The confirmation on Tuesday of the news that there will be a second F1 race in America from 2013 onwards is positive for the sport. Rather than write about this from a purely F1 insiders perspective, I asked a long time JA on F1 reader and poster, Rudy Pyatt, who lives in the area, to give us a local perspective on the news and I have intercut his thoughts with mine.
Rudy Pyatt writes: There are three key parts of the potential audience. F1 must win them over, or this event will be Phoenix all over again.
The easiest audience to get, of course, is the “Monaco demographic” – attracted by the opportunity to conduct business while impressing clients, or simply to see and be seen by others making the scene. The setting alone should carry that element. Note that there are three yacht basins nearby, at least one of which regularly has maxi yachts (complete with their own helicopters) berthed there. Bernie and the teams will certainly like that!
JA writes: From a business point of view this race is going to be very important, much as Singapore is in Asia. This is a race that CEOs of companies investing in F1 will come to, staying in New York City and entertaining existing and potential clients. F1 works for global companies, allowing the local markets to entertain and for the CEO and board to visit and make connections. Whether it’s banks like UBS and Santander or manufacturers like Mercedes, the high end hospitality suits known as the Paddock Club will be sold out for this event, as they are at Singapore and Abu Dhabi. That is unlikely to change as the years go on. You really have to see that side of F1 in action to appreciate its power as a rallying point for companies. It also opens the door for more American based global companies to come into the sport. Whereas the fans number maybe 100,000 paying $200 each, the Paddock Club is 5,000 people on tickets costing $1500 each. The difference is that the ticket sales go to the promoter, his only way of recouping the costs. The Paddock Club money goes to FOM, who pass on 50% to the teams.
Rudy Pyatt writes: Then there’s the huge gearhead (translation: “petrolhead”) population in New York and New Jersey. One of the most famous drag strips in the world, Englishtown, is in New Jersey. Anyone who has listened to any of Bruce Springsteen’s old records (yes, he is from New Jersey) has heard his tributes to the drag racing car culture in The Garden State. Existing F1 fans coming from Europe and elsewhere aside, the local gearheads will naturally be attracted to this event… Unless F1 simply takes their presence for granted and treats them as unsophisticated yokels who can’t appreciate or understand F1, and who should be impressed JUST because it’s F1. There was way too much of that during the Indianapolis years, and it can’t happen this time. F1 must reach out to this audience. Take an F1 car to Englishtown and lay down some quarter mile times, with the main drivers, not the reserves. And, just like Lewis’ switch with Tony Stewart, put one of the top F1 guys into a Top Fuel or Funny Car, all 6,000 horsepower, 0-300 mph in 4 seconds of it: Have Michael Schumacher trade seats with Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher, multi-time Top Fuel champion and perennial championship contender. Drag racing is probably the most common form of motor racing here, the one that most people actually participate in nationally – and it’s probably the most the fan friendly, for that reason. F1 has to meet or exceed that standard.
JA writes: There are a lot of car enthusiasts up and down the Eastern seaboard of the USA, plus many ethnic groups with F1 sympathies, particularly Italians of course. It’s a bit like Melbourne in that respect. I don’t foresee a problem getting the F1 hardcore to this race, the people who watch the races on SPEED TV in the US. The only issue is, it’s close to Montreal in both distance and scheduling, so which race will suffer from that? Montreal will have to raise its game.
Rudy Pyatt writes: Finally, there are people who are at best curious. But this is the New York area, and there’s lots to get interested about at any time. F1 can’t take it for granted that its international stature will automatically make it THE thing to be curious about, but does need to play on that curiosity. Friends that I spoke to about this event mentioned taking a car, crew and driver (again, the starters, not the bench players) to local elementary schools and talking to students (note: The Liberty Science Center, which holds all manner of educational and kid-friendly programs, is near the area where the race will be); another friend mentioned putting an F1 car on flatbed truck and driving it around Brooklyn, or elsewhere in NYC. I’d add that you might put a car “on the hook,” pulled behind a tow truck, through various neighborhoods. Maybe have F1 racers drive a cab for a few hours. Take pictures of drivers riding on subway trains and use them in ads – something like Vettel riding the A-Train at rush hour with the caption, “He knows he can go faster…” Or, again, same kind of picture of Lewis riding in a cab with the same caption; or Schumi and his MB on the car deck of the Staten Island Ferry. And put those ads on the subways, ferries and other transit ad outlets, like cabs and commuter trains. Drive an F1 car across the Brooklyn Bridge, even.
Memo to Bernie and FOTA: If you use any of these ideas, let ’em know I sent ya…
JA writes All good ideas, Rudy. I think F1 has to really go to work on this race, putting on a package of engagements at all levels, including driver appearances on the big TV chat shows, car demonstrations in Manhattan, a FOTA Fan Forum to engage with the fans, autograph sessions at Macy’s and then business forums where US companies can come and meet team bosses and existing sponsors to get a feel for what F1 can do for them
Rudy Pyatt writes: Sure these are gimmicks, probably undignified, and ordinarily beneath F1’s image. But you can never, ever, dismiss or underestimate the possibilities for what may sink the hook into someone’s curiosity and snag them into actual interest. You’ve got to show people that you WANT to entertain and amaze them. Bernie, CVC, and FOTA and their sponsors, all of them, must make a sustained effort to draw people in – and starting RIGHT NOW. Not next year, not 2013. The necessary marketing push can’t wait until a couple of months before the race, or even six months before. Right now, F1 needs to start the marketing. I mean newspapers, online publications, radio, TV commercials, billboards, in-person, what have you. To make it here, time starts now for F1, and the clock is ticking.