Stefano Domenicali has not spoken since his departure from Maranello as Ferrari team principal following the Bahrain Grand Prix.
But yesterday at the FIA’s annual Sport Conference in Munich, he appeared on a panel discussion on “How to grow motorsport in a changing world” and spoke about the need for F1 and all motorsport to urgently address the ageing demographic of its fan base and to find ways to engage with young people.
He also said that the 2014 F1 season has developed pretty much as he expected and predicted that Mercedes advantage will stretch into next season and even beyond,
“It was clear that the teams that were strong at the beginning would keep that advantage for the season because with such a step change in technology,” he said. “Mercedes have done a great job and they will keep this advantage for a long time. To close the gap in a situation where the regulation is more or less frozen is very difficult.
“I hope the others will be able to close the gap soon, though, because at this stage you need to have races that are emotionally engaging. If you lose the passion it wouldn’t be good.”
On the subject of his own plans, Domenicali would give nothing away, but indicated that he has had some interesting offers, which he is not in a hurry to take up,
“So far, I’m taking a breath,” he said. “After 23 years of non-stop work it seems I have a bit of time now, so I’m taking the opportunity to be with the family, which has to be good. Really good!”
Here is a Q&A with Domenicali from Day 1 of the FIA Sport Conference. Domenicali is due to speak again this afternoon in a plenary session specifically addressing the question of “How to attract young people to motorsport” alongside specialists from outside the sport, such as Twitter Head of Sport Alex Trickett and Bayern Munich FC head of social media Lorenz Beringer.
Yesterday the governing body indicated its intention to match words with actions when looking to develop the sport in new areas to engage the young, by signing a long term deal with Gran Turismo developer Polyphony to promote new games platforms and to regulate a new FIA online gaming world championship. Clearly the FIA has learned from the huge success of games like FIFA ’14 in the world of football.
What do you think will be the major influences on the growth of motor sport in the coming years?
“First of all we need to talk about an incredibly large base of licence holders, support networks, teams, manufacturers and fans, so it would be wrong to say there is only one thing to do – it would be to look at only one part of the motor sport cake.
“We are talking about a thing that connects different people of different ages and cultures. You have older people who want to simply go racing and enjoy it and then younger people who want to enjoy a different experience. You have manufacturers who have marketing and technical interests and teams who generally have an interest in pure racing. You have to keep developing for all these different communities.
“For sure the biggest thing is developing the sport for younger generations. Young people are not attracted by new technology as a word, they have to be connected by technology to the sport. They have to be involved. There are young people who want to be the driver but via connectivity – it’s about being part of it yourself.
How do you see youth appeal being developed? Do you believe it needs a centralised effort?
“We need to have a strategy. We need to be integrated with the stakeholders promoting all of the different categories. Without an integrated communication plan we will be disconnected. This week will be important in getting all of those stakeholders together, in finding out what each one is dealing with and hopefully then they can formulate a plan and choose the main route to follow. It’s important to act quickly.
Is attracting new fans as simple as inviting the public to free driving days; to give them a taste of racing?
“That’s important for those want to be in the show but we also need to appeal to people who are purely sports fans and who want to challenge the professional or the champion through games or interactive experiences. One thing I learned from looking at the American market, in different disciplines, is that fans want to be the one challenging the most important player in basketball or whatever. Fans want to be the protagonist. If we can provide that it will help our entire movement to be connected to fans.
“For young people who want to get involved as drivers it has to be affordable, otherwise it is impossible. Here there is a dichotomy. New technology at the beginning is expensive. We need to find a balance. If we are too aggressive on new technology we run the risk of losing the passion of motor sport. We need to balance it carefully.