Tag Archives: Motorsport

Formula E Getting Digital Power Boost With Grabyo VIP

Formula E, the new FIA single-seater championship that’s bringing high speed racing to the streets of major cities worldwide, is partnering with London startup Grabyo to bring the ultimate digital experience to fans and accelerate the growth of its digital audience.

As well as using Grabyo Studio to share real-time highlights from the live broadcast to Facebook and Twitter, for its next race in Berlin it will deploy Grabyo VIP to involve the teams and drivers in the production and distribution of native video.

Continue reading Formula E Getting Digital Power Boost With Grabyo VIP

Money Supermarket Launch 2013 Monaco Grand Prix Blogger Competition

The Grand Prix of Monaco is the most prestigious Formula One event of the year, providing drivers with the most challenging and demanding layout on the calendar around the twisty streets of the principality.

The winners of the event generally go on to become legends- with names like Senna, Schumacher, Moss, Stewart and Villeneuve all being synonymous with excellence in their field.  And now is your opportunity to see six of these legends in action live at the circuit.

MoneySupermarket.com is giving bloggers or website owners the opportunity to win two tickets to the 2013 race for what would be the ultimate dream day for any motorsport enthusiast.

This is a nice example of blogger outreach by the brand to help promote their work within F1.  Brands are taking bloggers more seriously with the realisation that online media can be just as powerful as offline.  Bringing together F1 fans that are keen on entering the competition will no doubt bring out more relationships, something in the long-term that can only help.

So, for any bloggers out there who are into their F1 and would like to get out the Monaco then get entering!

All you have to do is write a post about the Monaco Grand Prix from the past which you think has been the best and explaining your reasons for this choice. Perhaps it was the 1997 race where Michael Schumacher obliterated the field in the treacherous wet conditions- demonstrating his undoubted superiority over the rest of the field during that particular era. Another popular choice will undoubtedly be the 1982 which saw five different leaders in the final two laps of the race.

Whatever your opinions, the entries will all be judged based on the passion for and knowledge of the sport demonstrated by the entrants. MoneySupermarket.com is simply looking to reward the most deserving writer with the trip of a lifetime.

All blog posts must be at least 500 words long and feature an additional 100 word section at the bottom of the post explaining the competition. This must feature links to the MoneySupermarket competition page (http://www.moneysupermarket.com/car-insurance/f1ashback/) and also to their partners www.worldchoicesport.co.uk . Contestants are also welcome to tweet a mention of their entries from the hashtag #MonacoF1ashback in order to generate support.

Once you have completed your post, send the URL of your article to monacof1ashback@moneysupermarekt.com in order to register your entry and stand a chance of winning the opportunity to experience the ultimate day of motorsport action.

Are you friends with an F1 team?

(Guest post from Mark Martin)

Formula One is massively popular, with a global audience of over 600 million people. The sport has made household names of the likes of Nigel Mansell, who is still managing to capitalise on his association to the sport fifteen years after his retirement in the latest advertisements for Moneysupermarket car insurance.

However, the popularity of the sport has also been one of its problems, as fans haven’t been unable to get the access to the sport that they desire. It simply isn’t possible to give every fan at the circuit a tour of the paddock before the start of the race. Critics have therefore called the sport too isolated, and questioned why it can’t be more open to the public like the popular American racing series NASCAR. However, this is all changing thanks to social media.


The majority of F1 teams now have a Twitter account, where fans can follow their day to day activities. There is a huge hunger for this in the information age, and F1 fans are enjoying the increased accessibility of the sport. Fans now actually feel more emotionally involved with the teams, which increases the chance of them watching all the races to see how their ‘friends’ are getting on.

            Of all the teams, Virgin Racing appears to have embraced this new phenomenon the most as they strive to affiliate themselves within the F1 community and gain the support of fans. Tweeting about the strategy of the team, the work of engineers and mechanics, and commenting on goings on in the F1 world has allowed the fans to actually feel involved with the team and allowed them to get to know its ‘personalities’. Virgin Racing presently has 21,914 Twitter followers, each of which the teams are trying to make feel like an additional team member.

Brand personality

This all links to changes in the world of marketing, with ‘integration’ being the new marketing buzz word. Marketing academic, Terence Shimp, believes that sports marketing is overcrowded which leaves many sponsors logos un-noticed. On top of this, Shimp believes that the sponsorship association will do more harm than good if the brand and the team stand for different things.

