How the FIA is seeking the next generation of motorsport stars | RacingLines

It seems incredible, but in the 114-year existence of the FIA (under its various guises), world motorsport’s governing body has convened just six global sport conferences – all held since 2013, saliently starting towards the end of Jean Todt’s first presidential term.

The first FIA Sport Conference, held in Goodwood ahead of the Festival of Speed weekend, focused on the development and promotion of (all) motorsports in the FIA’s various zones – both topics that featured prominently in Todt’s re-election manifesto that year. It was no surprise that member clubs bought into his vision, and the Frenchman was returned unopposed that October.

The next edition, convened in Munich, focussed on development and educational opportunities for FIA member clubs. The conference also saw the introduction of the MotorEx forum, designed to provide a commercial platform for motorsport suppliers.

In 2015 delegates visited Mexico ahead of the country’s return to the F1 calendar, with the theme “Make it fast, make it safe, make it for fans”. The focus was on the benefits of structured programmes for ASNs (National Sporting Authorities, as member clubs are referred to), homing in on fast but safe motorsport.

The next conference, titled “Passion and Innovation: Past, Present and Future of Motorsport”, was hosted in June 2016 in halls of Lingotto – the former Fiat factory that gained legendary status as the scene of the roof top car chase in The Italian Job.

“We designed this conference as a platform for exchanges, to enable people to meet and set up innovative projects as a result of these discussions,” Todt said in his opening address. “For the FIA it is important to ensure that motorsport is accessible to everyone, in all parts of the world.”

Therein lies the rationale behind the conferences: To ensure that motorsport becomes increasingly democratic; that participation is not restricted only to the wealthy, and that any fan with a car can find enjoyment through sporting activities, whether as competitor, administrator or team member.

Last year’s edition was hosted in Geneva under the theme “Progress and Direction Together Through a Decade of Change”, and preceded Todt’s third (and last) presidential mandate. The conference built on the building blocks of previous editions, and set the scene for this year’s congress, hosted in the Conrad Hotel in Manila from 4 to 6 June, with the second World Motor Sport Council meeting of the year slated for 7 June.

Themed “Empowering the Future: Unlocking Motor Sport’s Potential”, the conference was opened by Todt, who said in his address that one of the primary for the FIA and its global club network is to “Provide as many people as possible with access to motor sport.

“One of the key challenges is how to engage with younger generations, and inspire them to get involved in our sport, both as fans and competitors.”

“E-Karting represents not only a new opportunity in terms of motor sport development, it also demonstrates that the world is changing, and that we need to be a change-leader. E-Karting will be demonstrated at the Youth Olympic Games later this year in Buenos Aires – this marks a significant step for the FIA and its recognition by the International Olympic Committee in January 2012.”

Indeed, as FIA Secretary-General for Sport Peter Bayer subsequently told RaceFans, the aim is to have E-Karting recognised as a Youth Olympic sport in 2022. The Austrian pointed to skateboarding, which was trialled by the Youth Olympics before incorporation in the Olympic Games. Bayer knows of what he speaks: Before joining the FIA he was CEO of the Youth Olympics.

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The FIA recognises that although karting is the most democratic form of motorsport, the staircase is meritocratic from karting through F3 to F1 – indeed, one of Todt’s most important achievements has been the introduction of a structured single-seater ladder from F4 through F3 and F2 to F1, with similar ladders for rally (R4-R1), endurance racing (P4-1), even touring cars (T4-1), and eventually drifting (D4-1).

“The FIA and [commercial rights holder] Formula 1 [Management] work together in achieving the same strategic goals, for more spectacle and competition between teams, better safety and more technological innovation,” he said during his address.

“For the continued health of [F1] we are discussing governance, cost management and technical simplification. To this end, we are conducting an in-depth dialogue with the teams and power unit suppliers already involved and potentially interested in joining F1.

“After officially revealing the new FIA Formula E Gen-2 car during the Geneva Motor Show, the next Formula E season will see cars with double the battery life… technological advancement that will ultimately benefit all motorists.”

