What can we expect from the 2018 F1 season?

The engines rev up once again as Formula 1 returns 

Scott Branch, Head of Communications

After three and a bit months of relative peace and quiet, the engines will once again be revving up as Formula 1 rolls into town in Melbourne, Australia for the start of the 2018 Formula 1 season.
 
If 2017 was a watershed moment for the sport, what will define the 2018 F1 season?
 
Here are a few thoughts to kick off the debate:
 
The honeymoon is over
 
The 2017 Formula 1 season saw the new custodians of Formula 1 try a multitude of things to dust off (what they and many others saw as) the cobwebs suffocating the sport. There was a concerted effort towards improving the fan experience both at and away from track; we saw several big set piece moments to open the sport up to potential new fans; and there were even those boxing-style driver introductions in Austin.
 
Good or bad, fans and commentators alike generally adopted a positive view of what they were trying to achieve. Yes, there were a few bumps in the road, but the overriding feeling was that Formula 1 was finally moving in the right direction.
 
Like that eagerly awaited, but all so often disappointing, second album, Formula 1 now need to really start delivering. Those same fans and commentators will rapidly default to a glass-half-empty over glass-half-full mentality unless they are convinced that Formula 1 are truly making rapid and meaningful progress.
 
I’m sure they’ll continue to shake things up, but expect more of a focus from Formula 1 this year on those things that worked and those that have a commercial value: bigger and better fan zones; more live ‘hero’ moments and a doubling-down on digital.
 
Formula 1 wants you. Or does it…?
 
The recently unveiled Formula 1 global marketing campaign shouts ‘We Want You!’; a message to all-comers that Formula 1 matters and is open for business.
 
Refreshing the Formula 1 brand was one of the four clear priorities for Formula 1 last year. The controversial new logo was the first visual representation of that change, while the new campaign reaffirms Formula 1’s ‘fan first’ philosophy.
 
This concerted move from a motorsport to a global sports and entertainment brand will, inevitably, alienate some from the sport’s heartland. However, if Formula 1 is to continue to compete in the age of the ‘experience economy’ then it needs to adapt and build relevance with more diverse audiences than the traditional petrol-head. This campaign will help.
 
With all of that in mind, Formula 1 is currently having to negotiate a fine line. They are investing in a sport so that they can create a product that appeals to the masses, while trying to generate a sustainable business model to balance the books. This conundrum can be seen most starkly with the move away from free-to-air TV. Formula 1 has declared that they expect to see 30% of races in a given country to be free-to-air. This won’t be the case from 2019 in the UK, where all but three races will only be available to Sky F1 Channel subscribers.
 
While this differs slightly from territory to territory, without this regular access to a mass audience, how will Formula 1 maintain that all important relevance to legions of new fans…?
 
Yes. Formula 1 definitely wants you
 
…The answer (of course) lies in digital and live fan experiences.
 
On top of a concerted drive around social media, for the first time Formula 1 is launching its own over the top service F1 TV. The product will initially launch across 40 markets including the USA, France and Germany. It won’t however, be available in the UK as Sky retains the OTT rights until at least 2024. Fans can expect ad-free live streams of each race, live on-board action from the driver’s viewpoint and a plethora of behind the scenes footage which will truly open the sport up to fans for the first time. While the product won’t be all singing and dancing at launch, by mid-season, expect it to be a well polished product.
 
The drive around digital realises opportunities for fan engagement that are still very strong. In fact that move from passive viewing of a race in its entirety, to increased choice and active experiences taps into the sweet spot of the younger aspiring fan and results in a much deeper impact.
 
It's not all digital though. We’ll see more fan zones, such as that which we saw in Barcelona last year and the success of F1 Live in London last year has generated four follow up events in 2018: Berlin, Marseille, Miami and Shanghai. Each will take place in the week of the Grand Prix, but run from Wednesday to Sunday. Three of the four will also include running show cars, allowing fans to experience the thrill of Formula 1 cars tearing down their streets first hand.


 
Formula 1 and technology: a marriage made in heaven
 
You only need to take a look at the names already in Formula 1 alongside those which have come into the sport in the off season to see that more and more technology brands are waking up to the opportunity that Formula 1 affords them. Lenovo, Dell and Airgain are three of the new names that will be featured in the Paddock this year.
 
For many years, Formula 1 has been at the forefront of technological and engineering advancement and this remains the case. It is the ultimate proving ground for innovations in the tech sphere, providing a genuine narrative for brands to develop. As we transition from the age of ‘sponsorship’ to that of ‘partnership’, these synergies become ever more important.
 
The three brands above won’t be the only new tech faces in the Paddock this year. 
 
There will be much more to surprise and delight us in what is one of the most eagerly awaited seasons in Formula 1 for many a year. Let the debate begin…