A perfect example of this was Virgin’s decision to enter F1 for the first time in 2009 with the Brawn team. Branson had previously appeared unwilling to make the jump into the sport, but Brawn GP was the perfect opportunity for him. The team had been owned by Honda, who sold the team just before Christmas in 2008 leaving them on the verge of collapse. At the last minute, the team Principal Ross Brawn persuaded Honda to sell him the team for $1, meaning that Honda didn’t have to pay to make all the employees redundant.

The team quickly redesigned their car and managed to bolt a Mercedes engine in the back of a car designed to accommodate a Honda. This redesign meant that the car didn’t run for the first time until two weeks before the start of the season, and no one rated their chances as surviving the season without going bankrupt would be an achievement. However, Brawn had given up developing the team’s poor 2008 car early in the previous season and decided to focus all the teams’ resources on 2009.

The result was a car which was in a different league from that of their competitors and Brawn went on to win six of the first seven races with Jenson Button, and eventually sealed the world championship. Brawn GP were the underdogs, fighting for survival while at the same time fighting against the sports establishing winners. Branson realised this on the eve of the opening race of the season in Australia and decided to sponsor the team. Brawn perfectly correlated with his Virgin brand’s own underdog persona, which stemmed from Branson’s own life story. This involved him setting up his own catalogue firm and eventually turning this into a multi-national company spanning multiple industries despite being dyslexic and being failed by the schooling system in his childhood as a result. In each of these industries, Branson had entered a domain dominated by certain key players and took them on with a smaller budget.

This underdog persona had won him many fans and endeared the Virgin brand to customers around the world. Brawn GP perfectly complemented this underdog image. However, Ross Brawn sold the team to Mercedes for 2010 and the team hired the seven times world champion, Michael Schumacher. As the reigning world champion team with the most successful driver in the sport in one of their cars, Brawn were no longer the underdog and being associated with them would simply pollute Virgin’s underdog persona.

Branson therefore took the decision to start his own team from scratch for 2010, which would run on the smallest budget in the sport and become the first team in history to design their car with only computers. Once again, Branson had found a way to complement the underdog persona of his brand, by fighting larger teams with more experience and bigger budgets.

            Virgin are not the only company to have realised the benefits of owning your own F1 team to ensure increased publicity and better correlation to image. Kingfisher (Force India), Air Asia (Lotus), Red Bull and Mercedes Benz have all gone down the same route in recent years.

What does Twitter have to do with it?

As was previously outlined, Twitter allows followers to get to know the ‘personality’ of teams. If the team is created in a brands image, this personality will therefore provide a marketing message to the follower by showing exactly what the company stands for. Never ones to miss an opportunity, Virgin have used this to great effect this year. Fans have become emotionally involved with the team as they have got to know them and therefore become emotionally involved with every Virgin company in the different industries in which they are involved.

Formula One sponsorship is no long sufficient if it is just a logo on the wing of a car, it has to mean something and be acted upon with additional activities such as this to show people what message you are trying to achieve from the sponsorship. Virgin is the perfect case study in how F1 sponsorship can still

Technology Helping Sports Hospitality Re-Discover Its Mojo

Whilst reading the fantastic Partnership Activation newsletter (sign up for if you haven’t already for some great sports activation/branding news) put together by my friend Brian Gainor.  I came across something that really stood out and made me take notice.

On the Sports Technology section there was an item relating to the new hospitality experience being enjoyed by McLaren F1 hospitality guests this season.  So, what have they done that is so ground breaking?

In a market that has run stale with companies cutting back on their hospitality expenditure, there is a need to be different and offer a more exclusive and exciting experience to those attending.  Vodafone McLaren Mercedes (VMM) have used a company called Marvellous who have built a fantastic mobile app for them that really is worth taking note of for all those in the sports hospitality industry.

The brief was to mix the need to enhance and prolong the hospitality experience with the showcasing of cutting edge technology that the team, and the sport, embody.  I think they achieved this and more.

The ‘VMM Guest Hospitality App’ is downloaded to guests handsets before F1 events and, by utilising barcode scanning technology, gives guests secure entry to the Paddock Club with exclusive F1 content, including race schedules, location map, driver profiles, guest contacts and even a city guide featuring the coolest bars and places to go.

The Augmented Reality App allowed guests to aim their handset cameras around the track to pick up dynamic content and info, based on image recognition.   This is a great use of the technology and it fits so well with the sports profile and the famous F1 track experience.

Jon Carney, Marvellous chief executive, said: “The android platform gave us the opportunity to enhance the guest’s user experience, by allowing us to incorporate features such as real-time ticket scanning and checking- in, as well as augmented reality of McLaren’s garage, bringing it to the forefront of leading technology.”