During his keynote address F1 CEO Chase Carey reiterated FOM’s commitment to the single-seater ladder, saying, “We [with the FIA] actually have a great partnership. We’re obviously learning to work together…I think we’re finding we very much have a shared vision of where we want to go, and certainly Formula 2 and Formula 3 was part of that.

“We’ve talked about the pyramid with Formula 1 being the pinnacle, but having more of a structure in place that we can help grow and bring young drivers along, develop drivers in parts of the world like Asia, have a structure that they can move up and have fans able to follow it so it’s not just a development path for drivers, but it’s also a path fans can engage with, and be excited about where young drivers are coming from.”

Carey made no secret of the fact that FOM is eyeing additional races in Asia, particularly Vietnam and a second grand prix in China, but, crucially, stressed that any new venues would need to deliver exciting racing. Thus the money-grabbing-regardless-of-impact-on-F1 strategy of his predecessor has (hopefully) been consigned to a bin marked “obsolete”.

After Carey’s address, a panel consisting of the American, Malaysia’s former F1 driver Alex Yoong, Philippine F3 driver – and Monaco GP3 race winner – Marlon Stöckinger and Asia F3 promoter Davide de Gobbi spoke of the challenges (and potential) of introducing regional F3 championships as per the “ladder” structure. Their points apply equally to Asia, the Americas, Africa or other emerging regions.

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In-keeping with standards set by other conferences, dinner provided a superb opportunity of networking with club officials from across the globe over delicious local fare. The Philippines consists of over 7,000 islands, and it seems each has its own specialities so many dishes were served by Barbara’s Heritage Restaurant, while red eyes aplenty the following morning attested to much enjoyment, although most blamed jet lag…

Day two opened with a Plenary on “Attracting the Next Generation”, with 11-time grand prix winner-turned CIK president Felipe Massa the key speaker. The Brazilian is well versed in the struggles facing regular guys making it into F1, and related the story of how problems in his father’s business meant there was no funding for the then-14-year-old’s karting activities.

“The time I spent most in my career was finding sponsors – it was the thing I was speaking about most every day, because I didn’t have the money to race. All I spoke about every day was finding sponsors to race – with the mentality that my dream was to arrive in Formula 1.”

Thus the FIA (and F1) is increasingly embracing e-Sports as a cost-effective entry platform, and invited former Formula BMW and Formula 3 race winner Rupert Svendsen-Cook, who turned to e-Sports team management once his race funding ran out, to address the conference.

“The cost barriers to entry at the junior level are the biggest stumbling block to engaging the young people to get involved in the sport,” said the founder of the Veloce eSports team, who now manages some of the biggest stars in the business – and it has become big business.

“eSports is a very good solution for a lot of the problems. It’s true there’s no better school than karting – I did eight years of karting – it’s great, it taught me everything. It’s the ultimate education, but it has very different price points to other opportunities that can still give you a lot of the same tools as eSports.”

He trotted out some impressive statistics: “As of today, eSports is the fastest growing sport in the world. The participation number globally right now is around 200 million people and growing – and the global audience is a staggering 380 million, and growing. Pretty astonishing numbers…

“We’re engaging a millennial audience and a fan base which is crucial to the future of our sport. It’s realistic to say that the next generation of drivers will graduate through racing eSports – the opportunities are huge.”

Equally, drifting gained millions of fans across the world. Marek Nawarecki, FIA Manager for Circuit Racing, highlighted that drifting is ideally placed as an entry-level sport – standard production cars suffice at D4 level – while the FIA’s Drifting pyramid provides clear progression. Indeed, during the conference the formation of the FIA Drifting Commission was announced.

Also on stage was Rodi Basso, Motorsports Director for McLaren Applied Technologies, who spoke about the data generated by motorsport, and how that could be applied to attract new fans: “As an engineer I’m very passionate and interested in motor sport technology – I’m still fascinated by how much technology can change and improve people’s lives,” said the former F1 engineer, who did his internship at NASA.

