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Formula 1

The latest example of F1 making up for old regime’s lost time

by Jim Wright
4 min read

Jim Wright was employed by Williams Grand Prix Engineering between 1994 and 2006, holding senior commercial and marketing positions and serving on the management board from 2002 until his departure.

Twenty-one years ago, some of the top F1 teams were starting to become frustrated by a perceived lack of progress in terms of commercial opportunity and marketing from Princes’ Gate. Whilst Bernie was doing a great job of building up the media broadcast rights there was a view that other parts of the Formula 1 commercial offering were lagging a long way behind other sports. And arguably, the greater the media broadcast awareness of F1, the more the acute the prime issue of linking broadcast coverage with fan engagement points in city centres became.

A highly reputable Swiss-based global sports marketing agency was engaged by the F1 teams (at some not inconsiderable expense) to start looking at how the burgeoning F1 media awareness could be translated into fan experiences for those unable to attend races but wanting a more regular fix of their favourite sport. “High-Street Touch Points” was, I seem to remember, the buzz-phrase deployed by the marketing folk at the time and the senior commercial representatives from each team were allowed to contribute ideas to the discussion and to help identify the issues and potential solutions.

After some encouraging and enlightening meetings Bernie “got wind” and, using his considerable leverage over the team principals, the project was quickly and quietly shut down and the subject was no longer raised. Remember that in those days Bernie’s vice-like grip on everything F1 was pervasive, to say the least, and Bernie did not consider “F1 touch points” a priority.

Bernie Ecclestone F1 boss

It was therefore with some interest that I found myself heading into Central London on the New Year Bank Holiday together with my 14-year-old son and some of his mates and one other father. We were heading for the recently opened F1 Arcade venue adjacent to St Paul’s Cathedral where, so the blurb informed us, 60 (yes, sixty) state-of-the-art F1 race simulators awaited us.

F1 Arcade is a new joint venture between the Formula 1 Group and Adam Breeden’s Kindred Concepts, a themed entertainment business which sees the St Paul’s venue as the first of up to 30 such outlets to be rolled out worldwide. The F1 joint venture is pitching the F1 Arcade concept as a premium entertainment venue that brings the sport of F1 to the public and where customers can get closer to the F1 experience.

As you can imagine, a similar concept was discussed 21 years ago but under the enlightened ownership of Liberty Media it’s now becoming a reality and with plug-and-play high-tech simulators and multiplayer links, it provides a great opportunity for London’s rank amateurs out for a bit of fun and aspiring F1 drivers alike to really experience the world of Formula 1 in their home city.

Our visit was organised by one of the boys’ Mums after the boys became aware of the activity through their social media feeds (what else?) and after a couple of nudges on a school run the booking was apparently made. Oblivious to this while engaged in Formula E testing in Valencia, I was told of my day out over Christmas and I set out with little knowledge but high anticipation based on my experience from representing the Williams team in those ultimately fruitless discussions 21 years ago.

The boys had 2×30 minute sessions booked, with a 30-minute break, and the session allowed for four mini-races using a variety of track layouts – Bahrain, Spa, Silverstone and Monza. The whole experience was slick and professional, from signing on and pre-race QR code registration through to the simulators (all pristine and in good working order) and timing screens (ditto). The venue itself was immaculate with plenty of seating, an extensive bar and coffee station, eats and a cool, pleasant atmosphere where music was audible but unobtrusive, allowing concentration for those racing and ability to socialise for those not.

I would have preferred to have seen more F1 memorabilia (I saw one set of chrome-plated exhausts) – some race suits and helmets wouldn’t have gone amiss and I was surprised by the total lack of F1 video material. More importantly, and without any prompting from me, the four boys had similar observations from their visit.

After all, if the purpose is to create the aforementioned F1 touch points in major cities, then adding some through-the-ages car components and demonstrating our sport’s rich history through driver memorabilia and video would surely only enhance what is already a very good experience.

But overall it is a great relief that, finally, Formula 1 is starting to fulfil the latent potential that Liberty spoke about upon acquiring F1 from CVC.

In Liberty we have a great custodian of our sport which wants to build it up rather than sucking it dry, which was the want of CVC. While it’s a shame that it’s taken 21 years for some of the ideas discussed to reach fruition, the good news is that there is plenty more to come.

Somewhere in my office I think that I still have a copy of the documents produced by the Swiss from our meetings – I’m tempted to dig it out and send it to Stefano Domenicali. After all, we’ve wasted enough time already!

In the meantime, thanks to Axel, Ben, Adam, Liam and Liam’s mum for booking a great day out and for testing the F1 Arcade experience.

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