Whitmarsh says Formula 1 should embrace digital age

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh believes Formula 1 now stands at a crossroads in terms of making the most of the possibilities it has on the Internet

Whitmarsh says Formula 1 should embrace digital age

With an increasing focus from teams about how to make better use of the Internet and social media, Whitmarsh reckons that all stakeholders in the sport should shoulder some responsibility for delivering what fans now want.

He reckons that F1 is in a similar situation to how it was 30 years ago, when Bernie Ecclestone grabbed the opportunities available through television rights and helped propel grand prix racing into the global sport it is today.

"Yes, I would say so," said Whitmarsh in an interview with the official F1 website about whether there were similarities between then and now. "You can say it's a threat, but just like back then it is also an opportunity.

"Formula 1 is a world sport and it is data-rich, and in this digital arena we can populate this digital environment with much more data and information than tennis, soccer or any other sport, so I think it is a huge opportunity that we have.

"Sure there will still be people watching terrestrial television, but for the generation below us that's not good enough anymore. They want more information and they want to interact.

"They want to have communities going - and that's the challenge: to find ways to monetize this as Bernie has done with television. He made sure that the revenues for the sport were very high. You can't hold new developments back, so we need to bring in expertise that probably doesn't exist in Formula 1 today. "

Whitmarsh has praised the efforts that Ecclestone has put in improving F1, but thinks it vital that the sport looks at fresh avenues where it needs to make a bigger impact.

"The sport has to change because none of us will be here in 20 years' time - or not most of us - so I think we owe it to the sport that we find a positive and good way to move forward," he explained. "Media is much more complex these days.

"If you take the young generation, they don't just watch television - they probably have the TV on, then they have probably something different running on their iPad or on their phone or laptop. We grew up with television and for a moment thought that email was cool - but kids don't email anymore. They are definitely on a much more advanced level than that.

"The power of these new media outlets is enormous, but how do you monetize that? Bernie's great trick has been monetizing the media exposure of Formula 1 and we all have to be grateful for how he commercially developed the sport, but today as I said it's a much more complex media environment.

"With fourth generation telecommunication systems, full television will be on phones soon and the phone can then Bluetooth to a monitor. So the question is how are you going to control that and how are you going to monetize it?"

Whitmarsh has added that because there is a need for everyone in the sport to work together, he thinks that is why ultimately a future deal should be struck among the current F1 owners and teams to keep pushing forward together - rather than outside parties who are considering an involvement.

"The teams want to work together. It's the first time in 60 years that the teams are working better together. Historically, the teams have fought each other, they fought with the FIA and FOM, so it was kind of a battlefield.

"What we are trying now is to collaborate in a manner that promotes partnership. There are new suitors, whatever, but we think we are better off working with the partners that we have.

"Bernie (Ecclestone) knows the sport and has done many great things for the sport, CVC are the owners, so we have got to be respectful. But that doesn't mean that we always have to agree and doesn't mean that we will agree all the time, but I think it is better to find good and constructive ways of working together, rather than saying, 'Oh, here is someone new, whom we don't know, who wants to buy the sport so let's rush off in that direction'.

"In my view that would be the wrong thing to do. We all have flaws and weaknesses, but if we can work together that would be the best option. This is a fantastic sport. There are only two global sports: soccer and Formula 1.

"And of course we can do better and we always should be open to embrace new technologies, opportunities and new challenges, but we are better off doing this with people we know - probably - than suddenly saying we must go off in a different direction."

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