The sight of Formula E, Extreme E and endurance cars parked outside the front of London’s Kia Oval last week could only mean one thing: a new venue for the BlackBook Motorsport Forum in 2023.
The one-day event saw more than 15 speakers from the likes of Oracle Red Bull Racing, IndyCar, Formula E and the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix offer their thoughts on the current state and future of the motorsport industry to a room packed full of delegates representing businesses from across the sector.
More than five hours of roundtable discussions and networking sessions also allowed all those in attendance to discuss the themes of this year’s event, which were unified under the pillars of digital, sustainable and international transformation.
With the covers now on for the ninth edition of the motorsport industry’s flagship annual business event, BlackBook Motorsport picks out some of the content highlights.
F1 Academy facing ‘challenging’ broadcast hurdles
The debut season the F1 Academy, Formula One’s new junior series for women in motorsport, began with a lot of promise. It appeared to be the series’ first concerted effort to develop a realistic framework to develop talent, especially with the planned track time the young drivers are set to receive over the course of the season.
While not providing an entirely free seat like its predecessor, the W Series, Formula One is covering half of the €300,000 (US$329,000) required to fund each seat. The other half, though, will need to be provided by each driver.
'F1 Academy highlights and shoulder programming will be coming to an F1 TV near you' - James Bradshaw, F1's head of digital technology, details the coverage plans for the new all-female junior series #F1 #BBMF23 pic.twitter.com/2OlchkV6zx— BlackBook Motorsport (@MotorsportBB) April 27, 2023
James Bradshaw, Formula One's head of digital technology, revealed at BBMF that the delivery of the live races is “quite challenging” and said there are currently no plans in place for live streaming. Without the visibility that live coverage offers to the drivers, and specifically the sponsors looking to fund them, it makes the prospect of raising investment far more challenging.
“We have this year a non-co-located season, if that makes sense,” Bradshaw said. “So we are racing together at the same location later this year, but not at every race.
“So that actually has made the concept of streaming quite challenging on the basis that we don't have the same infrastructure that we have at the circuit.
“But we are doing innovative work to bring the content that's being produced at a mixture of locations - either off site or at the circuit - back and we will be providing highlights packages and other shoulder programming of F1 Academy.
“[This] will be going out on social and also going out to our broadcasters. And also, we believe, coming to an F1 TV near you.”
A 15-minute highlights package available after every race is unlikely to deliver sufficient exposure. It also raises questions given that cameras are clearly going to be at the circuits to capture race footage for that post-event content.
Rumours have surfaced on social media that the real ‘challenge’ centres around a media rights dispute between Formula One and Sky, but these are unconfirmed. Plus, this would only impact the UK and it does not explain the series’ absence from Formula One’s over-the-top (OTT) platform, F1 TV.
Why Red Bull prioritises technology in commercial conversations
In early 2022, Red Bull announced one of the biggest title sponsor deals on the grid, with Oracle coming onboard in a five-year partnership worth around US$300 million.
At the time, the technological significance the partnership would have was a relative unknown. But the goal was for Oracle’s cloud infrastructure to enable Red Bull to significantly reduce the cost of billions of simulations, which the team described as ‘critical’ at a point when Formula One was introducing new spending regulations.
These so-called Monte Carlo simulations are crucial for teams to work out their race strategy and are carried out before event weekends to discover the probability of different outcomes to the Grand Prix.
Red Bull already has the capacity to simulate and predict the race strategies for at least the other top teams in Formula One, but the eventual goal is to develop the ability to predict the race of every single driver on the grid.
Away from the track, Oracle is also helping Red Bull with its fan engagement approach. Perhaps the most obvious example is the team’s loyalty programme, which Zoe Chilton, the team’s head of partnerships, explained to the BBMF audience.
“We knew this was a platform that we wanted to create together with a partner,” said Chilton. “So we’d been surveying the market, we’d been looking around at solutions and providers, and this is something that we do with a lot of our technology partnerships that we form.
“We go out to market looking for a specific solution to a specific problem; we don’t just say we’re looking for a sponsor in this category. That’s almost the wrong way round for us.
“We want to first and foremost find the partner that provides the best technology solution for the challenge we have, and Formula One is a world of technology challenges, it’s literally what the business is made up of.
“In this case, who has the most integrated, fan-facing, customer experience platform and team to support that journey, because we are new to this journey. We needed not only for the tech solution to be good, but for the culture fit to be good, for the support system that comes with it to be strong, and when we started those conversations with Oracle we started to feel immediately that we would be in good hands.”
What Extreme E’s OTT future might look like
Since its formation, off-road electric SUV championship Extreme E has been able to secure media rights deals all around the world, but as of yet it has no dedicated OTT offering. The infrastructure and technology required to deliver a robust streaming service is no small investment, so it’s hardly a surprise to see the nascent series still finding its feet in this area.
However, the announcement that the World Rally Championship (WRC) is conducting a mass overhaul of its own OTT platform might have opened up an opportunity for Extreme E. That’s at least according to Ali Russell, the series’ chief marketing officer.
Set to launch in mid-2023, Rally.TV will offer subscribers WRC, the European Rally Championship (ERC) and World Rallycross (World RX) all on one platform. In addition, there will be a 24/7 linear channel to ensure viewers have access to content at all times.
The rebrand of the WRC+ platform means the service can become the home of any off-road racing series, rather than being associated specifically with WRC. As an all-electric off-road series, it would be remiss of Extreme E to not at least explore its options.
Either way, Russell suggested that an OTT platform will be part of Extreme E’s future.
“How we evolve in the future, we’ll definitely be looking at how we create our own product or whether we collaborate with other partners,” explained Russell.
“Philipp [Männer, senior director of media rights and OTT for the WRC] and I have already had discussions about the potential to collaborate.
“Because there’s a need for OTT propositions to service a much deeper and enriching experience for heavy fans, people that like to watch rally 24/7.”