On Thursday during the Qatar Grand Prix weekend, while the paddock was consumed by chatter around whether the stewards would grant Mercedes’ request for a review of an incident in the previous race, Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali gave some widely-overlooked insights into the sport’s future direction.
Domenicali began by summarising the year’s achievements. These are considerable, including the arrangement of a record 22 events this year despite Covid, and plans to break that record with 23 rounds on the 2022 F1 calendar.
Will F1’s longest-ever season also be its most exciting? Domenicali also talked up the sport’s plans to improve the racing through the introduction of new technical regulations.
“With current rules the aerodynamic disruption felt as a car gets closer to another is dramatic,” he said. “Once you are within three car lengths of the car in front, you have 75% of the downforce you want; at one car length downforce drops materially lower and only 55% is retained.
“With the  car, modelling shows that at three car lengths a car will retain 95% of the downforce and at one car length it will reduce to only 85%. That is a huge difference and we expect it will have a noticeable impact on the track.”
The implication is that F1 can expect vastly increased overtaking from next year – and thus better on-track action, in turn boosting TV and gate income.
While F1 fans have been eagerly anticipating this change for some time, Domenicali also hinted at future developments of interest during a question-and-answer session. In the main his responses were carefully-worded for the slightest misrepresentation or slip could lead a securities investigation, but even the most guarded comments are worthy of analysis.
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For example, Domenicali was asked about internet giants Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google – collectively known as FAANG despite some recently changing their names – coming into F1 in the near future. Could future F1 broadcasts be streamed ad-free on YouTube (or similar) – for a fee, of course?
“We have said before that we will continue to monitor the landscape and are open to discussions in this area,” said Domenicali. “I would add there is certainly interest from this market but at this stage I would say we are in a strong position and expect that to increase,” he replied.
“We have already introduced several digital initiatives such as the Sprint in Brazil being available on Twitch and our YouTube stream of the German Grand Prix in 2020 so we have shown we can increase the diversity of our broadcast offering to fans.” Fans can therefore look forward to greater choices of interactive platforms, with considerable knock-on effects.
However, his answer to the next question – whether a live version of the successful ‘Drive to Survive’ Netflix series was in the offing – made analysts sit up and take real notice. Consider live streaming from paddock immediately after some controversy, particularly if fronted by a hard-nosed moderator rather than some pally presenter.
“It is something I will discuss with my colleagues,” Domenicali said, adding, “We have seen huge growth in all our digital platforms with follower growth year-on-year, engagement is high and F1 TV is continuing to perform well. We also have augmented the content on F1 TV with greater interaction and choice for the viewers.”
The technology for ‘Drive to Survive Live’ already exists and could readily be turned into reality. Bye-bye binge-watching the new series in March each year?
Moving on from broadcasting matters, Domenicali was asked whether an F1-branded credit card – which enables users to accumulate points towards race tickets and merchandising, book ‘early bird’ seats and attend exclusive promotions – was in the offing. Imagine presenting a gold or platinum F1 card in payment for dinner and gaining Paddock Club entry.
Domenicali admitted they had not specifically considered an F1 credit card, but that “it is another topic that I think merits further discussions.
“We are also focused on CRM [customer relationship management] and using that more effectively to use first party data in our operations and this could be an idea to help in that area.”
All or some or none of the foregoing may over time come to fruition – but that is not the overriding criterion. Of greater importance is that F1 is listening to its customers, be they buyers of stocks and shares or race tickets or team jackets.
The F1 credit card will likely happen first for it is the easiest to implement. But FAANG streaming and ‘Drive to Survive Live’ are probably the most exciting of all, for that is likely to attract a different demographic to the sport – and the more, the merrier. It’s no wonder that, at the time of writing, F1’s stock (FWONK) is trading at an all-time high of over $60.
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