Going to Melbourne?

Melbourne Audience logoI will be hosting an Audience with Joe for fans in Melbourne on Friday, March 13. Not a great date perhaps but in France they buy lottery tickets on Friday 13th because they consider it a lucky day, so I prefer to look at it that way as well…

The Audience is a very simple concept. It allows F1 fans to ask any question they like about the sport and I will do my very best to answer it, with as little slander as possible (well, if I can avoid it). I really enjoy giving fans the chance to see under the skin of the sport and it is a fun event in a convivial environment. It is also a great way for fans to meet one another and chat about their favourite sport. It is a great thing to do during the F1 weekend in Melbourne.

This year’s Audience will take place at the West Beach Bathers Pavilion at 330A Beaconsfield Parade, St Kilda. You can get there from Albert Park by tram, or even walk if if takes your fancy. The event will run from 7.30pm-11.00pm with food and drink available throughout the night at bar prices. The tickets are the same price as last year when we had a great turn-out and plenty of interesting questions, so it is best to book early as the number of tickets is restricted in order to make sure that everyone has the chance to ask their questions. Tickets cost A$65 per head and you can buy them by clicking here

Renault sniffing around

The latest whisper is that Renault is pushing ahead with a project to buy an existing F1, in order to get a better return on its investment in F1. Since the French manufacturer gave away its  F1 team in 2009 and fled the sport, red-faced after being caught with its trousers around its ankles over the race-fixing disgrace the previous year, the Company has not enjoyed much publicity, despite its successful engines. The success has been sucked up by Red Bull and Renault’s sister brand Infiniti and Renault barely gets a mention when a Red Bull wins a race. This makes no sense at all. There was a plan a year or so ago to sell part of Renault Sport F1 to Nissan and share the engines and the technology but that was blocked, despite being very much in the style of Renault boss Carlos Ghosn’s management. The obvious choice would be to buy Red Bull Racing but there is no sign that this is for sale, although a deal for three years of free publicity for The Austrian firm might convince Dietrich Mateschitz to go along with the plan. In any case he has a second team in Scuderia Toro Rosso and could keep a presence that way, at a fraction of the cost. Lotus is an option but that would require some serious rebuilding, while Force India and Sauber are not really seen as serious options. From what I hear Ghosn has given the go ahead for Renault to go shopping but we will have to see what comes back in the bag…


So we slide ever on towards the start of a new F1 season and, as we all wonder what to make of the testing, there are various is being dotted and ts being crossed. Real stories are thin on the ground. The continuing blah-blah about Alonso’s accident highlights the lack of other stories. It is a reflection on the Internet’s news creation services rather than based on any realities.

The team now known as Manor has named Will Stevens as one of its drivers – fair enough. It’s a pay deal no doubt, but Stevens has had a solid career to date and did a decent job with Caterham last year. Lotus, on the other hand, has named some entirely insignificant GP3 journeywomen to be a development driver. It says it all that I would need to look up her name to know how to spell it… but cannot be bothered as there is nothing in her career to suggest that she will ever be in F1, and I see no reason why she would be granted an F1 licence. The team bank account is filled a little more (cash-flow is tough) and the cause of finding a serious female F1 driver has taken a backward step. Promote no hopers and the task will be harder for those who follow… Money talks more than a discarded radio star. That aside there is little to report.

An explanation

One day, if I ever find myself with time on my hands, I think I might write a book entitled “How not to die”. It is a pretty catchy title – and might even guarantee selling a copy to Mr E.

Alas, such a publication would not give away the secret of eternal life, but rather it would tell the story of how one can make life difficult for one’s offspring when the time comes to rendezvous with St Peter at the Pearly Gates. I rather think that given the tragi-comedy elements involved, it might do for death what Peter Mayle did for the Luberon… It would involve all manner of high jinks that occur when one’s parent passes away in a foreign hotel in the back of beyond in Switzerland, while on a holiday designed to enjoy the scenic magnificence of Swiss railways and their mighty feats of engineering. It would involve contrary Swiss bureaucracy, missing death certificates and the complications involved in having to be buried in a world-famous cathedral. And one can add sub plots of broken down paperless cars and literally tons of beautifully labelled but utterly mixed up paperwork, dating back 75 years.

