The debut of Formula E has created a great deal of debate in the motorsport community, both positive and negative, and has coincided with a period of intense criticism of Formula 1. Many Formula E supporters have predicted the demise of Formula 1 as a result of its high octane image being stuck in the past and an opportunity for a newcomer to take its place at the pinnacle of motorsport.
Is it really possible that F1 is destined to become outdated and replaced by this all electric series? Should you be redirecting your career efforts into this burgeoning technology rather than pursuing the fading star of Formula 1? In this post I’ll be looking at the opportunities that Formula E represents and how it might affect your chances of a career in racing.
F1 in trouble
If you read the popular press and in particular the social networks around motorsport you might be thinking that Formula 1’s days are numbered and that it is destined to self destruct in the very near future. The sport certainly doesn’t help itself in that respect and some of the characters that run the teams and the commercial aspects of Formula 1 could learn a thing or two about public relations. Formula One’s general popularity means that it generates a great deal of discussion and opinion. Every last detail of how it operates is scrutinised and often criticised by fans and the media. We live in an era where it is very difficult to exist in the public eye without carefully managing your brand and product. Formula 1 has been very guilty of assuming that the product will take care of itself and that there is no need to engage with fans or manage its image within the community. A dangerous game.
I personally think that as a form of entertainment, F1 is actually much better now than it has been in the past. Even as a die-hard fan I regularly fell asleep watching processional or strategy dominated races in the early 2000’s. Rose tinted spectacles herald this as a golden era but I think it was anything but. DRS and other innovations have an army of critics but there have been some spectacular races in F1 in recent years and this should not be ignored.
At the same time though, I agree that there is something lacking in the sport at present which needs to be addressed very soon to stop the tide of negative opinion. The rule makers, teams and promoters are in a bit of a muddle as to what to do and I don’t envy their position as it’s very hard to know what a popular and reinvigorated F1 should look like. The rise in popularity of the WEC and Formula E should be taken very seriously by the F1 community as we face a challenging future to retain and increase the sport’s appeal.
An Electric future?
Formula E debuted on the global stage late last year to a very mixed reception, myself included. As someone from a slightly older generation, much of the appeal of motorsport comes from the noise and power of the traditional racing car and so the prospect of the silent and let’s be honest, slightly underpowered Formula E series did little to spark my interest. An interesting gimmick I thought but hardly a threat to the domination of F1.
I’ve got to say however that I have been mightily impressed with the Formula E series this year. The opening race was a little dull, but several since have provided excellent entertainment and the format of it really has been very well managed and promoted. The city centre venues have been key to that, bringing the sport directly to high population centres and non-traditional crowds. The tight and twisty street circuits have also served to enhance the sensation of speed and produce some frantic and exciting racing which simply would not have worked on a more open and traditional race circuit. The cooperative social media and promotion policy of the teams and series organisers has been very effective in selling the product and producing a buzz around each event. It’s is certainly a very different product to Formula 1 but it has shown a clear pair of heels to the dinosaur incumbent in the modern era of internet led media. Hats off – I’m impressed !
Back to reality
Formula E should have woken the sleeping giant with what it has achieved in its debut year. It has shown what is possible through inventive and original thinking rather than just massive financial input and also demonstrated that there is room for more than just 1 popular international single seater category in the world.
I don’t however think that Formula E is about to conquer the world just yet and unseat F1 as the powerhouse of Motorsport. Impressive though it may be, it has ridden a tide of positive sentiment, much of which has been generated in response to a perceived lack of engagement from F1.
When you look at the steps taken by Formula One over the past 5 years or more, it has been instrumental in the introduction of hybrid electric technology, well ahead of Formula E and the WEC. F1 has received massive criticism for bravely pushing itself into a more modern engine and fuel efficiency format, when I beleive that it was heading for very justified criticism from environmental lobbyists and governments of hosting countries for being stuck in the past. It has not received anywhere near the credit that it deserves for pioneering this initiative. The WEC in comparison has been hailed as a saviour even though it has effectively borrowed or purchased much of the same hybrid technology from F1. On paper, F1 has done all of the right things and yet the end product has been received very badly. It’s a headache for us within the sport because it’s very hard to put your finger on exactly what is wrong but there is little doubt that it just isn’t working.
