Posts Tagged ‘ Abu Dhabi

The Daily Fail strikes again

Are we in the middle of a news vacuum, or something? I ask because that paragon of journalistic virtue, the Daily Mail, has taken a brief detour from its usual obsessions – you know, burning all immigrants, dole scroungers and single mums at the stake and whatnot – to commit to print what is possibly the stupidest story of the year.

Under the headline The Italian’s job: Abu Dhabi steward’s link to Ferrari… and Fernando Alonso it engages in a thoroughly muddleheaded attempt at a syllogism. I’ll save you reading the Daily Mail’s guff by summing up the proposition here:

- Emmanuele Pirro, the third steward at this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, is Italian

- Italians all love Ferraris and are therefore, as well as being institutionally corrupt, all instinctively biased towards the cause of the Ferrari F1 team

- The FIA appointed Pirro even though they’re not supposed to have driver stewards who are linked by nationality to the cause of a championship contender

- Pirro is therefore biased in favour of Fernando Alonso and the FIA smell of elderberries

- Is he a dole scrounger and a single mum as well? Probably – pass the matches, Tristan…

You don’t even have to know much about F1, or motorsport in general, to see this for the codswallop it is. Emmanuele Pirro was a test driver for McLaren and a multiple Le Mans winner (and touring car winner) for Audi. I know him well from my days in sportscar racing and can testify that not only is he a true gent, he doesn’t take orders from anybody.

During his time at Benetton in Formula 1 he was royally shafted by Flavio Briatore. About nine years ago, when Benetton became Renault, I was helping to write an ensemble feature for a magazine in which we contacted all the team’s ex-drivers and invited them to sum up their memories of their time there. When I rang Emmanuele he simply wasn’t interested in doing an on-the-record denouncement of someone who had harmed his career. “It’s a long time ago now,” he said. “In many ways it was a good opportunity for me. I have only good memories.”

Unfortunately the next person I phoned was Roberto Moreno, who spent the next 75 minutes heating my ear up with a full and frank expression of his feelings on the subject. Shame I only had space for 50 words…

Anyway, needless to say, the Daily Mail’s story has been taken up and promulgated by another F1 ‘news’ source with little connection to the real world: GMM. What a surprise!

Making F1 circuits more fan-friendly

Yas Marina Circuit CEO Richard Cregan

Yas Marina Circuit CEO Richard Cregan

Here’s the good news: circuit owners have finally realised that they need to work a lot harder to provide fans with a worthwhile experience. And the bad? Inevitably, some of them see it as a means of squeezing your wallets harder.

Speaking at the Motor Sport Business Forum in Monaco, Nürburgring CEO Walter Kafitz told delegates:

“Circuits are part of the entertainment business, not just part of the sports business. Unlike in, say, football, people stay at a circuit all day – or all weekend. We have to keep them entertained. If you add value then you can demand more for the ticket.”

Bearing in mind that he was speaking in his second language, we shouldn’t read too strident a meaning into the use of that word ‘demand’. But only this week, the joy of many UK-based fans at the announcement from Silverstone turned to dismay when they contemplated the outrageous price of tickets. To get a family through the gates will cost hundreds of pounds.

It doesn’t have to be this way. For the model of a family friendly circuit, look to Abu Dhabi. The stakeholders in the grand prix – chiefly Aldar, the construction company, and Mubadala, the sovereign wealth fund (which also owns a stake in Ferrari) – planned the new circuit as a family entertainment venue that would offer a rich experience over the whole weekend. They did this because they knew they were bringing the sport to an audience that was entirely unfamiliar with F1.

Thus they built grandstands with a fairly conservative capacity, but specified that they could be easily expanded in future. They invested in educating their staff and their families about Formula 1. They invested in proper transport links, and built shopping malls and other attractions in the local area. The entire project was underpinned by knowledge of and respect for their demographic.

The upshot was a successful event that sold out easily and generated excellent feedback in a survey of public attendees and F1 workers. Compare and contrast with the soul-sucking grimness of other circuits that have been thrown together in the middle of nowhere and left to rot. I remember being at the Turkish GP in 2008 and quipping during the drivers’ parade that it would be quicker to introduce the crowd to the drivers rather than the other way around.

Richard Cregan, CEO of the Yas Marina circuit, said:

It’s about entertainment. It’s all about families, about giving every individual a positive experience – not just at the circuit but in the city itself. I don’t believe that you will have customer loyalty unless you go beyond the event. We’re lucky in that we’re working with organisations like ADTA [Abu Dhabi Tourist Authority] and Mubadala, who are helping to create that environment.

Silverstone appears to be in safe hands; Populous, the architectural consultancy charged with altering the circuit, also transformed the Millennium Dome into the O2. John Rhodes, a senior associate at Populous, described how they transformed the unloved white elephant on the Greenwich peninsula into a successful entertainment venue.

Initially we were looking to get about a million people a year to come to the O2. At the moment it’s about six million. The essence is that people go there to the event but then hang around afterwards. You have to create a destination that will encourage people to spend time there, regardless of whether there is a motorsport activity going on.

Maybe so – but someone’s got to pay for it. And it may as well be you, clearly…