The stars of Formula 1 may be used to racing in front of bumper crowds, but few could have predicted the interest and success of ‘F1 Live’ when the sport hit the streets of London last July.
More than 100,000 fans came to see F1’s first show-run in London for 13 years. The streets around Whitehall were closed off to allow cars to complete some spectacular demonstrations, while recording artists Bastille, Little Mix and the Kaiser Chiefs performed on stage in Trafalgar Square.
F1 Live London was announced with just two days’ notice in a bid to limit disruption, ease security concerns and also create a sudden buzz in the event. It drew in a bumper crowd – bigger than the attendance for some races – and stirred interest in F1 in the days leading up to the British Grand Prix.
This is all about giving our fans the opportunity to get closer to the teams, cars and drivers they love
“F1 Live London is the most striking example yet of Formula 1’s evolution this year,” F1 commercial boss Sean Bratches said. “We feel there is no better way to celebrate the exciting season we have had so far than to have this landmark event in London on the eve of the British Grand Prix.”
He added: “This is all about giving our fans the opportunity to get closer to the teams, cars and drivers they love.”
Since its takeover of F1 in January 2017, Liberty Media has been searching for ways to take the sport to new audiences and expand its reach beyond its traditional fan base. By staging F1 Live in the centre of London and making it free to attend, it became an event the whole city embraced.
Strategic partnership with key influencers also helped expand the reach beyond F1’s usual channels. Communications marketing firm Edelman estimated that F1 Live London enjoyed more than 17 million impressions across all platforms during the 24 hours after the event. F1 also staged a schools and innovation showcase as part of the event in order to teach young people about possible careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.
F1 Live was the largest non-race event in the 67-year history of the sport, sending out a clear signal about Liberty’s plans for the future. Grand ideas such as F1 Live London may have been difficult to pull off, but it was a quick way to take the sport beyond the confines of the grand prix circuit.
F1 Live London had the support of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and the event stirred talk of a possible race being staged through the city’s streets. “Some hurdles we’ll have to overcome but there’s no reason at all why it can’t be beyond the wit of us to organise an F1 race in London in the future,” Khan told Sky Sports.
“We’re good at organising events safely. I’m reassured we can make everyone safe in London and we’re going to make sure events are successful,” Khan added.
We believe that this contact of F1 with the audience outside the racetrack is important
The success of the inaugural London event led Liberty to push on with plans to expand the F1 Live concept for 2018. Marseille, Shanghai, Berlin, Miami and Milan are known to be in contention to host events this year, tying in with the races in their respective countries.
“We believe that this contact of F1 with the audience outside the racetrack is important. It also carries our message to people we would not otherwise reach,” Bratches told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport in January.
“F1 has been so exclusive over the years, that it was only accessible to interested people. The same applies to sponsors. There is a lot of interest from companies for these events that are not yet in F1,” Bratches added.
While F1 Live may well help to put the sport on the radar of potential fans, the event could also work in corporate terms by attracting new brands that ultimately become important partners for Formula 1.
Even for long-term fans of the sport, F1 Live marked a clear shift from the past. The exclusive nature of F1 may help build a luxury brand, but it also results in a certain level of disconnect. To bring 20 of the sport’s stars including world champions Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button to the heart of London for a fun, free day out did a huge amount to prove Bratches’ point about F1’s striking evolution.
In just one day, F1 managed to capture the attention of London. For brands and businesses looking to do the same all over the world, the series’ fresh approach appears to be an attractive proposition.