You can see why it stood out so much for me and will set the benchmark for others I am sure.  Imagine, it can easily work within football stadiums, on Cup Final days, within the Olympics, Athletics World Championships…. any major event or stadium. 

Wimbledon had a similar app this year that was in partnership with their technology partner IBM.  Technology is becoming more prevalent within the sports hospitality industry and means it could regain some of the lost sparkle that being a VIP should have.

Have you used the VMM Guest Hospitality App or the Wimbledon one?  Or do you know of other uses in this way of technology within the sports industry?

Love to hear your views as always

Social Media and Formula 1: When Opportunity beats Strategy

There is an increasingly common misconception about ‘social media’. It is a phenomenon that is still rather loosely interpreted and with sufficient uncertainty surrounding its true meaning to warrant the need by some firms to segregate it into a separate box within its annual marketing and PR plans.

This has led to an influx in recent years of specialist digital PR firms, experts and social media strategists, all of whom are – quite legitimately – finding new business with brands or companies who are not truly au fait with all that social media entails. But sometimes even the most expert of experts cannot fully capitalise on the various social media opportunities that arise hour by hour, day by day.

In Formula 1 circles, there has been a notable increase in the use of Twitter as a communications platform this year, which has been a huge step forward in bringing Formula 1 fans closer to the action on track and behind the scenes. This revolution has been sparked by the need for journalists to satiate the immense hunger of the F1 fanbase who are always after the next morsel by laying claim to the next big story or the most insightful backstage feature.

It has also been helped in no small part by the openness of the new teams and their drivers who have embraced social media unreservedly. While the new teams have adopted social media as their communications tool of choice, it is unlikely that they have a specific strategy on how it should or should not be used. And that is no bad thing. In my own experience of social media, the moment you start to stifle it is the moment you start to go wrong. With anything as open and engaging as, say, Twitter, there comes an unwritten invitation for the public to criticise, to deride and to attack the brand, but in equal measure there is the opportunity to praise, commend and – most importantly – recommend.  Ah, yes, the power of an endorsement.

An excellent example of an organic social media success story in recent weeks was with the tongue-in-cheek GrandPrixDiary.com and German race driver Timo Glock. Below is a brief background to the story and how Glock’s team Virgin Racing used an out-of-the-blue social media opportunity to bolster its own reputation online. GrandPrixDiary looks at the world of F1 from a very sarcastic viewpoint. Its founder has made no qualms about the site’s sincerity, but instead offers a light-hearted and comical look at Formula 1.

When Virgin Racing driver Timo Glock started to use Twitter, there was an overwhelming culinary feel to his content. From a quick coffee to lunch in the motorhome to dinner in a restaurant, Timo would always tweet a photo. GrandPrixDiary pounced on the subject and quickly developed a column called Ready, Steady, Glock! (for those not familiar with the TV show Ready, Steady, Cook! its premise was to challenge chefs to cook a meal from an unknown bag of ingredients in under 20 minutes).

The column reproduced Timo’s Twitter images and presented them as if from his own German recipe book. Cue meals such as ‘Pizza mit der ham und mushrooms und olives’ to ‘Double chocolate cake mit Ice Cream’. After the Turkish GP, GrandPrixDiary challenged Timo (via Twitter) to participate in F1’s first ever online cookery show, Ready Steady Glock, offering Twitter followers the chance to submit recipes for Timo and his girlfriend Isabella to cook during the weekend.

Succumbing to a barrage of online pressure, Timo agreed. In fact from here on in, it was Timo’s own enthusiasm for the challenge that really propelled it forwards. The winning recipe was selected and announced on Twitter through the @grandprixdiary page, as well as through @realtimoglock, with suitable fanfare, and thus the shopping trip was set.

The winning entry, submitted by Kathryn Bird, was Marinated Chicken with Virgin Olive Oil followed by Timo’s Truffle Chocolate Puddings. Timo promised to tweet photos of the shopping trip as well as images from the cooking challenge itself, which he duly did. Credit also to @VirginRacing who recognised the growing stature of this online competition and agreed to supply a prize to the competition winner. The team has agreed to cook the winning recipe in its hospitality area for team members and guests at the weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix.

