21st Century Formula One: The Social Paddock

There is no doubt that, since its inception, groundbreaking technology has been at the forefront of Formula One. It’s always been about gaining those extra tenths. How? Through exorbitant budgets, a design genius, talented drivers, a committed team? There are so many variables that it’s a matter of these plus more, and perfect timing. And a smidgen luck. Formula One has ploughed into the 21st Century with aplomb, but far from being a technical whizz myself, the 21st Century I’m talking about is this. Social media.

Tweet tweet:

Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay, and the element that is doing overtime on the coal face is Twitter. As soon as you hear a whisper of a rumour in the air, it’s straight to Twitter. Phone, laptop, or via a few desperate smoke signals, all it takes is 140 characters to set the world alight. Carefully chosen you’re retweeted around the globe with a single click…squeeze in a comparison between John Prescott and Christian Horner’s sartorial choices and prepare for battle (from personal experience, this is going to be a battle you will lose. Quickly). To underestimate the power of Twitter is a foolish thing, and this year it’s reached the heady heights of becoming the only way for teams to communicate with fans.

Photo credit: Marussia Virgin Racing Twitter

Narain Karthikeyan declared his return to Formula 1 via his twitter page, and Lewis Hamilton took on the haters. And once you’re logged on you have not only the globe at your fingertips, but access to all aspects of the sport. It’s completely transformed the way we discuss, argue and share all things Formula One (among other non-F1, but equally important things). On the one hand it’s great that the paddock gates have been wedged open, and with some teams taking the time to truly engage their fans it’s another golden era. It’s great to know, but do we now know too much?

Here is that double edge sword about technology, with advancements made all the time, expectations increase at a seemingly unstoppable pace. When a team doesn’t send a press release out instantly, the rumour mill spins into action and a stream of alarmist tweets make their way into the world, many are unfounded worries and the result of overexposure (or lack thereof due to the annual F1 drought). Scraps of fact and fiction are waded through, and the collective shakedown usually results in a condensed nugget of truth. Well, until the next McLaren driver moans about pace…

Highlights:

  • Insights into what drivers get up to off-track. Namely dodgy clothes, expansive facial hair and Justin Bieber movies.
  • Outpouring of love for Robert Kubica from teams/drivers/fans/media.
  • #TeamF1, #BEARDWATCH and #CotswoldGrandPrix keeping us entertained during the winter months.
  • Team Lotus and Virgin Racing completely kicking ass by wholeheartedly engaging fans.

The best bit about Twitter has got to be the proximity of the most fervent fans to drivers, team principals, mechanics, cars and even the odd disgruntled employee. Some tweet regularly, others the odd photo, but without a doubt we are now closer to Formula One than we ever have been and probably ever will be.

Blogging all over the world:

Twitter’s great for 140 character conversations, but if you want something a little more in-depth than that, why go further than a blog? We have access to official F1 sites, including team and driver websites, but opinion and grey areas are hard to come by. If you want in-depth knowledge peppered with the bite of expert opinion, then you should be heading over to the blog-side. It’s hard to believe that some of these are blogs, in fact in some instances I had to check. These are powered by ardent fans, so integrated within the sport now that you can often see them enjoying certain hospitality areas.

Whereas Twitter is the source of instant gratification, the best blogs have hours spent upon their offerings and in turn fill the gap between the paddock and the fans. Press releases are decoded, strategy choices analysed and team orders scrutinised, all without the nagging fear of pleasing PR people and representing a brand. This release from the constraints of team-pleasing has allowed a freedom in writing, which can be showcased on a global scale.

Highlights:

These blogs have also played a hand in bringing the F1 community together, another link in the carbon fibre mesh. But as Twitter has elevated our expectations in the levels of information we receive directly from the teams, has blogging diluted the media pool? Inevitably yes, as anyone can sign up and start tapping away. Then in the same breath, it has allowed those with a desire to write to do so under their own steam, without the need to go in search of a publication to submit it to (although for some this is the ultimate goal).

And not forgetting:

Although blogs and Twitter are now a large constituent of the social side of F1 (very almost added a hash tag, now that’s conditioning), there are some clever folk across the internet utilising other media too. Standing apart from the rest, they take a step off the beaten path and make their presence known, in their own unique way.

The most notable addition this year is the unbelievable effort of Peter Windsor and The Flying Lap, an instant must-see from the first episode where he was joined by the Senna Movie Producer Manish Pandey and Bruno Senna. A flyer from the start other guests have included Pedro de la Rosa, Mark Webber, Craig Scarborough (Scarbs F1), Chris Amon, John Booth, Jonathan Neale, Karun Chandhok and the one and only Sir Frank Williams. It’s broadcast live giving viewers the opportunity to ask questions in real time, every Wednesday.

Photo credit: The Flying Lap Website

LiveF1Chat.com is a new concept for the 2011 season, it’s aim is to offer fans a place to converge during Grand Prix’s and chat about the events as they unfold in real time. You can sign up via Facebook, or through the site itself, and although the similarities to Twitter are there, here the timeline will be pure Formula 1 and gives you the opportunity to meet new fans.

Podcasts are another way of getting discussions out of the pitlane, recorded before, during and after Grand Prix’s. You can’t go wrong with The Chequered Flag from 5Live, and despite the name Sidepodcast isn’t just that. Their mission statement reads “To create, maintain, and further conversation about Formula 1”, one which aptly describes them. Weekly and fortnightly shows come in audio or video format, and the rather fantastic Christine’s Rankings cleverly cover the week’s events, with an added bite.

Photo credit: Sidepodcast

So whether you fully immerse yourself into the social side, or you’re an occassional toe-dipper, how we approach Formula One has been changed forever. However, regardless of this fact, the heart and soul of what we talk about has never strayed from what it set out to be.

Going faster than everyone else.

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