Chase Carey, Formula 1 CEO, is speaking this afternoon at the FIA Sport Conference in Geneva in a session with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and former Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali.
The theme is “Global Motor Sport – challenges we have faced and those that are to come”, which will look at topics such as whether technology drives the sport or complicates it, whether the interests of the sport and the automotive industries will start to diverge as the industry moves towards autonomous technology and where the balance point is between regulation and the entertainment.
Ahead of the conference JA interviewed Carey for the latest edition of FIA AUTO magazine and here is an abridged transcript of the interview.
Carey speaks about being determined to protect F1’s classic venues like Monza and Silverstone, how he wants to work on the driver pathway to F1 and to showcase young drivers on the way up, why he’s open minded on what racing series should appear on the bill with F1 and where he feels the emphasis lies when considering whether technology or sport should be F1’s driving force.
History is very valuable and in American sports the teams with long histories are very highly prized, the Yankees, the Knicks etc. But you’ve got valuable and historic properties here. Race-side you have Monaco, Monza…How important to you is the historical side?
“Tremendously important. I think the history is one of the most important assets to have, there are fans who grow up, and you want fathers and grandfathers and sons to grow up and remember experiences. And I think the drivers, the teams, the races, the tracks are an incredible part of what makes this sport special and really distinguish the sport from other sports that are out there today. And in many ways I said, when I was in Fox and we first got in business with the NFL, we sort of had a slogan: ‘Same game, new attitude’ and I think it sort of applies here.
“We want to respect the traditions that made this sport great and build on those. We’re not looking to gimmick the sport up. We want to take what is a great sport and bring it some fresh energy and innovation but with complete respect and admiration for, really, the history that is really incredibly important part of the sport.
Will you put a greater emphasis on trying to maintain some of the events? We’ve had some depressing headlines coming out like ‘Monza’s on the brink’, ‘Silverstone’s on the brink’, the Belgian etc…Are you going to try to make sure that those things are properly sustainable and part of the fabric of the sport?
“Very much so. We said the foundation of this sport is Western Europe which is where the tracks largely you’re talking about exist. We have great events around the world but the foundation of the sport is western Europe, that’s tremendously important and what we want to do is we wanna build a foundation but very much recognise that the foundation is critically important. So not grow at the expense of the foundation but I think your foundation needs to be strong and continue to make it stronger and then we can add the dimension of further growth but those historic events are an incredibly important part.”
“Same game, different attitude”
You’ve come into F1 because the investors you represent see an opportunity to grow. What are the key indicators that make you believe that?
“I think in many ways just looking at what we think was not being done to really maximise the value and the opportunity in the sport over the recent years.
When you don’t have a marketing organisation, you don’t have a research organisation, when you don’t have a digital organisation. Meaningfully you have a one man sponsorship crew. I think it sort of speaks to, you know, the resources that are not being deployed to maximising growth in the sport and I think in today’s age you need to be able to use all the tools you have available to grow it.
Like digital platforms and social media, they could probably become the strongest driving force in growing a sport and to some degree it’s improving now. If you look at the growth in video platforms, video digital platforms just in the last few months, its a three/four fold growth in one year by just giving it some energy and opening it up. So I think there’s a real pent-up appetite to engage with Formula 1 in a much deeper way.
For us to come into the business we think events, particularly global events are disproportionately going to grow in value, and the importance and Formula 1 is really unique. Probably with the Olympics and World Cup which are once every four years, it’s a sport which connects with fans – 100s of millions of fans around the world – and it does that with a sport which really captures their imagination.
The pathway for young drivers to the top
The deal to rebrand GP2 to FIA Formula 2 and complete that single seater pathway from F4, F3, F2, F1 was achieved quickly and smoothly, so does that indicate a positive spirit of collaboration with the FIA?
“Yes, very much so. I mean it’s we’ve actually had a number of meetings with Jean Todt and the FIA. They’ve been very constructive meetings, I think we have a shared vision of where we want to go and again it’s three months in but I think we have a very good working relationship, we speak fairly regularly and are really looking to figure out how we can build some momentum to that relationship For us we’re building an organisation so I think that will facilitate having a bit more of an organisation of people with responsibilities who can communicate with their counterparts.
It’s not just me, or me and Jean Todt but I think we want to have a place where we’ve got people who, I want people who have the responsibility and authority to make decisions and can engage with their counterparts and try to do things that will help grow the sport.
It’s great having next-gen drivers showcased with F2 and now F3 coming up, are you looking to build that as a package to emphasise young guys coming through with broadcast and social media packages?
“There’s no question. I mean Formula 1 is the ultimate race for us and I think as part of making Formula 1 great you want to make sure you’re doing what you can to provide the right training ground and opportunities for the next great drivers to learn and emerge and come through.
You want to build this around the drivers?
The drivers are our stars.
Obviously the teams, the brands the other things are important but the drivers are our stars and we’ve gotta make sure we’re doing everything we can to…that’s it. To find the drivers of tomorrow and we’d love to have drivers coming from different parts of the world which as it’s a global sport, helps. But talent will ultimately win out but we want to make sure we’re providing the opportunities for talent to emerge and then to learn and grow and play a role in developing Not just sit here at Formula 1 and wait to see who pops out but play a role and helping develop the sport, grow the sport develop the drivers and other aspects of the sport.
The other thing that interests me is the way American sports fans experience the event. There’s something there, like a music festival kind of atmosphere?