As Rob Sinfield of GrandPrixDiary.com explains: “Ready, Steady, Glock! would not have happened were it not for a combination of Virgin’s laid back style and Timo Glock’s now obvious sense of humour. We never set out to be cruel but we do like to prick the precious F1 bubble. So, referring to Glock as ‘the 5th best German in F1′ and then writing the cookery column in an ‘Allo ‘Allo style could have easily offended him but once he got into the idea it was he that drove it. The photo diary of the day is hilarious, he even decorated the fridge.

Once Virgin saw the fans response they too embraced it. The feedback I have had about Glock has been immense; he has scored a hit here. Now he has turned the tables, organising his own competition via Facebook where I have to cook a meal of HIS choosing with the winning recipe provider getting the cap he wears at the Canadian Grand Prix. A whole lot of fun has been had by all.

F1 must encourage this sort of participation with its fan base.” The outcome has been a hit for all concerned: – The GrandPrixDiary site has a heightened profile with endorsement from Timo Glock and Virgin Racing – Timo Glock has engaged directly with a website who were portraying him in a comical light and turned potentially negative comments into a massive positive – Virgin Racing has used an impromptu social media competition between one of its drivers and a Formula 1 fanbase to derive positives for its team – Formula 1 fans have been able to gain a closer connection to both team and driver via a social media portal and to have a bit of a laugh along the way.

So it doesn’t always need a carefully honed social media strategy to enhance a brand’s reputation online. Sometimes, it just takes a sense of humour and a willingness to engage socially.

Exclusive Interview with Lotus Racing Team Principal Tony Fernandes

As Formula 1 moves onto the most iconic and beloved circuits on the calendar with the Monaco Grand Prix shaping the sporting weekend ahead, we spoke to the Tony Fernandes, Team Principal of the new Lotus Racing team, who gives a fascinating insight into the team’s modern approach to Formula 1. In an exclusive chat with the UK Sports Network, Tony discusses the Lotus heritage, the impact of social media on the team’s communications strategy, why F1 is still has a lot to offer international brands and how Lotus Racing aims to put the sport’s legion of fans first.

As a new F1 team with an iconic name, how difficult is it to satisfy the F1 purists and concurrently appeal to new audiences?

“Some would see this as a potential problem, but since day one we’ve seen it as a major opportunity. The key to satisfying both parties has been honesty – we have never pretended to be, nor do we want to be, a rebirth of Colin Chapman’s Lotus, but we are very aware of the responsibility we have to uphold his legacy, and that of his cars, his drivers and his employees. We embrace a number of his philosophies in the way we go about racing – innovation, passion and dedication all being key watchwords for us, and those are as relevant to the purists as they are to the younger fans. We also chose our cars’ livery specifically because it is a contemporary nod to the classic green and yellow colours, and have been delighted to see that both new and old fans have unanimously come out in favour of our choice, many already saying it is by far the best looking car on the grid.  

So that’s the philosophy and the way we look on track – we’ve also embraced the new audience by being open, honest and very interactive in all forms of media. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube all afford us the opportunity to talk directly to individual fans, to build a relationship with them that gives them unprecedented access to team information and to give us their feedback on what we do. F1 teams are notoriously secretive about what goes on behind the garage or factory doors, and we want to challenge that, so Mike Gascoyne will tweet from the pit wall the lap before Jarno pits, telling his 15,000 followers what’s about to happen on track, or I will share a picture of me embracing Heikki as he climbs out of his car having broken into Q2 for the first time  – this is how the fans talk to each other and share in each others’ lives, and we do the same.”

What are the objectives of the team in 2010 not only from a performance point of view, but also in terms of fan attraction?

The performance goals are clear – we initially want to be the best of the new teams, then challenge the established runners in the midfield, and the top, as quickly as we can. After the first four races we have achieved our initial goals – we are comfortably the best of the new teams and in China we took on and beat Nico Hulkenberg’s Williams in a straight fight on track. We had a major upgrade package in Barcelona, with a new front wing, front and rear brake ducts, new turning vanes and a number of mechanical updates, so we now want to push on from a solid base and take on the likes of Toro Rosso, Force India and Williams.

From the fan’s perspective it’s also simple – we want to be the number one team that fans follow. Traditionally fans will support drivers, and only one team has really broken that mould, Ferrari. The Ferrari legend is very alluring, but so is Lotus, and we have the opportunity to take on Ferrari and beat them in the fan stakes. We are new, fresh, honest and inclusive, but with the added magic ingredients of heritage and credibility. For fans this is a very cool mix, and gives us the chance to become, in a reasonable timeframe, the fans’ favourite worldwide.”

How do you view Formula 1’s global perception? What needs to be done to increase F1’s international appeal?