It’s odd how a quieter and more efficient Formula 1 car can be showered with criticism and yet the near silent Audi WEC car (which uses Williams F1 developed flywheel technology) is held up as being the future of racing. The playing field is not level by any stretch of the imagination but I think this is more a reflection of poor image management by F1 promoters than it is about the product itself. Perhaps I am biased (I know I am) but I think F1 needs a little more defence in areas where some credit is genuinely deserved. Portrayed, broadcast and engaged properly I think F1 is still a fantastic product and can strengthen itself over the coming years.
The power of F1 is still mighty in comparison to Formula E and managed properly, it will take more than a few entertaining street races to unseat F1 as the premier category. The heritage of F1 counts for a lot and is its greatest weapon if it can just be channeled and harnessed properly. We all need to see this as an early warning and take a look at what other series such as Formula E and the WEC are achieving and how they are doing it.
What does the future hold?
The motorsport scene is changing for certain and Formula 1 needs to adapt if it is to survive over the next decade. My feeling is that the next few years will be very painful for the industry in terms of popularity and media srutiny but that events will come full circle and F1 will have to adapt itself to maintain and strengthen its position. Competition is F1’s core value and the people who work in it are able to adapt and maximise to whatever is thrown at them. These people will simply not let F1 die and that is the fascination that I the premier category holds.
As Formula E moves onwards however, it will invite greater manufacturer competition and technical innovation to replace the one make series that it runs currently. The opportunities for careers in that series will no doubt increase with that opening of the rules book and a healthy Formula E is very good news for the industry as a whole. I truly think that Formula E will prosper alongside F1 and fill a gap in the market which F1 probably cannot and should not attempt to compete in.
The successes of Formula E, particularly in promotion, fan engagement and media are opportunities for new and innovative thinkers to get a foothold in racing and explore their ideas in a much more free and open environment than they might find in F1. For marketing people, I think Formula E is one of the best opportunities to come along in some kind and is a tremendous proving ground. I expect that F1 will be looking to those people in the coming years to help it reshape and rebuild its own image rather than the other way around.
The size of the current Formula E industry from a technical standpoint means that job opportunities are somewhat limited. The current battery technology is (ironically) owned by the Williams F1 team and is not likely to grow until the rivalry of competition raises the stakes and invites further investment. The e-motor technology is currently provided by McLaren but organisers have received bids from a number of new manufacturers for the 2015-2016 season when that area of the car is opened up for competition. That will be the true test of the new race series but I genuinely believe that it has made the best possible start and made the most of the current market conditions and tools at its disposal.
In the long term, initiatives such as a Formula E will only serve to strengthen motorsport in general and widen its appeal. I very much hope that it will help to introduce racing to new markets. Formula 1 technology is currently supporting Formula E behind the scenes and shares many of its values . In many ways Formula E and F1 are partners rather than a rivals. The opportunities that Formula E creates for those wishing to work in motorsport will certainly help many people onto the racing ladder and as I have always said, a healthy motorsport industry is the most important thing no matter what rules we work to or what name is above the door.
In truth, we should all be welcoming this newcomer to the scene and helping it establish itself. The lessons that F1 can learn from the new ideas it can bring can help everyone but especially those looking to get involved in Motorsport whether that desire is petrol powered or electric or a mixture of both. Good luck Formula E and I will watch with interest.
Keep in touch
In recent weeks the traffic coming to this site has increased significantly and I hope now to be able to write new content more regularly than I have done recently. Sales of the “How to get a job in Grand Prix Racing” guidebook have been amazing since it was published at the beginning of the month and I hope that those who have got a copy have found it a useful tool. I put a tremendous amount of time and effort into it to make sure that it was the best advice available and would love to hear your feedback on that.
As always you can comment on the blog here or contact me via my Twitter or Facebook pages and I will (eventually) try and answer your queries. Good luck.