“Yeah I mean one of the sort of accusations thrown at me is that I’m going to Americanise Formula 1 and I said clearly not. It goes back to what I talked about the history and the foundation. We respect that way.
I moved to London to do it, I didn’t say ‘Let’s run it out of New York’ so I think we recognise the truth, traditions, it’s a global sport. I think there are aspects of what American sports do reasonably well that can benefit us and I think one of those is taking events and making them a bigger, larger event with the sport at the heart of it that sort of is the rallying factor and the reason but is the event that engages peoples’ imagination and attracts new and different fans because they want to be part of the experience so I think it helps attract young fans, female fans that is not just you’re going to a race.
“And I don’t want to minimise the importance of the race, the race is the defining element but if we create other interesting things in the level of excitement and energy around it, it’s food, music, information, exhibitions, things like that, engage the whole city, it’s- I think America’s done that well. And Formula 1 really lends itself to that because it is such an event, there’s only one in each country So it is, it comes to town, it should come to town and take over the city its in for the week it’s here and I think we want to bring that type of energy and excitement to it.
In terms of long-term vision on motorsport generally – F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, but do you want to reflect other categories in the support bill and to draw in more fans to motorsport generally?
“I think we actually want to do that and I think one of the things I’ve found as I’ve gone around some of the tracks is that there was a bit of trying to exclude other forms of racing from our events and to some degree I want to invite them and I want this to be, we want to be the pinnacle but if there are things we can put on that interest and invite fans – that’s why we’re doing this – we’re doing this not for our purposes and not for the teams’ but we’re doing this for fans, and create a great experience for fans.
If fans enjoy other forms of motorsports, if when they were in Australia they wanted the Supercars, the Australians love the Supercars. To me, I don’t want to preclude that and I should take advantage of that and get the supercar fan there who hopefully becomes a more passionate Formula 1 fan, and that’s good for everybody.
A big decision will need to be made soon on where the balance lies between entertainment and technology. The noisy F1 car that gets driven by a legendary driver that none of us could dream of handling versus the track to road story for the manufacturer and the fuel companies. Could you give us your vision on that front?
“I think they’re both part of what makes the sport special. It’s competition on one hand but the technology and engineering are obviously a part of what creates the mystique and interest in the sport and there are certain people who are passionate about that. But between the two I think clearly the sporting aspect, needs to be the driving force. We want to put on events that are great, exciting competition, great exciting action with great stars. We want the drivers to ultimately be the shining lights, not to be a sport driven by engineers but a sport where the engineers are adding value but our drivers are our biggest stars. I think we want to make sure we encompass both, sort of the technology and engineering with the sporting contest but first and foremost be clear: we’re looking to put on great exciting sporting events that captivate and excite fans.
“I think one of the things we need to do a better job of is making that technology and this sport accessible. The fans, when you- when I go behind the scenes, because I can do it, it’s amazing. We’re not really enabling the fans to access it and I think in many ways that is an important part of engaging the younger fans, is to let them be able to find what they want to find. One of the great things about these digital platforms is that they give you the flexibility, so some who just want a simple view and we can still make that a richer view but there’s some who really want to be able to dig in and find some of the captivating pieces of information and data and follow it in a much deeper and richer way and be captivated by it.
“And we gotta make sure we’re enabling those fans to achieve that and I think a lot of those fans are the younger fans because they’re the ones who get so agile on all these because a really deep experience is probably not going to be on a television because a television is so linear, and it’s sort of more something for everybody. The digital platforms you can find what you want to find and the younger generations are much more agile on that and I think much more fascinated by it. They’re fascinated by the technologies that are going to drive the world that they live in and it is one of the things that again we need to take advantage of. One of the unique things about our sport is that the sport married the technology. There aren’t other sports that have that feature so it’s a feature we’ve gotta take advantage of for those fans to find that interesting.
And how loud will the engines need to be?
“We’d like them to be a little louder. We’re working on it.”
Another unique thing about our sport is that once a driver gets in the car you can’t tell if they’re able bodied or disabled, and secondly, critically the gender. You’ve seen Danica Patrick and other female drivers in the US, would you commit yourself to trying to create a pathway to get an effective female F1 driver to bust through the ceiling during your tenure?
We’d love to have a female driver. I think it’d great for the sport, great for the fans, great in every way.
And you go back, by creating the pathway and creating the opportunity, what we can create is the opportunity. We don’t want to be controlling the end result. At the end of the day I think Formula 1 should be a meritocracy where you’ve got the 20 best drivers in the world are out there in 20 cars but we gotta be providing an opportunity for everybody to get there and so by getting deeper into the development hopefully we can provide those opportunities.
I want to work with the FIA in ways to make sure we’re doing what I can to provide the right development paths.
I wanted to ask you about the threat of autonomous cars. If people no longer drive cars in the future why will they be interested in people racing them as a sport?
“I think the answer goes back to ‘it’s a sport’. And if its a sport with great contest that captivates the combination of power athletics skill and technology to keep maximising the sport and puts it on a different path, where’s the car world going that you’re driving, it’s not going to be a reflection of the path that we have to follow.
“What we want to follow is- I think it’s something that as we go forward we have to be cognisant, figure out haw we deal with it, I don’t really call it a threat, I think it’s sort of the world we live in and we gotta figure out how do we define our place in the world. But it’s certainly going to be with great drivers driving incredible machines with hopefully great competition.”
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