Trying to put this all in order has kept me fully employed for almost a month, during which time Formula 1 has ploughed its furrow without too much drama. The Barcelona testing has been as clear as mud (as ever) with the major excitement being a crash from which Fernando Alonso emerged shaken but unscathed. The conspiracy theories are pretty lurid, but there are lots of questions about the accident. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that the first rule of PR is never tell lies because you will be found out. McLaren knows this and so a lengthy explanation from the team about what happened is to be respected because they have nothing to gain from lies.

Hopefully I will be able to get up to full speed again in the coming days, although Chapter 14 of the aforementioned book is still writing itself. Onward…

Time to sign up…

The new season is nearly on us and there is much anticipation in the F1 world. What does the testing mean? What will happen in Australia? And will that be the pattern for the season? It is a time of questions and excitement. It is time for GP+ subscribers to renew for the season ahead. If you haven’t signed up already, it is a good moment so you don’t miss the season preview.

If you are not a subscriber, then have a think about it.We publish GP+ as the mechanics are stripping down their cars after each race, while the winner is still celebrating his victory. There is no quicker way to know what happened. GP+ is the same as a paper magazine. E-magazines get to an audience quickly and economically – without needing to spend fortunes on printing, distribution and so on. It is no different to an old-fashioned paper magazine and in the case of GP+ you get to keep it as well. The magazine is in Portable Document Format (PDF), which means that you can download it and store it in your own devices.You need Internet access to download the magazine, but you don’t need to be online to read them.

Thanks to new technology, we can blow the socks off paper magazines and GP+ is ready for reading about six hours after the chequered flag at every Grand Prix. This is possible because we are at every race.It is in many ways an old-fashioned magazine. It is written and illustrated by three full-time F1 reporters and one part-timer. Between us we have attended more than 2,000 Grands Prix (which means that we have more than 100 years of F1 experience between us). We are passionate, we are knowledgeable and we are sufficiently well-connected to get to the people who matter, in order to bring you real insight into the sport.

We don’t think there is another magazine anywhere in the world with that kind of history. We keep it simple. We report the qualifying and the races, we analyse the news, give insights into the people and organisations involved and, because we believe that history is important and helps us to understand the present and mould a successful future, we usually include historical features as well

A subscription for 2015 includes the 120-page season review of the 2014 season, so you will be bang up to date straight away. We also have the entire archive of the magazine (160 magazines) which are available for just £30. That means everything from mid-2007 to now.

GP+ is an amazing bargain. You get the whole year for £29.99. That includes 23 magazines: the 2014 Season Review, the 2015 Preview, 20 race issues and the 2015 season review.

Give it a try, click below…

Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 11.48.34

This is what our readers think…

“Haven’t missed an issue yet, and have just signed up for 2015. Easily the most interesting and best value insight into F1 around IMHO”.

“You never mention this, but the “+” part of GP+ – the F1 articles, not just the GP weekend stuff, are often my favourite part, especially if the GP itself was uneventful. The historical ones are always worth a read.”

Joe Cowan
“I can recommend this magazine to anyone considering. The race reports are exceptional.”

Peter Tabmow
“I cannot recommend the magazine enough to anyone thinking of subscribing. If you can’t watch the race (often the case for me) it’s a terrific same-day alternative, and the features can’t be matched anywhere else. All this and a bargain as well…”

Michael Grib
“What better way to get back in touch with the heart and soul of F 1 than reading GP+…”

Robin Chamberlain
“I’ve stopped buying Autosport. I’ve stopped buying Motorsport magazine, I’ve stopped everything, apart from GP+. What more do you need?”

David Hodge
“It’s worthwhile to have access to the archive too – I was lucky enough to get it earlier but it is still comparatively cheap. Always interesting to go back and read old magazines.”

Lids and skids

There is a minor kerfuffling about helmets, with the drivers rankling at being told that they might not be allowed to changed their helmet designs willy-nilly. What is required here is a little subtlety. If they were told that in the spirit of cooperation and fan engagement it would be a good idea to try to keep the same helmets, then they probably would not care much about it. It makes sense to stay with the same helmet design. However if you scream orders at anyone, they tend to object to it and argue that it is freedom of expression etc etc blah-di-blah. Keeping the same helmet is both a mark of respect for fans and a good branding exercise, which drivers would understand if they asked someone who understands these things. Beyond that there is testing in Barcelona and Felipe Nasr and Susie Wolff had a collision.

