The other day my godson wrote to me to tell me about his latest adventures. He was going to be a merchant banker but decided, after spending some time with these masters of the universe, that it was a really bad idea and so he is now doing what he really wanted to do, which was to start a fashion brand. It made me smile. It is always great to see people doing what they WANT to do, and not just settling for a job because it pays well. Formula 1 is like that and it is a joyful world as a result. People like doing what they do. In my godson’s case, I think it was probably genetic: his mother used to be a lumberjack and his father had the odd ambition of turning an old gravel pit into a corporate leisure venue, and did do very successfully.
I cannot claim to know much about the world of fashion, but what I do understand is that you need to create a good brand and after that the products don’t really matter. Ferrari has shown that in F1. If the brand is strong enough, you can sell anything. What you need at the start is a catchy name, a product to launch the brand, and a target market. Big companies can afford to spend millions launching brands with TV advertising or sponsorships, but the little guys have to rely on good ideas and word of mouth. My godson’s idea is brilliantly simple. Most people have a bunch of ties hidden in their wardrobes. They do not want to throw them away because each has some significance, but they are never worn. His idea is to convert these into belts for the preppy types, each belt being a unique design, with a matching wristband made from the offcuts. An original concept, low material costs and high margins – and a snappy name as well. It sounded like an interesting business to me…
Anyway, it got me thinking about simple ideas that can make a difference in F1. Oddly enough, I have another friend who came up with another clever idea a year or so ago when she started a company called Flag Rags, to give women rugby fans a nice way to show their allegiance. It is an idea that could spread to many other sports, and my first thought was that it would a great idea to see F1 grid girls wearing such clothing (complete with sponsor allegiance, of course) rather than lugging great big flags around with them.
F1 seems rather averse to new ideas like this and the attitude always seems to be that there is no point in fixing something that is not broken. There was an attempt a while back (in Valencia I think) to have grid boys rather than grid girls, but no-one seemed much taken with idea. Whether it is politically-correct or not, F1 fans seem to like having grid girls.
One innovation that has come along in recent years was the idea of the drivers on the podium being interviewed there and then by old World Champions (or whoever is at hand). I like the idea but I am not sure that the execution was as good as it could have been in 2012. For a start some of the old champions could not stop themselves reminding the audience that they were once great racing drivers as well… which is not really the point of the exercise. Others asked awful questions and the additional problem of doing interviews with adrenaline-hyped F1 drivers emerged when one or two of them used inappropriate words. Most people in F1, particularly those for whom English is not the mother tongue, tend to use swear words as a matter of course and it seems that this upset little old ladies in Wisconsin and other sensitive F1 viewers. The teams had to be reminded to make sure that their drivers remained civil.
The key point for me about the marketing of Formula 1 – at all levels – is that the attitude is rather different to the engineering. When it comes to technical matters every single items and idea on a car is questioned year after year as engineers seek to make the machinery quicker. In marketing the same old stodgy ideas are applied year in, year out, because the attitude is that if nothing goes wrong, there is no need to change. It is true too of the tracks that rarely make changes to facilities unless they have to.
It’s much more effective if an organisation can identify something that’s not necessarily a problem, but could be done better. It is a question of paying attention to things that are not obvious and usually get ignored. In the pursuit of true excellence these things should be coming under the spotlight all the time…