Wednesday night’s F1 Live London was a great success with thousands of fans lining the temporary track built along Whitehall with a loop in Trafalgar Square and a stage set up next to Nelson’s Column.
Cars did donuts, drivers met the crowds and well known bands played on stage. It was a blueprint for how to move F1 forward with city centre promotions.
It was a statement by the sport, but also by the city, which has been hit by savage terrorist attacks in recent months. These have clearly dented the appetite of some tourists to visit the UK’s capital. Live London passed off peacefully, having only been announced officially a few days before to minimise time for terrorists to plan an attack. But F1 insiders knew about it months ago as it needed some serious planning.
What was striking about walking around in the public areas was how many tourists were there from so many different countries. London is a very cosmopolitan city on any given day, with hundereds of different nationalities in the popular tourist areas and thus F1 Live London didn’t just capture the imagination of British F1 fans, but reached out to plenty of other nationals too.
If there were to be one small criticism it would be that F1 needs to remember that on a day like this that it’s important in front of a general audience to give context to who the drivers are when they go up on stage and not presume too much knowledge. A non F1 fan would not know that Fernando Alonso is a two time world champion and one of the greats, while Lance Stroll is a rookie with a single podium, from the way they were rolled out on stage.
The goal here is three fold; to reach non-F1 fans with the spectacle and fascination of this colourful and glamorous world, then to bring back the millions who have followed and even loved F1 in the past, but who have lost interest for whatever reason.
For the committed fans, days like Live London are designed to give a reason to stick with the sport, buy more services, products and tickets.
As well as the current drivers, F1 managed to bring world champions Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg, Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen to the event.
It is all about the drivers; Lewis Hamilton has his reasons for staying away and these will no doubt be explained today at Silverstone when he does his media appearances ahead of the British GP. He was the only one of the 20 Grand Prix stars not to attend the event and when they did the line up on stage with Valtteri Bottas alone in the middle, that was painfully obvious.
“Lewis feels that he is in such a tough championship fight that he needed the days off after Austria,” was the explanation given by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. There are some suggestions in the media that Hamilton is angered by rumours that Wolff is planning a future with Sebastian Vettel beyond Hamilton’s existing contract which expires at the end of 2018.
But it’s hard to see why – even if it were true – that would spill over into a no-show at the London event?
Hamilton clearly underestimated not only the scale of the event, but also the upbeat tone that it would strike, especially coming a day after the announcement that Silverstone has triggered a break clause in its contract meaning that 2019 will be the last race there unless a new agreement can be reached. That was no secret in F1 circles either.
So this was a day when Britain needed to put its best foot forward where F1 was concerned.
Another possible factor is that Liberty Media has asked the drivers to commit a number of ‘driver days’ to the sport itself for promotional activities. Already drivers have many of these days in their contracts with their teams, with days allocated to sponsors depending on how much investment the sponsor is making.
F1 drivers have not been contracted to the sport for promotional reasons before and it will be a tough one to get through without financial incentives. But events like Live London on a smaller scale, hosted a few months ahead of a Grand Prix in certain markets, will be a key pillar of a growth strategy to work with race promoters to make each event a success.
Added to an increased calendar of events, that starts to add up to a big workload for the drivers and team. But it’s how you grow the sport. Renault understood this well with old F1 Renault cars on display and adverts in the London Underground stations themed around F1, which were also seen by hundreds of thousands of commuters.
As F1’s biggest star, with by far the greatest cross-over appeal, a lot of the heavy lifting will fall on Hamilton’s shoulders.
‘I wish there was more time to see the fans,’ Hamilton said in an interview with David Tremayne which was ironically published in the Independent yesterday. ‘You see them at such a distance, it sucks.
‘The crowd-surfing (when he won Silverstone for the fourth time in 2016) was the greatest thing for me because it was the first time I really got to engage with them in a different way
‘Hopefully when I’m on the podium and I carry the flag, people will start to see my patriotism. Being British is something I’m very proud of and maybe that’s just going to take time to show.’
For F1 the London event was a capability showcase. They have made it clear that having a British Grand Prix on the calendar is important to them, even if they were annoyed that Silverstone chose to make its announcement the day before Live London. But it didn’t put a dampener on proceedings.
“We are going to put our shoulder into making Silverstone one of the greatest races on the racing circuit over the next three years and we will see where we go from there,” F1 commercial boss Sean Bratches said yesterday. “But from a Formula One standpoint we are very committed to a British Grand Prix going forward.”
London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan said that he would be interested in discussing the idea of a race on the streets of London, but that there were some hurdles. Who would pay for it would be the first, security would be another and also the message of petrol engined cars racing on the streets isn’t what he wants for a city which needs to get significantly greener as its air quality is at dangerous levels.
“Our expectation is to go to large cities and have races on more street circuits,” said Bratches in an interview with Associated Press yesterday.
“We are going to add street circuits. The majority will probably be traditional tracks. But our expectation is to try to go to city centres and activate large fan bases with our brand on a going forward basis.”
Since I’ve been here, probably 30 countries, municipalities, principalities have reached out to me about interest in bringing Formula One to their cities, their countries,” Sean Bratches, F1’s managing director for commercial operations, told The Associated Press.
“So we are in a unique spot. We have an abundance of opportunities and we are going to have to figure out where we go and again at the centre of that decision is, ‘What is the best thing for our fans?'”
What did you make of the Live London event and the points raised in this post? Leave your comments in the section below