A View from the Board | Reflecting on last year and looking forward to 2021

The BlackBook’s Advisory Board are some of the most insightful and innovative people in motorsport. Here, they share their thoughts and learnings from a challenging 2020 and what they’re looking forward to in 2021.

A View from the Board | Reflecting on last year and looking forward to 2021

For this edition, we asked members of the BlackBook Advisory Board what they have taken away from 2020 and their outlook for the coming year. 

Below are answers from: 

  • Stuart Pringle, managing director, Silverstone
  • Paul Bellamy, senior vice president, IMG Motorsports
  • Pau Serracanta, managing director, Dorna 
  • Michael Resl, sporting director, DTM 
  • Benedikt Brandmeier, head of sales, Drone Champions League (DCL)
  • Matthew Strachan, commercial director, Alpha Tauri Formula One
  • Andrea Ferrero, sponsorship and incentives manager, Kasperksy Lab
  • Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, chief executive, Bahrain International Circuit

Looking back at 2020, how would you describe your experience of managing these most difficult of circumstances? 

Paul Bellamy: Challenging. But I was also impressed by the ability of those around me to rise to these new and unprecedented challenges and come through. The resilience of everybody in the industry who we deal with. 

Pau Serracanta: It has been a rollercoaster, we had to make many decisions to manage an unknown situation, but the unity of all stakeholders made it possible to run the championships. 

Michael Resl: 2020 held a couple of plot twists for us. Whilst the ever-increasing interest in electrification for future racing was foreseen and, in the planning, the end of the class one era helped to accelerate this side of our business and we're striving to have our fully battery electric 1000HP series on track by 2023. Covid was less easy to plan at the beginning of 2020 yet also here it ultimately helped us to develop additional ways to promote our sport and do an even better job for our fans. 

Benedikt Brandmeier: Having launched our game ‘DCL – The Game’, 2020 probably didn't hit us as hard as others. Focusing on digital sport and always focusing on the audience definitely helped us to get through these challenging times and taught us a valuable lesson moving forward. We could even say 2020 was the kick we needed.

Matthew Strachan: It was character building. We had to adapt, innovate quickly and strike a balance between what was best for our partners and safe for the team personnel, while ensuring we continued to serve our fans throughout the season. 

Andrea Ferrero: Definitely challenging. The plan I had was different, so I had to reshape plans, schedule marketing activities and activations according to the pandemic environment. Luckily, I had a flexible team and partners working with me so we were able to secure a great 2020 even in these difficult conditions. 

Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa: It’s been a careful balance for us. The first couple of months of the year were actually busier that I can remember in terms of local and regional racing and events. We then had a period of uncertainty when we were preparing for Formula One in March, trying to understand the very start of the pandemic. From there, we worked incredibly hard over the subsequent few months with the government in Bahrain and the FIA and Formula One to see how, and under what circumstances, we would be able to restart racing. As it turned out, we ended up hosting two Formula One races, as well as WEC, all within four weeks of each other. Overall, we still managed to hold over 140 events in 2020.  

What have you learned from 2020 you will help you better plan for 2021? 

SP: Control your overheads because the revenue side of the equation is utter guesswork. Go with your gut and go early. There is no certainty that what you were promised about the macro-outlook will happen at all. 

PB: How to make sports events run and work in these difficult and unknown times. We now have a much better understanding of running under heavy restrictions and a work manual to reference. 

MR: Expect the worst, which is no fans at the track, no international travel. Make sure you plan different ways to engage with the fans and different ways for our partners to reach their business goals. 

BB: Always stay open to challenges and learn to make the best of them. Adjusting to changes is what keeps us growing and developing better products whilst focusing more and more on the audience and our fans. 

MS: Covid is here to stay and the world is a very different place. Whilst some people are desperate to get back to live sport, others are nervous and reticent about travelling.  We will need to cater for both whilst being cognisant to the safety and needs of all of those involved in the Formula One ecosystem. The opportunity exists to push the boundaries of innovation and utilise technology to enhance the fan experience. That sport really brings people together and can be a force for good. 

AF: Definitely a more human touch to our comms – I was a firm believer of this even before but 2020 has helped me to reinforce the message within our organisation. Again, overall, flexibility and quick decision making is always the key. 

SS: 2020 was all about putting in place the right measures to ensure we could continue to race safely. We are well underway with our drag racing championship this year and many of the measures we use for safe racing are based on the learning and set up for Formula One. This gives us the confidence that we can race safely, protect public health and be open for business throughout. 

What is your outlook for this coming season? 

PB: Tough in the first two quarters, with some bounce back in quarter three and quarter four. Finishing the season with a high and the expectation that as we plan for 2022, we will see a back bounce back in sporting events. 

PS: We look forward to close racing and keeping the results unpredictable, which always makes MotoGP very interesting to watch. 

MR: Looking great despite the fact that Covid is still around, we have an exciting calendar, a solid manufacturer, team and driver’s foundation, and motivated partners. I can’t wait to go racing.

BB: Launching the first-ever hybrid season with six virtual events and one physical event will be super exciting and we hope to deliver the best product to our pilots and fans across the globe. Working with a new exciting partner to be announced soon in the gaming world and exploring new continents with hosting physical events will keep us chasing our heights. 

MS: Cautiously optimistic. Formula One showed it was a sport that can deliver a great TV product even with the absence of fans and the new venues and formats provided some fantastic racing. It demonstrates the opportunity that exists for the sport if and when it can make racing more competitive. 

AF: It won’t be much different to 2020 - even if some series and promoters are promising bright plans - but we are now definitely more ready for the year and we’ve already secured different plans according to the evolution of the pandemic.   

SS: We’ve been lucky to have had an extremely strong start to the year. We also have the continuation of local and regional racing which will run through to our summer break. Looking further forward, on the corporate side there is clearly a lot of demand, so we are hopeful for a busy season on that front after the summer break. Overall, we are optimistic that these new plans will refresh and boost our calendar significantly, giving us great momentum.