F1 should not become a 'beta test', says Wolff

Formula 1 must not rush into ‘beta test’ experiments with all-new rules in a bid to drive up audiences, claims Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff.

F1 should not become a 'beta test', says Wolff
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid leads at the start of the race
Sean Bratches, Managing Director, Commercial Operations; Chase Carey, Chairman and CEO of Formula 1; Ross Brawn, Managing Director, Motor Sports
Toto Wolff, Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director in the FIA Press Conference
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Toto Wolff, Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid leads team mate Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid leads at the start of the race
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Bernie Ecclestone
Chase Carey, Formula One Group Chairman with Bernie Ecclestone and Christian Horner,  Red Bull Racing Team Principal
Herbie Blash, FIA Delegate with Bernie Ecclestone
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As Liberty Media begins its revamp of F1 following its takeover of the business and ousting of Bernie Ecclestone, Wolff has urged caution in making snap changes to improve the spectacle.

Instead, he believes that any moves to shake up the show need to be well-considered, and must not alienate the core audience that has kept F1’s popularity up.

“I think we need to acknowledge that Formula 1 is a technical sport, so it will always polarise,” Wolff said in an interview published on the Mercedes F1 website on Thursday.

“There are people who will say that they hate it and others will say that they love it. That is okay.

"But one thing is for sure – we shouldn’t make it a beta test.

“We shouldn’t mess with our loyal fans and our audiences by implementing rules and regulations that we haven’t assessed properly.

"We should use data in a scientific approach and see what works in other sports and other entertainment platforms, then combine that with the great strengths and assets of Formula 1.”

Wolff’s views appear to be in-line with those of Ross Brawn, the F1 managing director who has been tasked with improving the sporting aspects of grand prix racing.

Brawn wants a full and proper analysis of F1's strengths and weaknesses, which is set to include consultation with fans and working groups to evaluate the rules, before pushing through changes.

Not broken

Wolff also thinks it wrong to suggest that F1 as a sport is completely broken – because despite areas where the sport can improve, it still generates big audiences and has a loyal followings.

“Considering that we as a team have been doing pretty well during the last seasons, audiences have developed in a very positive way,” he said.

“The last couple of races we had record-breaking audiences in some markets in terms of TV spectators. There has been a lot of talk about F1 not doing well. Actually, we have been doing pretty well considering that the market has changed tremendously.

“I doubt that younger generations switch on a traditional TV at two o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. They expect to watch it on a mobile device or via social media. Nevertheless, our audiences are pretty strong.

“We mustn’t talk the sport down, as it is not broken. There are ways to optimise it and there are areas which are blind spots in which we haven’t done a lot of work – for example the digital environment and social media. But we need to understand them.”

Social media issue

Liberty has targeted better use of social media and digital platforms as one of the key areas for growth in the next few years – but Wolff thinks the situation is quite complicated.

Ecclestone himself was long sceptical about how F1 could make good revenue from digital platforms, and Wolff agrees that it would make no sense for the sport to make all is assets available free of charge online.

“Social media is very important as a marketing tool to involve our audiences – both current fans and future fans,” he said. “But we have loyal partners in the TV stations that have been broadcasting our sport for a long time and have helped contribute to the team’s revenues.

“You can’t offer it for free in the digital world. You can see it as a marketing tool but not as the silver bullet that will solve all the problems.”

He added: “The Ecclestone era ending is a pretty big thing. I’m very curious and optimistic as to what the future holds.

"But one thing is for sure – the wheels turn very fast and yesterday’s news doesn’t interest anybody any more.

“We need to embrace the future and we shouldn’t be too nostalgic about the past. This sport has a huge opportunity for growing bigger and bigger and we could all benefit from this. We need to push in that direction.”

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