The what? Yes, I wasn’t quite familiar with it either. The FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) Fans Forum was created from the pool of F1 fans like you and I courtesy of James Allen, BBC F1 Reporter. Powered by Santander and organized in conjunction with the FOTA, this forum was a great way to really connect the F1 body with its fans – the ones who matter the most. Interesting faces appeared in the audience – Mike Gascoyne (@MikeGascoyne), Chief Technical Officer, Lotus Racing, Frank Dernie, Former Senior Advisor for Toyota F1 Team, and Ted Kravitz, BBC F1 pitlane reporter.
The forum, one that took place on July 1st, was comprised of the following panel members:
- Martin Whitmarsh, FOTA Chairman and Team Principal of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
- Tony Fernandes, Team Principal of Lotus Racing
- Jock Clear, Senior Race Engineer, Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team
- Luca Colajanni, Head of Motorsport Press Office, Scuderia Ferrari
- Paul di Resta, Test and Reserve Driver, Force India F1 Team
The event was put into place in a “Question Time” format, where fans were able to ask questions and share their honest opinions on matters of the sport. To attend (which I thought was awesome), all you needed to do – well, all fans in London needed to do – was register online and come as early as possible as only 150 places were available for the 90 minute session. The entrance fee: FREE. Now that’s what I call wanting to get things done.
Ehm, back to the topic at hand. The fans decided the agenda.. and it went something like this:
Topic 1: Fan Experience – how can we improve it?
“It’s clear that we need to be more engaged with the fans. We need to consider the show and ensure there is value for fans,” said Whitmarsh.
Fernandes felt F1 has been too inclusive and thinks social networking tools are a great way to involve fans. He would also like to see team radio made available to fans so they can feel like they’re driving.
Whitmarsh said that some of McLaren’s tweets were too explicit early in the season and were told to tone it down slightly.
He continued by pointing out that 20 races in one year is too much. The United States is one of F1’s most important markets and a five-year plan needs to be put into place in order to break the American market and host races both on the West and East coasts.
Fernandes and Whitmarsh agree with the fact that ticket prices are too high and that 20 races per season is sufficient enough.
“Days of being secretive are destructive. Make more racing more interactive,” Fernandes says as he suggests fans could follow a team’s radio channel for an entire race duration.
Topic 2: The Overtaking Question
“When you see a car closing up, you can get close. But if the tires grain, it drops off. Overtaking needs to be difficult but possible. Unlike in NASCAR, where it happens all the time and isn’t exciting,” said Resta.
Whitmarsh thinks it was right to introduce the notion of an adjustable rear wing but that “we have got to be careful about how we deploy it.”
“How can the teams control costs and still maintain the lead in such a competitive game?” Force India posts as food for thought via their Twitter account (@clubforce).
Clear points out that moveable rear wings need more input from designers like Adrian Newey, Ross Brawn and Neil Oatley.
Topic 3: Cost Control vs. Technological Innovation
Whitmarsh is also in favor of the moveable rear wing but warned that F1 has to be careful to ensure better product and balance between cost and innovation. He agreed with Fernandes in saying that there needs to be a balance between introducing new innovations and controlling costs. Will innovation X improve the sport to a certain degree while keeping costs reasonable? Neither poles should be achieved fully.
Colajanni said it is important that F1 continues to transfer technology from F1 to road cars.
The theater then bursts into a roar of applause as they recognize the feat in designing an F1 car and having the safety standards to allow Mark Webber to walk away from that crash he endured in Valencia.
Testing is one aspect of the sport that needs to be looked into. Limiting testing is a good way to cut costs and a great way to keep the field competitive, but it’s a terrible way to keep F1 the growing and organic sport that it is. And when I say organic, I mean ‘living.’ Testing gives young, inexperienced drivers the chance to train and enter F1 properly. Not enough training/experience/testing can hurt the rookie and the rest of the field.
“It is dreadful that we don’t have more testing. The driver pool is in danger of becoming a closed shop,” says Clear. Whitmarsh is also in favor of seeing the testing limit relaxed.
Colajanni suggested that F1 organize test sessions at circuits like Silverstone and Monza for fans to have the opportunity to come closer to the action.
Topic 4: F1 & The Environment
Just the other day (June 30th), the FOTA announced its plans to cut CO2 emissions by 12%.
“If Formula 1 has the engineering talent to make the world a better place, then I think it should. And if we can deliver on what FOTA announced yesterday, then I think it will and that is very exciting,” said Fernandes.
Whitmarsh thinks the new low-capacity engines, KERS, turbocharging and thermal recovery should be looked at for the future – the future of F1’s green footprint. Fernandes agrees pointing out that F1 and the car industry needs to work together on the technologies that ‘make the world a better place.’
“If a tiny percentage of 2013 engine innovations flow into road cars, then the benefit for planet earth will be enormous,” said Clear.
On the subject of new teams, Whitmarsh does not think we should have a two tier system. I don’t either. The first thing that comes to my mind is Le Mans, and we only need one sport with various tiers. F1 needs to stay F1.
Resta points out the advantages of the McLaren Mercedes package for Force India and that it is a great benefit and use of resources.
Topic 5: Emphasis On Driver Skill
We have all witnessed, at one point or another, the penalties put on drivers for incidents they caused. Resta acknowledges the fact that some decisions are not always preferred and arguments begin for the more harsh penalties, but it’s all about getting a good balance and not putting the driver in danger. After the incidents in Montreal, Resta said that the rules need to be clarified with regards to what constitutes a dangerous move on track.
“Driver skill always counts more than technology. The most skilled driver will always win.