Brawn plots F1's secrecy revolution to help fan experience
Ross Brawn has revealed plans to push Formula 1 teams to end their culture of secrecy, as part of a bid to deliver fans a better experience.
Brawn, who is F1’s motorsport managing director, believes great opportunities are being missed on digital platforms through not exploiting the wealth of data, simulations and telemetry that teams have available to them.
He says new owners Liberty Media are working with F1’s technology partners Tata Communications on how best to take the sport to a new level of fan engagement – through the use of Apps, mobile devices and even Augmented and Virtual Reality.
While some changes – including adding WiFi networks to F1 tracks - are pretty straightforward, other aspects will take time but should be hugely popular.
“There is a great layer of information in Formula 1, that we should be making available to the fans, so the fans can watch at whatever level they want to engage in,” Brawn told Motorsport.com.
“I had three years as a TV enthusiast and what I missed was the ability to keep going deeper and deeper into what’s going on in the race.
"I was used to pitwall environment where I had all the information and I had the analysis from my experts being fed in to me as well. So I had a picture of the whole race.
“Imagine that you have all the information available that the strategists have on the pitwall, to decide when they do a pitstop. You simulate all that, you decide when you want a pitstop and you work through it.
“We can make available a necessary program, so people could use it to make their predictions. You have the tyre profile, you have the length of the pitstop, you have the position of the cars and you have the gaps. So you’d be working out a pitstop yourself, which for me would be fascinating.
“With all the fans engaging like that, you can imagine the collection of opinions and debate that would go on. And this is only an example of one aspect of the racing, because there’s so much information out there – and it’s all available.
“The teams do massive analysis of how’s the car behaving, how much understeer it has, how much oversteer it has, what would brake wear be like? If we cross that barrier, to make all that information available, I think the large chunk of enthusiasts would really enjoy seeing all that, both live and retrospectively.”
Speaking to teams
On the technological front, F1 is ready to unleash Liberty’s vision for opening up the data channels and taking it to fans
Tata Communications, which celebrated its 100th race involved with F1 at the Chinese Grand Prix, has already prepared the connectivity needed to do just that – having successfully even completed tests for UHD and OTT broadcasts last year that require huge bandwith.
Brawn said: “We’ve got a framework and we’ve got a platform to almost do whatever we want. And that’s a great position to be in.”
Tata Communications itself believes that if F1 is going to keep expanding its reach, then it has to produce better content that engages audiences.
Mehul Kapadia, head of Tata’s F1 operations, said: “Beforehand you could have the racing experience and not worry about the technology. I think now, the technology is as important as cars going faster. If you consider great racing action and great means to deliver it to audiences, that is where the real punch is.
"What Netflix cracked the code on was to ensure that when you want it, you will get it. Live sports still faces that challenge of, is it interesting enough after I already know who has won? So what do you do to the content to deliver that.”
A new mindset
One of the first hurdles to the digital change will be in convincing teams to give up the wealth of information that they gather themselves.
Brawn knows the value that teams put on understanding their own performance and that of their rivals, but he thinks that F1 as a whole would benefit if everything was made open and shared
“It’s thinking with a bigger picture – let’s stop being so competitive in certain arenas,” he said.
“We know we need to beat each other, but can we cross that barrier and instead say, what we want is a much bigger business. And if we all do it, nobody is going to be disadvantaged or advantaged.
“I remember it was the same with team radio. Teams didn’t want radio conversations broadcast, but now it is a very interesting aspect of the race and nobody thinks about it any more.”
When asked if he had spoken to teams about this idea, Brawn said: “To be fair, we haven’t got our ideas straight on what we feel would be the right requirement from the teams to take this forward.
“I don’t want go out and ask for a bit of this and a bit of that. We really need get our idea straight and we’re in that process. It will take a little while and we can cross that barrier of secrecy.”
Tests this year
Brawn suggests that the first tests for the new ideas could take place as early as this season – with a view to a proper introduction in 2018.
“Maybe some trials this season, but I think next year is more realistic for substantial elements, but there will be pieces coming in this season,” he said.
Change could be coming for the fan experiences at the track too, with plans to finally install a WiFi network at circuits.
One of F1’s previous failures was that despite having a world-class technology expert like Tata on board, it did not push for a connected stadium approach – where fans had access to the best WiFi possible in the grandstand.
Despite sources suggesting Tata could have implemented this ‘in a matter of hours’, Bernie Ecclestone was reluctant to go down that route for commercial reasons. It is something that Brawn says Liberty Media will address soon.
“That’s coming, that’s definitely coming. It’s being worked on,” said Brawn on the Wifi situation.
“You know, the things I’ve spoken about - following a race and understanding the strategy and working out pit stops, if you could do that on a grandstand, on your portable device. Imagine how great that would be.”