Motor Sport Business Forum: a look ahead

If the weather is anything to go by, things are looking up. This time last year, Honda had just crashed out of Formula 1 and companies in every sector were feeling the economic pinch. As the Motor Sport Business Forum delegates converged on the seafront venue, the view was every bit as bleak as it would have been if we were in Margate. A biting wind whipped over the water and flapped angrily at our trouser legs as we trod delicately around the piles of dog excrement. The glamour of the grand prix seemed a million miles away.

This year there are blue skies and an inspirational-looking array of speakers. The only bum note was sounded by a PR agency boss I spoke to last week; he said he wasn’t coming, on the grounds that although last year’s forum was interesting, he didn’t actually generate any business from attending.

But there is always someone – or something – worth listening to at the Motor Sport Business Forum. Last year we had the spectacle of a bullish Simon Gillet unveiling his daring and highly improbable plans for the British Grand Prix at Donington, including the radical notion of closing down East Midlands Airport for the weekend to act as a massive park and ride scheme. It subsequently transpired that no such proposal had  been put the airport’s way – and that even if it had, the answer would have been, “Absolutely no. And who are you, anyway?”

What a difference a year makes. Or not, as the case may be. I was clearing some old files off my digital recorder last week and came across Max Mosley’s keynote speech from the 2008 Motor Sport Business Forum. Listening back to his opening remarks put the events of the past 12 months in chilling context:

The fundamental issue that confronts everybody is the world economic situation. From motorsport’s point of view, the difficulty is that nobody knows whether it’s going to get worse, or whether we’ve now seen the worst of it and it’s going to get better. The economists certainly don’t know, and the old joke about two economists and three opinions is absolutely the case today because nobody really knows what’s going on. It’s quite an alarming situation.

I think, as far as motorsport is concerned – or at least our area of it, which is international motorsport – it’s essential to plan for the worst case, and to have contingency plans in place which will deal with the situation if it does get much worse.

I think we have to face the fact that Honda pulled out because of falling car sales. And there’s no guarantee that the falling car sales, which affect all manufacturers, won’t fall further; and if they do, we’ve got to reckon with other manufacturers pulling out, not only in Formula 1 but other parts of motorsport. We have to plan for that contingency.

With that having been said, because we don’t know what’s going to happen it would be tedious of me to go in great detail through the various contingency plans we have in place. Suffice to say, they exist.

Mosley uttered these words against the backdrop of an economic climate that had taken an abrupt turn for the worse during October. The news of Honda’s withdrawal from F1 was still fresh; and although the other car manufacturers were banding together as FOTA to increase their powers of collective bargaining, no one could be certain whether others were preparing to follow Honda out of the door. TV news broadcasts at the time were padded out with helicopter shots of quaysides and rented runways filled with unsold cars.

Mosley has his knockers (although I’m sure they’ve all been paid for) but it’s clear that his single-minded attack on costs – and his determination to allow new teams in – was the correct course of action, even though it made for some rancour. Those who set themselves against it proved only that they were absurdly out of touch with reality. Many of them, incidentally, are now looking for alternative employment.

That said, I’ve been surprised at how out-of-the-loop some of the team principals have been. Easily done if you’re part of the private jet set, I suppose. You only have to look back at some of the public pronouncements made by the likes of Mario Theissen and John Howett to see how the principal of a manufacturer team can carry on swanning around the paddock like a master of the universe – even while the board is cutting the rope.

Nick Fry was the first team principal to feel the blast of the recession and he is one of the speakers at the Forum. His story of prospering against the odds will set the tone for what promises to be an interesting couple of days. Alex Tai of Virgin F1 will also be present, as will Talal al Zain of the Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company, which has a stake in McLaren. The keynote address will be given by Lotus F1 owner and Twitter aficionado Tony Fernandes. Very often it’s these kind of people – the ones who hold the purse strings – who are far more important than those who simply strut and preen for the cameras.

We’ll also hear from representatives of major sponsors including LG, Shell, Diageo and Hilton. Companies such as these are the engines of motor racing, whether their involvement is partly technical or purely commercial. They don’t go racing for fun, and in the present economic climate their spend has to meet very strict ROI criteria. It’ll be interesting to see how keen they (and their competitors) are to spend, and through what channels they intend to direct that investment. Although conventional ad spends remain in decline, to the detriment of many newsstand magazines, brand activation is as important as ever.

Thanks to the web, Formula 1 fans can now baste themselves in news on a daily basis. A panel of well-known F1 scribes including Jonathan Noble of AUTOSPORT, Alan Baldwin of Reuters and’s Joe Saward will discuss the triumphs and challenges of breaking news in the internet age. Journalist, broadcaster and prominent F1 blogger James Allen will chair proceedings.

Stay tuned…

  • Trackback are closed
  • Comments (5)
  1. Mosley has his knockers (although I’m sure they’ve all been paid for) but it’s clear that his single-minded attack on costs – and his determination to allow new teams in – was the correct course of action, even though it made for some rancour.

    But wasn’t it Mosley who courted the manufacturers into F1 and let costs spiral out of control until it was too late?

    I feel like he was shutting the door after the horse had bolted here, but I am glad F1 is going back to the independent team with the manufacturer engine, because that’s the way it always has been. At least now the teams that are in F1 are there for proper reasons – to race and not to sell cars!

    • Steven Roy
    • December 8th, 2009

    I think one of the biggest failings of Max and Bernie is that they never have a long term strategy. Everything they do is a knee-jerk reaction to the prevailing conditions at the time. Frequently they will take one course of action only to do exactly the opposite a few years later.

    That charcteristic applies to almost every aspect of the management of the sport. We have seen them recruit manufacturers and then claim the moral highground when it was obvious the manufacturers were going to leave. Most sensible commenters on the sport predicted the departure of the manufacturers at the time they were being recruited. Nigel Roebuck wrote column after column saying manufacturers would disappear as soon as the economy dipped and if they owned the majority of the teams they could seriously affect the sport.

    We had the insane franchise system which was supposed to lock the manufacturers in as if the franchise was some kind of financial derivative with an inherent value. In the end they turned out to be junk bonds and we are now back to 26 cars without the need for each to represent a premium brand.

    We had the re-invention of the laws of physics in 1998 when it was decided that more overtaking would happen of mechanical grip was reduced and the emphasis was on aerodynamic grip. Now that has been turned on its head but for the very same reason. Clearly the FIA has no concept of logic when it can espouse two opposite courses of action and expect to reach the same end regardless which course is taken.

    As one of Max’s knockers I see no reason to give him plaudits for spotting something years after everyone else especially when he caused the problem in the first place.

  2. Hi there! The former Blue Orange Lion and now FOFA chairman here. Lovely site you’ve got – nice design and good content.

    By the way, I’m hearing you can buy your entrance to the forum, costs around €1500 + you get one entrance for free, is that correct? Would love to hang around next year if we manage to put together a budget.

    I’d obviously like to ask a few question to all the speakers.

    • Stuart C
    • December 8th, 2009

    nice design and good content.

    I can take credit for the latter but not the former. Excellent work by mono-lab.

    I’m hearing you can buy your entrance to the forum, costs around €1500 + you get one entrance for free, is that correct?

    I think it’s around that. Press accreditation is a bit cheaper (ie free) provided you have an outlet. A letter from a decent enough one should do the trick.

  3. “Press accreditation is a bit cheaper (ie free) provided you have an outlet” – that happens to be the case, a fan-related outlet but we’re kinda media in the beginning, very independent and alternative but still FOM forced us to sign an agreement with them acknowledging that they own all those F1 trade marks and bla-bla-bla. Still we can use their trade marks (if they managed to register them at all) to explain the purpose of the association in official documents.

    F1 fans are strange animals and I’m not claimimg we’re representing them all, anyway, it got me the paddock pass at Jerez so I intend to continue. It’s a great life, to quote Bono.

    Looking forward to more posts about the forum, I’m dying with curiosity.

Comment are closed.