“In recent years F1 has started breaking out of its traditional European based model, and has expanded into the Middle and Far East. Next year there will be a race in India, and with the launch of the South Korean race this year, and the success of the Singapore night race, there will be more races in the sub-continent and Asia in future. This is critically important for F1 as this is where the developing nations are – as the countries’ economies strengthen so do the buying power of their people, and there will be huge competition for their attention from every area of the sports and entertainment industries. F1 needs to be seen and heard in their countries, and needs to be accessible 24 / 7 via their mobiles, laptops and TVs with content that is truly innovative, engaging and creative, and that’s the challenge for F1 – embrace the digital world and see the fan numbers swell, hold it at arm’s length and football, the Olympics, music, film and games, to name but a few, will push F1 further and further down the fans’ list of priorities.

As an Anglo- Malaysian team we have a unique opportunity to open up the sport to fans across China, Asia and India, and to give the brightest talent from those areas the chance to work with us, both at our factory in the UK, and at our base in Sepang, where we will have an R&D and production facility, a museum and other visitor attractions, all aimed at creating employment opportunities in a global sport, and at giving fans access to Lotus Racing, its stories and its experiences.

The other aspect of the sport that needs looking at is the on track action. For too long now the rules have favoured the teams at the top and have not encouraged enough on track action. Great efforts have been made to spice up the action on track, but when conditions are variable and the teams are pushed to the limit, strategically and tactically, the fans see amazing action, on track and in the pits. Australia and China this year have produced two of the best races seen in years and that’s because of variable conditions. We can’t artificially reproduce those conditions, but we can decrease the artificial conditions that lead to processional races – one immediate way to do this is to get rid of blue flags. Every one of the guys on track is a racing driver, and yet we have to wave a flag to make them let fast cars through, further slowing down the guys in the midfield and down, and widening the gap between front and back even more. Do away with these flags and suddenly everyone has to concentrate throughout the whole race – the guys at the back come into play in the action, wherever they are in the race positions, the element of risk when overtaking is introduced throughout the pack and the metronomic nature of the latter stages of races will soon become battles all over the track – we’re here to race, and overtaking is racing, so let’s get rid of the flags and show the fans what the drivers can do.

Lotus is one of a few teams to really embrace social media (Facebook, Twitter) – was that a conscious decision?

“Very much so. As I’ve said earlier, our fans use social media to give each other total access to their lives, and why should we be any different? F1 precedent dictates that we should keep the doors shut and not give away any secrets, but why? What does that solve? Nothing. All too often a team has spent millions designing and building something that may or may not give them an extra tenth of a second on track, and when they finally unveil it everyone else rushes off and copies it, spending millions on something that has no relevance to fans and doesn’t improve the show at all. We must move away from this, and instead be thinking how we can use that money, or in fact much less money than is wasted on the latest gizmo, to embrace fans – let them experience what it’s like to be a mechanic in sweaty overall in 40° heat in Malaysia as Heikki’s about to pit, or what an Engineer is going through as the heat sensors on his car are rising to dangerous levels with three laps to go and he has to decided whether or not to bring his driver into the pit. That will increase our fan base, and that will ensure we have fans for life. Until we can all do that, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube are our best conduits to the fans, and we love the fact they respond to us every day.”

Does the team have a social media strategy as such?

“The strategy is simple. Embrace all the relevant social media platforms with content that is relevant, timely and innovative. We can over complicate it, but that’s what it boils down to in strategic terms. Tactically, the challenge is obviously immense, and requires a different but complimentary plan for each outlet, but we have embraced social media, we think, like no other team and are breaking new ground in our use of all its platforms.

Heikki is an active Tweeter, as are Mike and yourself, does this help break down the barriers between the teams and the fans?

“When used effectively Twitter is a fantastic tool for breaking down barriers – but it’s the same as having a conversation with your friends – say something interesting and relevant and you will get complimentary responses. Say something bland or banal and people will very quickly turn away and listen to someone else. That’s the challenge – to make it interesting. We’re lucky that we have a number of Tweeters in the team who are all interesting personalities, and that’s what fuels our Twitter strategy:

@h­_kovalainen gives insights every day into what the life of an F1 driver is really like. He seems to play a bit too much golf, but at least I know what he’s eating every day is healthy……..

