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GP Week : Issue 189
GPWeeK: How do you go about selecting the panellists for a FOTA Fan Forum? Is it a question of availability, or are you trying to balance representatives from all the teams? OLIVER WEINGARTEN: We try and get a commitment from all the teams to put people up throughout the year. We give them a schedule of the Forums in advance, but obviously things evolve – sponsorship commitments, engagements of drivers... I’m just trying to have a cross-representation. We opened up the [London] Fan Forum to Daniel Ricciardo of Toro Rosso – they might not be members of FOTA, but they recognise that fan engagement is very important. We try to bring in former drivers as well – last year we had a Fan Forum prior to Silverstone at the Williams conference centre. John Watson was there, Patrick Head... I think the fans really enjoyed hearing from these legends, so to speak. They’re the ones we don’t hear from at race weekends, after all. We hear driver quotes week in and week out; it’s rare to hear from people like John Watson and Patrick Head. It’s new, fresh. It’s great – I speak to a lot of former drivers, to representative from teams, and when they hear we’re doing these Forums they all want to do them. It’s just a matter of scheduling constraints. And do any of the older drivers regret that this sort of thing wasn’t around in their day? You’d have to ask them! Martin Brundle is quite enthusiastic about it, and when he came to the Fan Forum he stayed behind to sign as many autographs as he could. I think he recognises the importance of fan engagement, and he really enjoyed it. It’s about time. It’s only since you started working with FOTA and launched the Fan Forums that anything has been done. Fan engagement has been talked about for a very long time, but FOTA are the first people to do anything with it. Is this the easiest part of your work with FOTA – getting everyone to agree that fan engagement is vital? I think everybody the length of the paddock agrees that fan engagement is important – it’s just the extent to which you can take it. We’ve been taking Fan Forums to new territories; we did one in Manhattan last year in the lead-up to the Austin Grand Prix, and I get requests on email and Twitter from fans all over the world asking for a Forum in their city in the run-up to a race. Would you do one in China? There are a few places on the calendar where you’d have problems with the language barrier... As soon as you’re dealing with foreign languages there is an increase in costs – hiring translators, trying to advertise it... But we did one in Japan last year, centred around Kamui [Kobayashi]. We try to make it relevant, as well – we had some Japanese tyre engineers, team employees... It worked very well. We’re not opposed to going into new territories, but it has to be relevant, and it has to be relatively easy to facilitate. There’s the logistics, finding the venue... What have you got coming up in future? Can you tell me about any of the other Fan Fora you have planned? We’d definitely like to go back to Austin to do a Forum – it was really successful. The USA is a very important territory for Formula One. But we’re looking at other options as well in the meantime. And what’s next for FOTA on the fan engagement front? Have you got any things you’d like to do beyond the fora? I would really like to do another fan survey, and there are plans afoot to get that done. There was a fan survey in 2010, and if you go onto the website you can see a letter from Martin Whitmarsh and Eric Boullier to the fans showing that their feedback led to changes in the sport. You mentioned money – is it just the teams’ fees that funds FOTA? Are there any additional sources of income? Yes [it’s just the fees]. It’s a not-for- profit organisation, so I don’t go out and sell sponsorship to line our pockets – it’s to cover the costs of putting on events. And do you spend a lot of time hunting for sponsors? I knew the teams spent a lot of their time doing it, but I didn’t realise that FOTA did it too! I do a bit of everything. I did the pre-season testing agreements for the teams, and the Young Driver Test agreement, and I’ve also been working with the FIA Institute on the environmental sustainability programme. Then I have regulatory issues that I have to address with the teams – issues with Pirelli, for example – contracts, and so on. Now you’re the Formula One Teams’ Association, but given that fan engagement is something that people talk about in every category of motorsport, do you ever talk with similar people in say NAsCAR, or WeC, or other series to find out how they’re engaging with fans, maybe share ideas? I don’t just limit it to motorsport. My background is international sport, so I speak to bodies around the world – anybody and everybody! – on issues where there might be crossover. I also get approached by international sporting bodies keen to find out what we’re doing. 5 MINUTES wITH olIvEr wEINGArTEN Kate Walker sat down the Formula One Teams’ Association to discuss fan engagement, fan fora, and FOTA’s plans for the future. 5 MINUTES 18 GPWEEK.com // 18 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: