Analysis: How F1 drivers can connect fans to the sport

The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association has promised to reveal a big announcement during the Monaco GP weekend that could herald the dawn of a new era in fan-driver interactivity.

As Wurz explained to Motorsport.com, the GPDA’s desire for increased contact with fans will not involve violating any of the strict rules governing the distribution of F1 content outside of the approved broadcasting channels.

“Obviously, speaking about physical interaction with fans on race weekends, that’s something that has to go via the team, the promoters and Bernie,” he said. “That’s not our part of the business cake. I think everyone is here that the sport is here because of the fans, and we’re going to connect in the way we can and the way we want to do it.”

Given that the vast majority of the grid already has a social media presence and the ability to connect with fans in the digital realm, precisely what the GPDA is planning is a matter of speculation.

Digital interaction is key

Physical interaction is already tightly controlled through autograph sessions, meet-and-greets, and official fan Q&As, and is not something Wurz is pushing to change. Digital interaction, meanwhile, has been an ever-increasing aspect of Formula 1 over the past five years.

While fans are already familiar with FOM’s resistance to YouTube and content sharing when it comes to the rapid removal of fan-filmed race footage, less has been said about the way in which it affects drivers’ ability to interact with their fans.

During the 2014 pre-season tests in Bahrain, Kamui Kobayashi revealed to Motorsport.com that he had been subject to an official slap on the wrist from the powers that be after posting a brief video clip of himself in the Caterham on social media.

“I took a movie, an outing from Formula 1, and I just uploaded it on the web,” Kobayashi said. “I just sent the movie on my Instagram, then I got a call from FOM. They are not happy. I’m the driver. It’s just a short one, you know? It’s not doing TV. I am not making money, it’s just fun. A driver is not only driving, we need some fun as well!”

While FOM have opened up on the social and digital media fronts over the past 12 months, Wurz’s plans for increased interactivity will nevertheless remain tightly constrained.

Big plans in the pipeline

The former F1 racer and current driver trainer and businessman remained coy on the details of just what the GDPA has planned.

“We want to connect to [fans] in a more interactive way,” Wurz told Motorsport.com. “And that’s what we’re planning, and I think in Monaco we’ll be able to say much more and give details on what we’re going to be doing.”

When it comes to fan interaction with the cockpit, Formula 1 is light years behind both NASCAR and Formula E.

During the 2012 Daytona 500, NASCAR’s Brad Keselowski took to Twitter while still behind the wheel – albeit under red flags – to tweet a picture of his view of the huge track fire that had caused the stoppage. To attempt such a thing in F1 would go against all that the FIA’s Action for Road Safety campaign stands for.

Formula E have taken the concept of cockpit interaction to another level with the FanBoost concept, but – putting aside any concerns about the artificial nature of the concept, which is anathema to many fans – to allow such a move would require regulatory change that is far beyond the remit of the GPDA.

Perhaps the most interesting outcome of Friday’s GPDA meeting was not the announcement that fan interaction will soon improve, but the inherent implication that – under the politically astute Alex Wurz – the organisation is spreading its wings and exploring areas of influence not previously considered by recent former chairmen Pedro de la Rosa, Nick Heidfeld, and Rubens Barrichello.

As they say, watch this space.

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Series Formula 1
Article type Commentary