@mikegascoyne definitely leads the way in F1 technical people, giving such detailed information about the team, on and off track, that some members of the media have already given us the title of Twitter Team of the Year

@mylotusracing is a source of general news from the team, again on and off track. There are a few people in the team who have access to that account, and they use it really well to give updates about what’s going on at the factory, show inside, for example, our new race trailers, and give timing updates throughout each on track session

@tonyfernandes is mine, and I’ve been an avid user now since late 2008. I love the fact I can tell a load of people what I’m doing and where I am in one message, and even more important to me is the fact people can respond to me directly and tell me what’s going on with them in their lives, what they think about AirAsia or Lotus Racing, ask my advice or tell me something amazing – it’s such a democratic tool, with no geographical, social or religious boundaries, it’s honestly one of my great loves.

Your website is very interactive, what was the thinking behind this concept and are there any developments in the pipeline?

“Thank you! The site was pulled together very quickly by a very talented team who worked extremely hard to get us online at the same time as we were putting the whole team together. The site is the gateway to everything we do as a team, it’s the door to all the content we produce, the conversations we have with our fans, it’s where our partners can create communities with our fans and it’s where we tell the world what we’re up to. It is being developed further now and we will very shortly be unveiling version 2 – keep clicking to find out what we’re up to next!

What can F1 learn from other sports…as a keen West Ham supporter do you have any football related experiences that can be transferred to F1?

“I’ve already said above what F1 needs to do to increase fan numbers and stay ahead of the other entertainment choices consumers have. The relatively recent explosion in interest in football is both down to the fantastic, interactive coverage it has around the world, and the way the brands involved in it use it as a platform for globally relevant, innovative marketing activities. Nike, Adidas, Coca Cola, Sony, Microsoft and all the other brands involved at club and international levels keep driving up awareness and fan loyalty, through amazing campaigns and great products. F1 must do the same, and the very nature of the sport, cool cars, amazing athletes and jaw dropping locations, give our sport the perfect platform to promote ourselves. This will see us replicate the success football has had in attracting new fans, particularly in Asia and India, and that’s the key lesson we can learn.” 

What does Formula 1 in 2010 stand for and what benefits can brands derive from an association with F1?

“F1 still stands for what it always has – speed, passion, glamour, risk, excitement, innovation, excellence and international cool! Any brand that counts these words amongst their own brand values can derive huge value from association with our sport, but the key is to embrace the sport and support the naming rights they purchase with fully integrated activation plans. There are too many brands in the sport who see the benefits of awareness, but, perhaps because their expectations were not fully managed, are somewhat blinded by the range of other opportunities that their investment can provide. We have a number of partners with Lotus Racing who are already showing what can be done with a well thought out strategic plan – Maxis, the leading Malaysian telco, have already created and launched an iphone application that within a week was the top application in Malaysia. This creates a dialogue with a new fanbase who will keep coming back to Maxis for more content, more access to the team, and this is a great use of their sponsorship. I think that shows what can be done, and what should be done by brands who come into the sport for the right business reasons.”

When Twitter takes over…TwitGP

A resourceful group of MotoGP fans, fronted by Gadget Show presenter Suzi Perry, failed to let the Eyjafjallajökull volcano put a cloud over the cancelled Japanese MotoGP race last weekend. Instead, they turned to the power of Twitter to establish the world’s first ever virtual race, #TwitGP.

In what was arguably the first of its kind in recent sporting history, a postponed sporting event was salvaged and transformed into an online gathering of loyal enthusiasts and web junkies. The result was a bizarre yet intriguing fan-led celebration of MotoGP past and present which underlined the sphere of influence within the Twittersphere and the sheer appetite for online sports campaigns.

The concept for #TwitGP was started within hours after the official cancellation of the Japanese Grand Prix, as Suzi explained to me on the phone from her #TwitGP HQ: “We were all so disappointed that Motegi was postponed, that we started this as a bit of fun, just to see how far it would go,” she said. “We were amazed that in less than 24 hours we had almost 2,000 people on board, including riders, mechanics, teams, press, IT and even a few celebrities, including Ross Noble.”

Day-by-day, the #TwitGP phenomenon spread quicker than a volcanic ash cloud and in less than seven days, the @TwitGP account had close to 6,000 followers – not far from the 7,302 spectators who physically attended the actual season-opening Qatar Grand Prix just a few weeks back. The initiative also attracted the interest of top bands Stereophonics (@stereophonics) and The Prodigy (@the_prodigy) and genuine MotoGP racers Jorge Lorenzo (@lorenzo99) and Nicky Hayden (@nickyhayden69).

