‘”Red Bull threatens Formula 1 boycott”, “Formula 1’s glaring issues exposed at Australian Grand Prix” “Ricciardo sorry for fans after boring F1”
24 hours after the opening race of the F1 season and the knives are out for drastic changes to be made to not only level the racing field but also to further engage fans. Formula One Management are feeling the heat off the track from motorsport fans, F1 drivers and bosses as well as sports business commentators who have long argued that fan engagement in F1 has been lacking for far too long. However, as will be seen in this quick review, the 2015 Australian Grand Prix delivers a world-class best practice experience for every person that attends the event.
In a day and age where sporting organisations are doing everything they can to establish fans loyalty with baby memberships available as soon as they leave their mother’s wombs, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone out of touch comments on fan engagement in June 2014 ‘I don’t know why people want to get to the so-called ‘young generation’. Why do they want to do that? Is it to sell them something? Most of these kids haven’t got any money’ reveal the problem with where the F1 is with fan engagement.
This kind of outlook that the sport does not need young fans shows an appalling lack of understanding of the audience of F1 fans and what they want from the sporting experience. However that comment is not the least worrying for motorsport aficionados as Eccclestone has gone further on to state in early March 2015 that he’s not alarmed by declining television audiences and that social media is a fad that he sees no value in having stated “I’m not interested in tweeting, Facebook and whatever this nonsense is, I’m too old-fashioned. I couldn’t see any value in it.” However that being said, in the past week the F1 has finally set up a YouTube channel and perhaps this is a sign that they are looking to embrace social media more in 2015 having learnt more about how younger fans are consuming the F1.
It seems that even team owners are pulling their hair out in regards to trying to win back fans as in the past fortnight during pre-season testing Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has called out Ecclestone as well over fan engagement to the point where he took himself, the reserve driver and the sporting director into the stands to work and sit with fans. Now that is fan engagement!
However it’s not all doom and gloom for F1 fan engagement. Far from that in fact as having just returned from the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne I have to congratulate the Australian Grand Prix Corporation on a truly world class fan experience that was the 2015 Australian Grand Prix.
The anticipation starts building from the moment you catch the free trams from Melbourne CBD down St Kilda Road to the Albert Park racecourse. After a short 10 minute walk from a tram stop and over a bridge with fans decked out in F1 team sponsored gear you make your way to the entrance where you’re greeted with free copies of Sunday’s newspaper and free #CMONDAN Daniel Riccardio cards to wave while you’re in the circuit. I was also able to pick up more freebies in the way of a lanyard, AUSGP map, can of RedBull and even sunscreen. You’d be crazy to do a gym sesh before hitting up the Grand Prix such is the amount of walking from fan zone to fan zone that can be achieved with myself clocking in at 7.4km of walking between each of the five fan areas throughout the day.
This event is right up there with what best practice for fan engagement at a major event looks like with entertainment coming at you from every angle both off and on the track across the whole day and as a result of that, I’ll split this review up into two sections to cover each of these.
Off the Track
There truly are activations galore for fans with simple cost effective things like face painting, photo boards where fans can stick their head through and be a grid girl or their F1 hero all the way through to free race track simulators. It’s also just great to see how fans were so well catered for with basic things like free sunscreen, ATM’s and free phone charging stations all abundantly placed around the circuit.
There are five massive fan zones included in the general admission ticket price that include;
- Legends Lane with motorsport nostalgia like classic cars and the industry and innovation Precinct that featured heaps of educational motoring displays and student workshops
- V8 Village devoted to the V8 Supercars with huge merch tents, autograph areas, giveaway tents and panel discussion stages
- Action Zone with live bands, segway and pit stop challenges, Panna football cages, Australian Defence Force vehicle exhibitions, motocross action stunts, kids dirt-bike rides and an aerosol art display
- F1 Central with access to stand right in the action behind the V8 teams in the pit and take part in the other sponsor challenges.
- Kids Corner, which is decked out with a Porsche kids driving school and Disney attractions
All of these areas featured multiple catering options with healthy choices in mind as well as tables, umbrellas for sun protection, bean bags and large LED screens to take in the race if you didn’t have a grandstand ticket or didn’t want to find a spot along the outside of the track as these areas do tend to fill up fast.
Along with these entertainment zones, fans also had the option of upgrading their existing ticket for around $60 to enter the James Boags Premium Fan Zone which featured better access to the grid, bean bag seating, bars and even a shipping container rooftop bar which afforded an elevated viewing deck to watch the race from.
On the Track
If the activities off the track don’t represent enough value for fans already then what takes place on the track will certainly leave no one complaining. While some F1 meets only have one or two races throughout the day, the Australian Grand Prix has a total of seven races on as soon as gates open until the first Grand Prix race of the season at 4pm. Throughout the whole day and these seven races there is only between 5 and 15 minutes when there is not a car on the track between races like the Porsche Carrera Cup, V8 Supercars and Heritage Touring cars which are constantly showcasing something exciting for fans to engage with. The Ultimate Speed Comparison test where they give a normal car a head start over a V8 Supercar, which also gets a head start over a F1 car as they all race for one lap, was also pretty fun to watch, especially as they hit the home straight.
Along with the races, there is the RAAF aerial displays which take place over the track and include the famous Roulettes, FA-18 jet flyover with its epic booming sounds and the incredible scenes as a Qantas 747 jetliner floats ever so close over the circuit.
As the day draws to a close and Lewis Hamilton does his victory lap, fans get one last bang for their buck at the Australian Grand Prix by getting to walk the length of the track and have their picture taken under the famous ‘Melbourne, Australia’ sign. Watching the fans eagerly line up behind the fences and then race to the starting line is a hilarious sight but it’s also just such ultimate fan engagement to be able to stand on the track that these amazing machines were just racing on. It’s also fascinating to watch as racing enthusiasts pick up scraps of tyres and debris off the track to take home as a memorable souvenir. What made the day even more spectacular and something that no one saw coming was then watching Arnold Schwarnegger taking charge of the post match presentations and interviews on the podium and as it was revealed later his payment fee for this was just a few hamburgers and some water!
Throughout the day I counted 73 different things which I engaged with at the AUSGP and I have no doubt that there were many activations that I was unable to get to just due to not wanting to miss the start of the race. Motorsport is not everyone’s cup of tea however the Australian Grand Prix is a brilliant example of fan engagement at it’s best and should be applauded for creating an unrivalled fan experience for both the casual and hard-core fan.