Formula 1 is a very exclusive sport. The drivers are paid millions of pounds and so are the engineers. Grand prix are very expensive compared to other sports, a single grandstand seat can cost you a hundred pounds. The paddock is a strip of tarmac reserved for high flying guests and celebrities. All of this is part of the allure of Formula 1.
But the advent of social media has put pressure on the veil of exclusivity that surrounds the sport from all sides. In what is a very data driven sport, fans want to - and have a right to - information about the inner workings of the sport. Where a few years ago the only glimpse of the paddock was through your television as the presenters walked between the motorhomes; today you can see teams, engineers, drivers and press constantly tweeting about the goings on, often providing breaking news. No longer do we have to wait for daily press releases. Small glimpses of information from a top team boss or a spy shot of David Hasselhoff entering the Red Bull Racing motorhome wearing team kit! The paddock has never felt so close for an outsider.
So the question has to be asked, is this more transparent view better for Formula 1?
Perhaps the first question should be, who is 'Formula 1'? Right now, it's Bernie Ecclestone. And it's fair to say that he really likes the status quo. He wants to control the amount of information that goes out of the paddock to ensure it's all 'on message'. However, this is neither realistic nor sustainable and perhaps a legacy of the old Formula 1.
If Formula 1 wishes to at a minimum keep it's current fan base and then grow it, it needs to engage with social media. Every team does it in some way, others better than others. And what we've instead seen is a shift in the exclusivity spectrum. Perhaps best evidenced by Mercedes inviting a 'super-fan' to their factory to see their newest championship challenger before publicly unveiling it. Teams are offering unique experiences for a very small group of engaged fans as a reward.
The Formula 1 teams have realised that it is not enough for people to be fans of teams, they want to feel part of one. By releasing more information, fans on social media can feel like they are part of the team, and in turn become really powerful ambassadors for the team so they can grow their fan base in turn. Here are a few examples:
- Ferrari let the public vote on the name of their car for the 2014 season.
- Tony Fernandes (owner of Caterham) launched their car on his Twitter feed.
- Mercedes offered Twitter Q&A sessions with their drivers.
Formula 1 has realised that community trumps exclusivity.