FOTA Fans Forum – Manhattan

This is a short interview by @rfzeitlin who attended the recent FOTA Fans Forum in Manhattan. (Click here for the Barcelona FOTA Fans Forum). 

1) How was registering for the event? How did you hear about it?

It definitely was easy to register, just a name and email address were required.  I saw a post on twitter and went from there.  There were also a few articles that mentioned it, but I think it could have been much better publicized.

(*It was only publicised on Twitter and via the trade press. These events do not need wider publicising, because registrations would have been more substantial, leading to potential disappointment for more people)

2) Venue and Turn-Out

The venue was very easy to find, right in the middle of the city, no problem at all.  I actually arrived by train to Grand Central, so it was an easy walk to the hall.  The registration book at check-in was very, very long and I know they actually shut down registration because of extremely high demand.  I was quite surprised there weren’t more people there.  I don’t think the turnout mattered to the quality of the event, but as someone with a particularly vested interest in the success of F1 in the US, I was disappointed there weren’t more fans there.

(*Actual attendance figure was over 200 from 600 who registered for the FOTA Forum event but could not/did not attend)

3) What questions were asked / answered by the guests of honour?

The drivers present were Paul di Resta, Alexander Rossi, Sergio Perez (a treat, considering his Montreal podium), and Charles Pic.

Sergio Perez (Photo from @salukiconvert)

Before they came on, the panel started with Graeme Lowdon (Marussia) and Bob Fernley (Sahara Force India). There were a good number of interesting questions tossed out at these guys, including my personal favorite asking what the gents would change if they were Bernie for a day.

Fernley said that he would work on balancing media and promoter incomes.  He wants to make it more even and make sure the promoters are still getting paid.  Lowdon would work on cost control.  He said that there needs to be some sort of regulation such that “as a sport, that this is not an arms race.”  He also feels that the best way to promote innovation is to demand “cleverness.”  If all teams have a limited amount of money (granted, it would still be an enormous number), then the mechanics and engineers will have to resort to being clever to gain an advantage.  He said that innovation is what F1 is about, so it stands to reason inspiring innovation would be good for the sport.  The audience was then allowed to ask a few questions of the bosses.

A question I really liked was one on why F1 isn’t doing internet streaming and embracing e-tech.  Fernley and Lowdon both expressed that F1 is becoming more corporate and that hopefully things will start moving in that direction, but on the whole, the commercial side is very slow to embrace social networking and the internet.  Fernley mentioned that it’s tied to what he was talking about, in that the maximum media dollar isn’t being achieved because there’s nothing happening with internet live streams.  Sullivan (the moderator) then asked about the app for iPhone and Android.  The crowd was not happy about it and said that it isn’t great (it definitely isn’t and it’s super expensive).  I personally find this side of the conversation fascinating, as I think F1 has a lot to learn from what NASCAR’s been doing with social media.  Maybe it’s due to the average age of people in power in F1, but someone will have to wake up to the idea that social media is where the world is going.  It was great to hear that other fans agreed, as did both bosses.

The next panel session was the Driver Q&A.  Sullivan started by asking where Di Resta where he wants F1 to go.  His reply was that “F1 has yet to peak” and he likes the trajectory it’s on for him.  Rossi was asked about his history and the lack of American drivers.  He spoke about moving to Europe to race as a kid and how it’s a very European sport, so if you really want to do it you have to go there to learn.  He seemed pretty excited about the upcoming race in Austin and having two American races next year.  He’s hoping to drive at least in a free practice in Austin this year, but really wants to be on the grid racing next year.  Rossi thinks it’s great that racing is coming back to the US.  Perez was very interesting.  Of the drivers there, he’s the most successful so far.  Being from Mexico, he’s considering Austin his home race for now.  He talked a lot about some technical stuff (tires, race strategy, etc.).  Perez believes that it would be next to impossible to have more than 20 races in the season, simply because of how much work and travel, etc. are required by the teams already.  He went on to say that that could change, but for now, 20 is the cap.

A big topic of audience questioning was tires and strategy.  This year has been really different as far as tires go (and results as well) and the quite knowledgeable crowd wanted to better understand them.  Perez answered a bunch of these questions, as did Di Resta.  From what Perez said, I think he really likes the challenge of the tires.  There were a couple of questions about becoming a driver (“what do you think separates an F1 driver from another racer” etc.).  Di Resta thinks that there are a lot of really deserving drivers out there in the under-series that could make it in F1.  He said that it takes some luck, and he’s had the support of his family, which has been very important.  Sullivan jumped in here to tell his story of having to choose between finishing college and racing professionally.  He chose finishing college because it was what his parents wanted.  Pic spoke on this a bit and basically said he had to chose between school and racing and he chose racing.

Hard Topic

Another question was about the lack of testing, which Rossi answered by saying that it makes it even harder for a new driver to really understand the cars and learn the skills they need (Di Resta commented on driving relying a lot on patterned skills) until they’re on the grid full-time for a season.

4) How was the host – did he facilitate questions or ask all of them?

Brian Sullivan was brilliant.  I’ve been to a lot of panels like this and almost always hate the host.  He was entertaining and funny.  He also grew up karting and now races SCCA, so he actually knows the sport better than most.  I thought he did a great job with the questions he put forth and was also very fair in his facilitation of questions.  He pulled from all over the room and called on people based on when they got their hand up.

5) Did you get an opportunity to interact with the drivers afterwards?

Yes.  The drivers were all signing autographs in a very casual setting.  Maria de Villota was at check-in and also at the post-event.  Oh, and Nico Hulkenberg was there as well.

(*The autograph session is a new addition to the format, but sounds like it will be a permanent feature at future events)

6) Would you attend another event and do you have suggestions for improvements?

I definitely would attend another event.  Of course, there are always ways to improve.  Publicity, for one thing (although there is a certain appeal to a small-scale “secret” event).  The venue was really good, the mic system worked well.  I would say that the autograph session could have been laid out better so the fans had an easier time getting pictures.  That said, all of the drivers were open for photos and would sign whatever was put in front of them.  My biggest wish would have been for the session to go longer!

7) What was your favourite or “stand out” moment of the whole experience/event?

It’s hard to pick a single moment.  I particularly enjoyed hearing from the team bosses.  There was a good section of technical talk of tires and strategy that I also appreciated.  It’s completely different to hear it straight from the mouth of the driver versus through an interviewer.

8) Do you think events like this would increase awareness of F1 in USA/America as a whole?

I do.  As I said, I have an extremely vested interest in seeing F1 succeed in the US.  The press event with Sebastian Vettel and David Coulthard earlier in the day was a great step in the right direction (imagine how great it would be to be in the car with Vettel doing laps of the future track as an AP reporter).

This event could have been more than it was, for sure.  The fans who were there are clearly the exact group that does NOT need convincing that F1 should be in the States.  I will say that the notification of time/location came quite late and Monday afternoons are hard for everyone.  Even still, it’s an opportunity that I think could have been much bigger than it was.

Vettel’s Doughnuts (photo via @blackbaa)

*Comments from the organisers.

Video of this event will be made available soon via SPEED & the FOTA website.

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  1. FOTA Fans Forum – Austin (Preview) « duskyblogf1

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