Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix 2017

Singapore Grand Prix: Winning back fans is the top priority

Fans get up close to watch the Mercedes pit crew in action during the Thursday Pit Lane Experience at the Marina Bay Street Circuit on Sept 14. Giving fans an enhanced experience is a pivotal strategy for the sport's new American owners.
Fans get up close to watch the Mercedes pit crew in action during the Thursday Pit Lane Experience at the Marina Bay Street Circuit on Sept 14. Giving fans an enhanced experience is a pivotal strategy for the sport's new American owners.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Singapore the litmus test as new F1 owners embrace technology to reverse decreasing global trend

When Liberty Media completed its takeover of Formula One last September, the new American owners found the sport facing declining interest from fans.

The sheer predictability of results - brought about by the dominant trio of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull - and the complexity of the pinnacle of motorsports had led to supporters feeling increasingly alienated.

Chase Carey, F1's new chairman and chief executive officer, is not allowing his prized asset to fade away.

He is ably assisted by former Ferrari team principal Ross Brawn as the managing director for motorsports, and Sean Bratches as the managing director of commercial operations.

Speaking to The Straits Times, Bratches is keenly aware of the need to win back the fans - and attract new ones - to make the post-Bernie Ecclestone F1 era a simple and easily-digested sport for the masses.

Key to that strategy is using cutting-edge technology to improve the viewing experience for fans and viewers.

To do that, Bratches revealed that Singapore was a "test bed" for next-generation products and services rolled out by the sport.

EMPHASIS ON NEW TECHNOLOGY

We are in a sport that is at the vanguard of technological change and our pursuit is to amplify new technologies to engage fans.

SEAN BRATCHES, F1 managing director of commercial operations.

The American said: "Singapore is seminal and central to the brand. So many of the grands prix we go to define how fans view Formula One.

"Singapore, being a night race in the city, the energy and effort Singaporeans put into the Grand Prix makes this one special and unique for us.

"One of the things we are doing with our incumbent parts is we have agreed collectively to see how we can leverage technology, leverage other aspects and opportunities of Formula One to better engage fans and to shine a bigger light on what Singapore can do for Formula One."

Bratches, 56, elaborated: "We are in a sport that is at the vanguard of technological change and our expectations and pursuit is to amplify new technologies to better engage fans.

"The viewership aspect has been overstated, it's more of a reach issue than a viewership issue. There's been a migration from free-to-air (television) to pay. That had an impact on numbers."

While technical wizardry and gizmos can impress, Carey feels that what is more crucial is that they are presented in a way that appeals to both casual and hardcore fans.

He said at a media roundtable at the FIA motorhome at the Marina Bay Pit Building yesterday: "We want to bring a richer, deeper experience to the fan who wants that type of experience... (but) you want to take and package this information in a way that's digestible and accessible to the consumer.

"You don't want to just throw a pile of stuff out there... the casual fan can get it in a way that works for them, and the hardcore fan can get it in a way that also works for them."

And Bratches believes that the compelling stories behind F1 give the sport its heart and soul, and keep fans coming back for more.

He explained: "We are looking to make the racing better on the grid, encourage overtaking that will create excitement for the fans. It's also about putting the spectacular back in the spectacle.

"Fans come to a (race) six to seven hours a day for three or four days. We have an obligation to create a better fan experience.

"We want to elevate the technological advances that were made in this sport and elevating the engineers, the scientists, telling these great stories. We want to tell the stories of these pilots, these gladiators, that rip around these courses at unfathomable speeds, they are on the precipice of danger and disaster at every single moment.

"We need to humanise them, taking their helmets off."

Additional reporting by Lester Wong

Correction note: The story has been edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2017, with the headline 'Winning back fans is the top priority'. Print Edition | Subscribe