“This conference is about unlocking the potential of motor sport, and it has a huge potential – most of it in data. One of the unique aspects of our sport is the amount of data that is available – consider that a [F1] race weekend generates something like 100 terabytes of data across all F1 cars.

“Using new data technologies we can definitely improve the show, let data tell the story, and attract a new generation that is demanding something different.”

Herman’s Tilke’s presentation was very much in line with his thoughts as expressed in his recent interview for RaceFans. After lunch delegated were treated to some live action, with a drifting display as well as laps in the Cross Car – effectively an off-road kart aimed at grassroots motorsport. The concept means that a variety of increasingly powerful engines can be fitted to the same vehicle as the youngster becomes more proficient.

That evening we were hosted by the Manila Polo Club, an establishment every bit as genteel as the name implies, with the menu again doing Philippines hospitality (very) proud. One of the joys of the conference is meeting and mixing with like-minded individuals, who simply love all motorsport activities and strive for the welfare of the sport – and the evening provided such opportunities in abundance.

The final day’s plenary was entitled “Safeguarding the sport – the future of technology”, and saw Mehul Kapadia, Managing Director of F1 Business at Tata Communications, outline the shifts in broadcast technology for F1, and how other genre could benefit in future.

“The journey of the last six years has been the journey of the digital transformation of Formula One,” he said. “Preparing the foundation for high-quality transmission through 4K, ultra-HD, doing things like live OTT [Over-The-Top]…Having this ability to take personalised experiences to different places, is where OTT platforms can help.

“The scalability of these is that you can do it on a global level, you can do it at a regional level…you’re really breaking down barriers of geography by, I don’t want to say bypassing broadcasters, but being able to reach customers directly.”

Also on stage was Burkhard Goeschel, formerly BMW board member for technology and now president of the FIA’s Electric and New Energy Commission, who spoke about the applications that the commission is developing for electric vehicles.

“We’re talking about electrification everywhere…that’s the main development issue for the automotive industry,” Goeschel stated. “For example, Formula E was an outcome of our activities, and now we are initiating further steps, like e-Rallycross or e-Karting. We are also building a technology roadmap for the future.

“In Formula E we have a clear roadmap for how to grow and how to go forward, and which kind of technology to apply in batteries, charging systems, semi-conductors, and everything like that. A future issue that we are considering is Fuel Cell racing – when should it come, when is it mature enough to go into motor sport?

“I see opportunities for long distance racing…if we are stepping across to zero emissions in motor sport, maybe for 24 hours racing or something like that, then fuel cells, in my opinion, become interesting. It’s future technology, the industry is working on it, so why not…[the FIA]?”

The final sessions included an outline of the objectives of the newly-founded FIA Disability and Accessibility Commission – of which more later – plus environmental accreditation processes and revised helmet standards.

Todt brought proceedings to a close. “We are moving, he said. “We will keep going, developing motor sport, being more ambitious in all the regions. It’s very important to progress together, and to convey the same values – without strong values, we cannot have a strong organisation.

“Fresh blood is absolutely essential – we have a community which is developing, and it can only develop by having young people… We have a lot of new members of commissions, new presidents of commissions who are young, and that’s very important to secure the future of the organisation.”

There is no doubt that the global motorsport landscape is changing – whether for better or worse is not, though, the relevant question, for the demands of a changing environment and shifting demographics means the sport has zero say in the matter. It needs to adapt or face extinction. The FIA recognises that fact, and on the basis of the presentations in Manila, is well placed to face future challenges.

Grassroots motorsports will never be followed as eagerly as the spectacular exploits of the F1 circus. But the fact is world champions are grown, not born – and took their first steps in fledgling categories. Without those there would simply be no F1, certainly not as it is today.

As it with granny’s wisdom about finances, so it is with our sport: look after the pennies, and the pounds look after themselves. The piggy bank is the FIA.

Follow Dieter on Twitter: @RacingLines

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