The rules of #TwitGP were deliberately loose to allow fans and contributors the chance to shape the next development, but the skeleton format replicated an actual race weekend with free practice, qualifying and the race itself from Friday to Sunday. Contributions ranged from MCN Sport editor @guyprocter producing a mock-up magazine cover to promote the race to @madmark99 acting as a virtual Photoshop advert with his creation (and admitted oversight in not copyrighting) of the TwitGP logo. 

Racing driver and TV star Tiff Needell took it upon himself to design the virtual ‘Twitegi’ circuit (Motegi being the real name of the Japanese GP circuit for those not well versed in motor racing venues!), while racing legends Max Biaggi, Mick Doohan and Kevin Schwantz all ‘virtually’ dusted off their leathers to join current superstars Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and the aforementioned Lorenzo and Hayden in Twitegi battle.

As the sessions progressed with live updates from @TwitGP, contributions came in from actual MotoGP presenters and team members giving the public a rare opportunity to converse with those in the paddock’s inner sanctum.  The race unfolded on Sunday afternoon with Kevin Schwantz taking an unexpected and unlikely victory ahead of @Lorenzo99 and Rossi.

Once all the race day celebrations had eased off, Suzi gave us her post-race debrief:

“The anticipation for race day emulated an actual GP!” she said. “Messages came flooding in all day; people asking about the weather so they could wear the correct clothes, to questions about how the riders were feeling! It was as if it was actually happening. Of course it was all just a huge amount of fun and wordsmith daftness, which everyone seemed to love and relish, to the point of tweeting their thoughts and tech/bike mash vocabulary! We broadcast the event live, uploading appropriate pictures and it was a wonderful experience to be covering a ‘race’ again…and of course, to see “Revvin” Kevin Schwantz on top of the podium!”

It was a completely bizarre end to an utterly unpredictable week in the world of MotoGP and Twitter. But should we really be surprised by the power of Twitter?

As Suzi herself sums up: “Twitter is such an amazing medium and its power never ceases to amaze me.”

MotoGP back under the spotlight

The 2010 MotoGP World Championship gets underway at the Losail International Circuit this weekend after an agonisingly long off-season period. It has been five months since the curtain fell on the 2009 championship in Valencia, but the Qatari night race will literally put motorcycle racing back under the spotlight once more.

There have been few big name moves over the winter with Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo resuming battle in the divided Fiat Yamaha garage, Casey Stoner partnering Nicky Hayden at Ducati, and Dani Pedrosa alongside Andrea Dovizioso at Repsol Honda for a second season.

However, there has been a serious injection of fresh blood into motorcycling’s premier class this season with the arrival of a batch of enthusiastic 250cc graduates in the shape of Alvaro Bautista (Suzuki), Marco Simoncelli (Gresini Honda), Hector Barbera (Paginas Amarillas Aspar) and Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda). The youthful composition of riders in this year’s championship makes 30-year-old seven-time world champion Valentino Rossi look positively, well, veteran in comparison.

The age gap has certainly not flustered Rossi, whose pre-season form has been scintillating. His position at the head of the timesheets has been threatened only by a resurgent Casey Stoner aboard the Ducati who took top honours in the recent night test at Qatar. Not that seeing Stoner’s name in first place is any shock, particularly at Qatar where he remains unbeaten since 2007. With Jorge Lorenzo still in recovery mode following an off-season hand injury and the Hondas struggling for outright pace, it looks as if 2010 will be another Rossi/Stoner double act.

Off-track and MotoGP’s Spanish rights holders Dorna have been busy evolving the sport for the new season with some notable announcements in recent weeks. First of all, there is good news for armchair fans with the confirmation that MotoGP will go HD in 2010. Formula One fans are still patiently waiting for HD broadcasts, so MotoGP has stolen something of a march on its four-wheeled counterparts.

A word from Dorna’s Manel Arroyo on the subject: “Working alongside the most recognised sports broadcasters worldwide and being one of the leading motorsports championships, we have a duty to stay abreast of all the emerging technologies which help us to capture the speed and adrenaline of MotoGP”. Enough said.

A lot of MotoGP’s other developments appear to stem from a ‘home is where the heart is’ approach. Of those rookie riders we mentioned earlier, two are Spanish, bringing the total number of Spanish riders to five out of a field of 17 (note, there are also five Italians). MotoGP is unsurprisingly popular in Spain. The Jerez MotoGP event on race day is something akin to Mecca for motor-racing fans – whether two-wheeled or four.

