To Lotus F1 Racing boss Tony Fernandes, the future of F1 looks brighter than ever. Talking with journalists at the Lotus launch, Fernandes described a market in Asia that F1 has only just begun to scratch. Admitting that the majority of revenue for the sport derives from European locations, support and attendance Fernandes is adamant that Asia will become more interested in the open-wheel racing series than ever before.
â€œI joked to Bernie [Ecclestone], â€˜When you really have a global sport, Silverstone will be a night race, because you will have one billion people watching in Asia.â€™
What is fueling Fernandes’s optimism? A combination of elements that he suggests are positioning F1 for a financial and locational revolution:
â€œI see the fact that some of the silly spending that has gone on is going to end. And so if the revenue goes up and the costs go down, you get a real opportunity.â€
â€œThe revenue theyâ€™re getting is really primarily from Europe â€“ North America still hasnâ€™t really worked yet, and Asia is a huge potential market in which F1 has hardly scratched the surface.â€
Understanding that Lotus F1 Racing is funded by the Malaysian government is something to consider when feeling warm about reduced costs in F1. Teams such as USF1 and Campos Meta are allegedly struggling for survival in the same economic crunch that Lotus F1 Racing faces and yet Fernandes was able to hire drivers Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen who are no doubt paid drivers instead of pay-to-driver options.
Ultimately Lotus F1 Racing says it has a different approach to F1. Sponsors have long been the model of revenue for teams and yet Fernandes says that model is and must change.
â€œWe already have got some, weâ€™re just crossing the â€˜tâ€™s and dotting the â€˜iâ€™s,â€ he predicted.
â€œI always said that weâ€™re running this as a business, not as an ego trip.
â€œI think the traditional sponsorship model is not going to be there for ever, so our business model â€“ as you will see over the next few months â€“ is not based just on having stickers on the car.
â€œWe have a very strong brand that we think we will be able to monetise, so weâ€™re very confident in our ability to get the right sponsorship level to give Mike [Gascoyne], Heikki [Kovalainen] and Jarno [Trulli] a good car.
â€œWeâ€™re not worried about that at all, and over the next two to three months you will see sponsors coming in.
â€œBut thatâ€™s not the be-all-and-end-all of what weâ€™re about, and there are many other revenue streams that weâ€™re going to [tap].â€
As Lotus F1 Racing is not directly tie to nor owned by Proton, parent company of the Lotus road car, there are no cars to sell on Monday or potential cross-breeding of road car technology derived from the Lotus F1 Racing program. No manufacturer to keep happy and peddle its wares via global marketing through racing. Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault are certainly in a different position.
So what is Lotus F1 Racing selling? Branding? Virgin Racing’s Richard Branson certainly understands that business as well as Red Bull Racing’s Dietrich Mateschitz but where does Lotus F1 Racing fit in that model? Capitalizing on the romanticism and historic nature of the Chapman-era Lotus may be the one obvious brand but what other opportunities exist for Fernandes in Asia with the name of a historic marque? Do new Asian fans of F1 have near the love and romantic association with Lotus as Europeans?