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From grid girls to W Series: One way F1 is ‘walking the talk’ | 2020 F1 season


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From grid girls to W Series: One way F1 is ‘walking the talk’ | 2020 F1 season

Yesterday’s announcement that W Series will expand into North America later this season is significant. Not only because the Austin and Mexico City rounds mark the nascent championship’s first foray across the Atlantic, but also due to the fact that the series features on the support bills of two rounds of the 2020 F1 calendar.Crucially,…

Yesterday’s announcement that W Series will expand into North America later this season is significant. Not only because the Austin and Mexico City rounds mark the nascent championship’s first foray across the Atlantic, but also due to the fact that the series features on the support bills of two rounds of the 2020 F1 calendar.

Crucially, this cuts both ways. The F1 platform endows enormous credibility on W Series even before it celebrates its first birthday. Equally, recognition of this all-women’s championship marks a massive shift for F1.

This is a championship which just three years ago was ruled by an octogenarian who once suggested “women should be dressed in white like all other domestic appliances”. Indeed, it’s only been two years since the sport’s new owners announced it would no longer use women to decorate the grid.

F1 had a rough ride in previous years with various scandals, ‘gates’ and trials which severely tarnished its reputation. It was once described as the ‘world’s largest one-man business’. However, after Liberty Media completed the purchase of F1’s commercial rights from CVC Capital Partners in January 2017 and subsequently listed F1 on NASDAQ, it was forced to change tack, and has since travelled a long way towards corporate respectability.

In the process it has expanded, increasing staff to almost 500 heads, all of whom need to be on the same page. The launch earlier this week of F1’s corporate strategy brochure marks a major milestone on that journey.

Fernando Alonso's grid kids, McLaren, Albert Park, 2018
F1 swapped grid girls for Future Stars in 2018

“We have built a 21st century organisation that supports the re-positioning of F1 into an entertainment and media company with our first ever marketing, digital, strategy and research divisions,” says F1 CEO Chase Carey in the foreword.

“[We have] expanded teams managing our key revenue streams and a dedicated motorsports function, led by Ross Brawn, that is using state-of-the-art technology to develop regulations alongside the FIA to facilitate great racing.”

The (long-overdue) corporate strategy aims to ensure Formula 1’s long-term sustainability – in all senses of the word – by building upon six pillars. These are ‘race’, ‘engage’, ‘perform’, ‘sustain’, ‘collaborate’ and ’empower’.

Race: This pillar is divided into four logical areas, namely Technical, Financial, Sporting, and Governance. The intention is to “increase competitiveness and unpredictability on track” by, amongst other targets, codifying best-in-class engineering and by identifying exciting new formats that engage broader demographics, all underpinned by sustainable financial frameworks.

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Engage: The target is to produce world-class spectacles for fans on- and off-track via top-class events and viewer experiences, complemented by creative content and marketing campaigns which strengthen perceptions of F1 as the ultimate racing and entertainment spectacle.

W Series, Brands Hatch, 2019
W Series will support two F1 races in 2020

Perform: F1 is an expensive activity, and is dependent upon stakeholders, sponsors and partners – at all levels, including teams – for its survival. Thus, F1 plans to drive value for its partners via media, promotion, sponsorship and hospitality activities.

Sustain: F1’s new sustainability strategy was covered in detail here previously. But the bottom line is that F1 needs to lead the way for efficient internal combustion engines via sustainable technologies, while slashing its carbon footprint.

Collaborate: As an international sporting activity, F1 (the corporation) interacts with the wider F1 community – including the FIA, officials, teams, race promoters – with local authorities, communities and businesses, its global fan base, and here it needs to create win-win relationships with all of the above.

Empower: Four building blocks are detailed, with the first being: “Improve the diversity of F1 grids by supporting and promoting driver talent from under-represented backgrounds”. F1 has not featured a woman on the grid since 1976 – indeed, the sport could even stand accused of dissuading them – so under Liberty F1 is (now) clearly practicing what it preaches.

And, therein lies the key to any corporate strategy, not least this one: To walk the walk, and not simply mouth the talk. Still, this corporate strategy is clearly a step in the right direction, and no doubt there is more to come.

That said, the acid test of any corporate strategy is its share price. Since publishing the brochure on Monday, Liberty’s valuation has hit all-time highs…

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