Sorry but for the next few days I am going to be low profile as I need to focus on clearing up stuff in the UK before the season begins and we all get swept away in on the magic carpet that is F1.

A narrow escape

Thank goodness the F1 team bosses have had the good sense to step away from doing something really stupid and have voted not to make their lives more difficult with significant technical rule changes in 2017.

Formula 1 is struggling to keep up with itself and more change would have simply added to the problem. The idea that change is a good idea to rebuild the crumbling F1 audience is one that I believe is fundamentally flawed. Change for the sake of change is plain daft. There is nothing wrong with the sport that some good promotion will not fix. Of course that would require the promoter to actually promote, and as the owners of the business do not understand the concept of investing for the future there is little chance of that happening.

If you want evidence of this you need only to look at the other “big” story of the day in F1 circles: the toppling of Ferrari by Lego as the world’s most powerful brand. Admittedly, this is pretty nebulous, designed as a way to promote Brand Finance plc, a company that values brands. Founded in 1996, the firm calculates a list of “brand strength” by determining the value that a company would be willing to pay to license its brand if it did not own it. This involves a murky methodology of future revenue estimates and calculations of imagined royalty fees.

In any case, it makes headlines for some reason and the conclusion is that Lego is a stronger brand than Ferrari, which has tumbled to eighth on the list, behind such brands as PwC, Red Bull, McKinsey, Unilever and L’Oréal. The survey even suggests Rolex is bigger than Ferrari these days. I am not quite sure what has happened to giants such as Coca-Cola, Apple and McDonalds but “strength” is not the same as value.

Explaining the result, the company points to the importance of The Lego Movie, an animated feature film which came out last year, featuring talking Lego “people” which encouraged back-to-basics creativity. The story is the usual ordinary guy versus evil tyrannical Lord Business (read David and Goliath). This may be entertainment, but it is also promotion and evidence that Ferrari and F1 should do more to encourage interest from the cinema. F1 has a habit of producing stupidly high fees whenever anyone with an cinematic idea comes along.

According to Brand Finance, Ferrari’s drop is due in part to its poor performance on the race tracks and to the plan to relax the production cap to sell more cars. Brand Finance’s communications director Robert Haigh rather impertinently says that “people don’t see it as being so exclusive anymore.”

He’s clearly not living in the real world…

I firmly believe that the F1 product is great, but that it lacks promotion and its avoidance of social media is just plain Luddite. Kids still love racing cars and only drift away from them when access to the Internet take them off into virtual galaxies where F1 is utterly invisible. If you want evidence to back that up, look at the financial bonanza that the Cars franchise has been. F1’s gaming efforts are pathetic when compared to products such as Grand Theft Auto and its engagement with future customers is worse than zero. Its focus on profit at any cost is deeply unattractive. The problems are more fundamental than bodywork and horsepower. The FIA seems to understand this but has sold its power and so has little real voice, and what it does do is poorly orchestrated from a PR perspective.

For me the most interesting story of the day was that the federation engaged McKinsey to study how F1 costs can be cut without the sport being materially affected. The conclusion was that half the cost could evaporate without any drama.

The consulting firm studied the finances of the nine F1 teams and proposed cost-cutting measures that could help the small teams to survive on TV money alone, without the need for sponsors or pay-drivers. The study reportedly shows that a 25 percentage reduction in budget is possible even with engine fees being astronomical. It also concludes that 35 percent could be saved in the design and production process, 15 percent could be cut from racing activities and 20 percent from testing.

This has only come to light thanks to a leak to a friendly news outlet, rather than being out into the public eye in a more forceful manner – by means of an FIA press release. It hardly seems worth the McKinsey fees to have so little actual coverage from such a useful exercise, but it is sadly typical of the bunker-like thinking in FIA circles.

Perhaps it would have been smart to have asked McKinsey to compare the promoter’s share of the profits to other sports and the damage that has been done by the outflow of money that the sport should be using to keep its customers happy.

The structural problems in F1 are what drives away business. Fans don’t like being fleeced to go to races, nor to watch the sport on TV. They don’t like the fact that no one seems to care about them, beyond some token gestures now and then. And they don’t like the financial structures that make F1 an unfair playing field. Fix those problems and fans will watch any shape of car, with any kind of engine.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 35,417 other followers