Jim Wright was employed by Williams Grand Prix Engineering between 1994 and 2006, holding senior sales and marketing positions and serving on the board of directors from 2002 until his departure.
Twenty-one years ago, some of F1’s top teams were growing frustrated with Princes’ Gate’s perceived lack of progress in business and marketing opportunities. While Bernie was doing an excellent job of developing the media broadcast rights, there was a view that other parts of Formula 1’s commercial offering lagged far behind other sports. And arguably, the greater the media awareness of F1 broadcast, the more acute the core problem of linking broadcast coverage with fan engagement points in city centers has become.
A highly reputable global sports marketing agency based in Switzerland has been engaged by F1 teams (at significant expense) to begin examining how F1’s burgeoning media awareness could translate into fan experiences for those who cannot. not attend the races but want a more regular dose of their favorite sport. “High-Street Touch Points” was, as I recall, the buzz phrase deployed by marketing people at the time and senior sales reps from each team were allowed to contribute ideas to the discussion and help to identify problems and potential. solutions.
After a few encouraging and illuminating meetings, Bernie “got wind” and, using his considerable influence over the team managers, the project was quickly and quietly shut down and the subject was not discussed again. Remember that at this time Bernie’s grip on all things F1 was all over the place, to say the least, and Bernie didn’t consider “F1 touchpoints” a priority.
So it was with some interest that I found myself heading into central London on the New Years bank holiday with my 14 year old son and some of his pals and another dad. We were heading to the newly opened F1 Arcade site, adjacent to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where, according to the blurb, 60 (yes, sixty) state-of-the-art F1 racing simulators awaited us.
F1 Arcade is a new joint venture between the Formula 1 group and Andy Breedon’s Kindred Concepts, a themed entertainment company which sees the St Paul site as the first of 30 such outlets to be rolled out globally . The F1 joint venture introduces the F1 Arcade concept as a premium entertainment venue that introduces the sport of F1 to the public and where customers can get closer to the F1 experience.
As you can imagine, a similar concept was discussed 21 years ago, but under the enlightened ownership of Liberty Media, it is now becoming a reality and with plug-and-play high-tech simulators and multiplayer links, it offers a great opportunity for London lovers. to have a little fun and budding F1 drivers to really experience the world of Formula 1 in their home town.
Our visit was arranged by one of the boys mums after the boys found out about the activity via their social media feeds (what else?) and after a few nudges at a school the booking was apparently been made. Unaware of this as I was engaged in Formula E testing at Valencia I was told about my day at Christmas and left with little knowledge but great anticipation based on my experience representing the team Williams in those ultimately fruitless talks 21 years ago.
The boys had booked 2 sessions of 30 minutes, with a 30 minute break, and the session allowed for four mini-races using a variety of track layouts – Bahrain, Spa, Silverstone and Monza. The whole experience was smooth and professional, from signing and checking in the pre-race QR code to the simulators (all spotless and in good working order) and timing screens (same). The venue itself was immaculate with plenty of seating, an expansive bar and coffee station, restaurants and a pleasant, chilled atmosphere where the music was audible but unobtrusive, allowing concentration for those on the run and the opportunity to socialize for those who are not.
Would have preferred to see more F1 memorabilia (saw a set of chrome exhausts) – some racing suits and helmets wouldn’t have gone wrong and I was surprised at the complete lack of F1 video material . More importantly, and without any prompting from me, all four boys made similar observations during their visit.
After all, if the goal is to create the aforementioned F1 touchpoints in major cities, adding car components through the ages and demonstrating the rich history of our sport through driver memorabilia and videos would surely only do improve what is already a very good experience. .
But overall it’s a great relief that Formula 1 is finally starting to realize the latent potential Liberty spoke of when it acquired F1 from CVC.
At Liberty, we have a great custodian of our sport who wants to grow it rather than gut it, which was CVC’s desire. While it’s a shame that it’s taken 21 years for some of the ideas discussed to come to fruition, the good news is that there’s still a lot to come.
Somewhere in my office, I think I still have a copy of the documents produced by the Swiss during our meetings – I’m tempted to dig it up and send it to Stefano Domenicali. After all, we have already wasted enough time!
In the meantime, thanks to Axel, Ben, Adam, Liam and Liam’s mum for booking a great day out and testing out the F1 Arcade experience.
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