Speaking for the Atex Group at their conference this week, I drew parallels between the need for constant innovation in Formula One and the challenges facing the media industry in light of insatiable consumer demand for information and the prolific growth of social networking. Just as the Atex Group offers solutions for media generating content and selling advertising across multiple platforms, so in Formula One the digital revolution has required everyone to adopt and adapt.
A good example of the benefits brought about by technology and the way in which this has changed working practices for key personnel, is the steering wheel of an F1 car. When I started working in F1 the wheel’s primary purpose had remain fundamentally the same for a century – simply controlling the steering. Now, however, the steering wheel is the driver’s interface with a range of technologies and systems which have to be used in the correct sequence in order to optimise performance if he is to win the race. Even drivers have to access multiple data and audio channels to get the information they need.
Where journalists or broadcasters used to operate in a narrow field of producing content for a single-channel of communication, now they have to provide cross-channel content from print to digital, blogs to video diaries, Twitter feeds and live streaming. Within Formula One this has lead to a revolution in media management; where teams used to relate to the media and fans through the arid world of the monotonous press release, they now offer rolling news on their websites, live up-dates and real-time interaction through social networks.
Nowhere has this revolution been more profound than in the case of Formula One drivers; 21 of the 24 on the grid in 2012 operate their own Twitter accounts with genuine, authentic, highly-personalised content. It might be Jenson Button uploading a photograph of himself cycling with David Coulthard, or Fernando Alonso giving an insight into his training regime or diet; the fans love it, and it has created a direct communications channel between the drivers and public as never before.
Almost 5 million fans now follow their favourite F1 drivers on Twitter, and as though to drive the point across that we have new opportunities and challenges to go along with this, the day after the Atex Group conference Britain’s Jenson Button achieved his 1 Millionth follower. Combined with team mate Lewis Hamilton, test driver Gar Paffect and the McLaren team itself, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes now reaches 2.1 Million fans; directly, every day and without the filter of traditional media.
Technology is changing all the time, opening up new opportunities, and companies either embrace it or face stagnation and decline. Innovation has always been at the heart of Formula One, and perhaps this sport more than most is able to cope with the wide range of technologies available to businesses today.