One of Dorna’s recent agreements revolves around promoting Spain as a tourist venue. When the 2010 calendar was unveiled – with the three existing Spanish races all in situ as expected – there was the introduction of a fourth Spanish venue as a back-up should any particular race not proceed as planned. Lo and behold, when the already postponed Hungarian GP could not progress due to track development complications, the position on the calendar was duly given to the Aragon Motorland, an impressive looking facility in northern Spain.

So five riders, four races and ‘Visit Spain’ logos adorned wherever there is blank space, the MotoGP world championship is the world’s fastest moving Spanish postcard. It is a shrewd deal and makes sense for both parties. Certainly Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is pleased: “For years, the three Spanish GPs, now four, have already served as an attraction to foreigners to visit Spain, and with this agreement we hope to continue to draw more people, not only to watch the races but to discover everything the country has to offer,” he said.

However, it is worth asking whether an overwhelmingly Spanish championship character puts off other brands looking for truly international exposure for their brands. Or does its Spanish flavour give MotoGP a distinctive character and appeal that sets it apart from other worldwide sports? If the objective is simply to “Visit Spain”, then Dorna’s job is done.

Do we really need to reinvent the press release?

Last year I did some work for a client who declared the press release to be dead. Instead I found myself working on an ‘e-newsletter’, which to my mind was a press release by any other name.

Marketing professionals have to change their approach to suit the tools of the moment, and certainly the likes of Twitter and Facebook are very ‘now’. But is the press release really dead? Has the need for it gone away? Probably not; it’s merely become unfashionable. And, crucially, you already know how to do one properly (or at least – you may think you know). It has no mystique, no magic. You won’t find features in marketing magazines on “5 Essential Tips For A Great Press Release” or have digital agencies banging on your door to offer consultancy services in Press Release Optimisation. It’s, like, so done.

I wonder, though, if in our eagerness to embrace new channels we’re forgetting how to service the essential existing ones; and that the press release can play an important (if unsexy) role in an integrated marketing strategy.

When I work with motorsport clients I dread the arrival of the word “lifestyle”. It signifies a conviction that the core audience is too geeky by half, and that it is already aware of the sponsors’ branding. We don’t need to speak to them, do we? No, we need the lifestyle audience. We need to shake it up a bit. We need to do something… different.

In the run-up to last weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, my inbox filled with communications of varying quality. Some of the teams had clearly fallen prey to reinvention syndrome. Red Bull’s race preview release was just a load of flim-flam about where to go for a good meal and a fun night out in Manama; quirky and on-brand, maybe, but not very useful to anyone outside the cloistered environment of the F1 paddock. Or perhaps they hoped the Sunday Times magazine might think, “Wow! What a great destination! Clear six pages in next week’s issue! Is Michael Winner available? Does he drink Red Bull? I know he’s got a dicky ticker but will he do a bungee jump?”

Above all, a press release has to be useful. It doesn’t have to be sexy. The Cosworth pre-Bahrain release (produced by UKSN contributor Chris Hughes) broke no new ground in the art of the press release but it was packed with concise, timely, useful and relevant information. That’s all you need to ensure that the media use it.

In fact, I’d argue that in the present media climate – where there’s a proliferation of new media outlets, often one-man bands or other shoestring outfits – a tightly written press release is going to be used pretty much word-for-word. I certainly read more about Cosworth last week than I did about where to eat in Bahrain…

The View from the Cockpit: Interview with IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe

Australian racer Ryan Briscoe was embroiled in a thrilling battle for championship honours in the 2009 IndyCar Series season finale at Homestead after a three-way shootout with Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon.

Over on these shores, you would have been hard pushed to find any reference to the championship-decider outside of the specialist motorsport press, even though eventual winner Franchitti hails from Scotland. In the US, though, this was big news in and outside of the racing press and garnered huge coverage for all three protagonists in the run-up to and in the aftermath of the race.

Now recall, if you will, the equally exciting championship deciders of recent Formula 1 seasons – Hamilton/Massa/Raikkonen in 2007, Hamilton/Massa in 2008 and to a lesser extent Button/Barichello/Vettel last season. The climax to these championship deciders were well documented across Europe and indeed internationally. So what is it that differentiates the popularity and fan appeal of stateside racing from the continued global fascination of Formula 1?

Ryan Briscoe is a man who is better placed than most to assess the differences, having driven in Formula 1, IndyCar and American Le Mans Series, while also having first-hand experience of the ever-popular NASCAR series. I have known Ryan since his early days in Formula Renault and F3, so I picked his brains to get a driver’s perspective ahead of this weekend’s season-opening race in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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