America.

    Real Madrid vs. Barcelona doesn’t have to be staged in Lagos to be a must-see event in Nigeria! Formula 1 must find a way to be present in the States through TV shows, events with drivers, teams and engineers. Try crazy things, a reality TV show? Why not? Show up every year with every team in Detroit’s motor show? Why not? Drivers on Jay Leno’s show? Absolutely!

    I’ve said before that Whitmarsh’s definition of a world sport is quite different than mine, but I don’t think increasing the number of races is the magic trick.

  17. I suspect that Mr Whitmarsh is painfully aware that a big chunk of his budget comes from TV coverage. As such, he has to ensure that his (our?) sport is a spectacular, spectator-pleasing spectacle.

    He really has no choice.

  18. Having read Whitmarsh’s comments again, I am struck by him saying that ‘F1 needs America more than America needs F1’. Very ironic considering Bernie Ecclestone said the exact opposite when the Indianapolis event was scrubbed back in 2007. I find it also ironic when I hear people peddle the old saying that America is the world’s biggest ‘market’. With China and India becoming ever more powerfull as time goes by, and both with populations over 1 billion (compared to 300 million U.S.A), I feel the view that America is ‘so vital’ to be somewhat outdated.
    I am not belittling America’s importance in the world, but when planning the future of F1 one has to remember that the world is changing. When I read reports in recent years that the Chinese Grands Prix is struggling to make money and not selling enough tickets I wonder what has gone wrong? Why focus such attention on such a large country as China to only half **** it. You can blame the circuit owners, but F1 has to assume some responsibility for when things don’t go as planned as they have done with China, and with more disastrous results Turkey.
    Which begs the question, what will F1 do if the Circuit Of The Americas event turns into one big Texas turkey? Will Ecclestone stick around to fix the problem or will he pull the plug?

    1. Will Ecclestone stick around to fix the problem or will he pull the plug?

      Well, you already know the answer to that one!

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