Continuing our occasional series of guest blogs from figures in the motorsport world, McLaren F1 boss Zak Brown blogs about some things going on behind the scenes in our sport.
Zak Brown writes: The start of a new year, new season is always exciting and there’s a lot going in world motorsports at the moment – so here are five areas that I’m looking out for in 2018
Before Christmas Sean Bratches presented the new F1 commercial strategy to us, the teams.
There is a huge emphasis on digital, as we know, but last year was about testing things out. For this year there are products in place, like a new F1 App, OTT platforms (Over The Top/streaming) and they have brought in David Hill, one of the great TV sports innovators, to oversee the graphics package and the way the race is televised. You’ll see significant changes there on the broadcast, on the graphics and the storytelling.
Then on-event we’ll see more fan engagement, building on last year and there will be new media properties to help fans get closer to the teams. I think the big impacts of 2018 will be on the media side, showing F1 in a way that it’s never been shown before. It will give us a younger and bigger audience and they will be more engaged.
I think we will see new race announcements for 2019 and beyond – one or two new hosting venues, which excites me.
That said, the honeymoon period is over.
They’ve only really had their feet under the desk for the last six to 12 months having inherited a sport previously operated pretty uniquely. They’ve had to put infrastructure in place, learn the environment and prioritise where to invest – all at the same time. I know from my McLaren experience, I’m on top of things now, but it takes you a year minimum to get on top of things and it’s the same for them. F1 is a fast-moving, impatient and unforgiving sport but the teams can’t rely solely on Liberty and F1 to solve all the problems. Yes, there are several challenges but the key is turn these into opportunities.
There will be some big negotiations going on through 2018 with the teams on contract renewal and I predict that there will be public fireworks; we are already starting to see that. I do not think it’s going to be quiet. Will Ferrari really leave if they don’t like the new rules?
I have my opinion but we’ll see how this plays out.
I think we will see more convergence; every time you have rules stability things start to close up together and I think the grid will tighten up some in 2018.
Early predictions from me would be a top five in no particular order of Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Renault. We saw things tighten up towards the end of last year already.
I think that the Renault team and McLaren will both drive further forward so hopefully there should be another team or two in the mix. The midfield will tighten up even further.
With Sauber getting a current Ferrari engine and more funding I think we can expect them to no longer be the team that always qualifies at the back.
On many levels endurance racing is fantastic; GT and LMP2 have never been healthier, big grids, great racing, great manufacturer involvement. Obviously LMP1 has effectively come to an end, although great to see Toyota staying in, but looking forward they (WEC) want to land on new rules – they haven’t landed on a name yet – but the concept is the silhouette/GT1 car and I think that is of interest to a lot of manufacturers.
If they can get budgets down and people can race competitively with cars that look like the supercars of all these great companies then World Endurance Championship has a great opportunity, along with Daytona, to converge on a common set of rules, which could make endurance racing great again. And what IMSA has developed as DPi is not very far off; certainly the Daytona 24 hours paddock was pretty impressive last weekend at official practice and qualifying, with Acura, Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan all well represented.
I think it’s realistic. It’s going to take compromise by WEC and IMSA; WEC wants to be more technical, IMSA wants to be more economical. It will need some compromise but they got there with LMP2 and GTE ultimately. I hope they pull it off, because it would be a great shame not to have a common set of rules. For me sportscar racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Daytona, it’s about man and machine and endurance. It’s not overly technical. That’s F1. Yes, technology but not technology-led.
We’re getting ready for the Daytona 24 hours race later in January with Fernando Alonso and it’s very cool; any one of 14 cars could win this race by my reckoning. I’m super excited about the next couple of weeks.
It’s all about season five. Formula E was always about helping extend the range and performance of electric cars and in season five they are going to be able to do a race on a single battery, a single car. With that you now have some new teams coming in like Porsche and Mercedes.
As a business and as a sport Formula E is transitioning from Phase 1 to Phase 2 now. It’s in business, it has a full grid, plenty of sponsors including a new series title partner, ABB, so now they can evolve to the next stage of the development of this sport. So that’s exciting.
However, the one watch-out is that the manufacturers don’t turn it onto a spending arms race, as they have with other series, which led to their demise. What have we learned from manufacturers spending and spending in DTM and LMP1? We love manufacturers but we can’t have unlimited cheque-book racing. It hurts the sport. How is Formula E going to control costs?
For my money, IndyCar has been for many years the most competitive high-level racing series. You don’t know who is going to win the races and the championship always goes down to fine margins on the final event. Formula 1 can learn a lot from this, even though it is an elite series. Unpredictability of racing, the possibility for fairy tales to happen like a midfield team getting a win; it’s clear that competitive balance is something to aspire to. 10 drivers could have won the Indy 500 last year.
For 2018 they have a new car which looks great and a broadcast presentation that F1 could learn from and the ratings are coming up, even if it is from a low base.
I think there are two big questions for NASCAR in 2018. How will things settle out now the Race Teams Association has a bigger and more unified voice in the sport? And how will the loss of the star power of Dale Earnhardt Jr and Danica Patrick impact things?
On the second question, we’ve been here before: NASCAR has lost big names synonymous with the sport like Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Sr, and Jeff Gordon. But NASCAR has always been great in having strength in numbers so the next superstars are always around the corner.
This comes from their constant focus on making the driver the centre of attention – playing up their characters and rivalries; F1 can learn something from that. Except Formula 1 is about both the cars and the stars – so getting that balance right is the key.
Anyway those are the things I’m watching out for in 2018. Hope you enjoy the season.
What do you think of the things that Zak has picked out here? What are you looking forward to in 2018? Leave your comments in the section below