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New realities for F1 fans and teams

March 26, 2018

Mehul Kapadia   

Vice President - Global Marketing at Tata Communications

Despite F1’s inextricable relationship with technology, traditional television broadcasts of the Grand Prix still hold a special, albeit sentimental, place in fans’ hearts. Now, however, the sport is looking to attract a new generation of fans that have come of age on smartphones, tablets, and ubiquitous connectivity. Next, immersive technologies have the potential to attract a new generation of fans and transform the viewing experience – in the same way that television has proved to be the perfect platform from the 1950s up to the present day.

New viewing technologies could put fans in control of how they experience F1 and could go far beyond a linear TV viewing experience. As shown by our proof of concept 360-degree live video trial at the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix, new technologies could help fans tailor their experience and feel as though they are in the heart of the action. Switching between race action, their favourite driver’s point-of-view, their team’s pit lane and mingling with celebrities in the paddock will create a rich and deep entertainment experience for die-hard and novice fans alike.

Imagine too how Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) could bring all-new experiences to fans at home and at the racetrack. Equipped with their mobile device or smart glasses, fans could be served information like lap or technical information about cars as they pass round the track. Something similar was done by Mercedes AMG Motorsport and Epson during 2016 Melbourne Grand Prix. Guests were given smart glasses that served information such as driver statistics or detail about the roles of various crew members in the pit as they walked around.

In a sport where all of the participants are so obsessed with technology, the possibilities for transforming and experimenting with the fan experience are endless.

Augmented performance: there and not there

VR and AR could also provide a huge benefit to F1 teams at trackside and back at HQ. Drivers could be equipped with information via smart visors in their helmets. They could be shown visualisations of upcoming sections of the track or provided with microclimate data which they can respond to as the race progresses.

In future, the use of augmented and virtual reality could also be extended to the support crew. There is a limit to the number of staff members each team can have in the pit. Therefore, most teams have large numbers of staff working back at their headquarters where they crunch data and advise on race strategy. Equipping these staff with VR headsets showing the pit, or even the driver’s view would allow them to get deeper into the action and add more value than they are able to back at HQ – where they view everything from computers or TV screens. For example, engineers could assess damage to cars or suggest changes to car parts during race weekends from wherever they happen to be in the world – even from their own homes. Ex-drivers on the staff could advise on driving strategy or tactics mid-race as they watch the action from the driver’s perspective.

VR could also be used by the drivers to prepare for the season ahead. Generally speaking, drivers only get to drive around a track for one weekend a year. Added to that, new circuits are often added to the calendar or old tracks come back into the fold – as we saw with Mexico City in 2015. Giving the drivers the opportunity to experience a track via VR will enable them to learn every turn and straight of the circuit, preparing them long before they arrive on site and potentially making for a higher quality race. Similarly, VR could help to breed the next generation of F1 drivers by democratising access to the sport for fans at an early age.

Transformation: a journey not a destination

Like life, Formula 1 is a journey and not a destination. Drivers come and go as the greats retire and new young guns come on the scene. New generations of fans take up the sport and consume it in new ways from social media to virtual reality, while their grandparents swap the stands for their armchairs and TV screens. The livery and sponsors on the cars change and circuits in new markets are added to the calendar while others fall away.

Transformation is the only constant within F1. Everything else changes. Limits are ignored, scoffed at even and progress is a given. The desire to change, improve and innovate is loud and clear from the likes of Brawn – who says that F1 can be the greatest showcase of engineering in the world but it doesn’t matter if people aren’t tuning in, engaging and hungry for more. Therefore, the same ‘always in beta’ culture which has bred feats of engineering previously thought to be unthinkable is what will drive the sport forward commercially. The digital transformation will see Formula 1 reach new and greater heights on and off the track.

To read my previous blog post about connected F1 fans: click here.