Sir Martin Sorrell on F1’s future

Sir Martin Sorrell is the CEO of multinational advertising and public relations company WPP and he’s also a board member of Formula 1. When F1’s official website interviewed him, he shared his thoughts on F1’s future and what he believes could be a complete entertainment package.

As an American website/Podcast, we’ve been pushing hard to cover F1 in the US and bring content to the fans of the sport on this side of the pond. There are other nations with bigger fan bases but America’s F1 fans are dedicated, informed, passionate and truly a unique and fabulous group to be part of. It may sound silly but it does take a lot of commitment to watch most of your sporting event in the wee hours of the morning, that’s a whole different level of commitment when most sports in the US are on afternoons or prime time.

Sorrell believes the sport should focus on becoming a complete entertainment package and uses the Us market as a n example:

“Just take the lack of presence of F1 in the United States. In theory – and logically – you would have an East Coast Grand Prix, a West Coast Grand Prix, and I think you should have a street race in Detroit – it is still the motor capital of the US. You stay in the US for four weeks and could have two to three races, certainly two”.

When asked about F1’s future, Sorrell says he thinks virtual reality could be a great move for the sport. The thought of everyone wearing goggles and headphones to experience the view and sound of the driver would be all the rage. I hate to be a buzz-kill but I’m not interested. I want to see the entire race, not just a cockpit. I get it, VR is the hot thing right now but it’s not the way to make big inroads in F1 in my humble opinion. It’s not that there couldn’t or won’t be a role for it but right now, F1 has other opportunities to capitalize on.

What’s more important is the commentary Sorrell offers about promotion, advertising, and F1’s immediate future, that’s what we really should be reading this article for. There are some very interesting comments about F1’s brand appeal and for sponsors and we’ve asked many times why there are no new sponsors to the sport (even as Heineken comes on board) and I think he offers some real insight to not only F1 but what I see as multinational’s inability to capitalize on their investments.

A very influential marketing person in motorsport (you can probably guess who) told me one time that marketing divisions of companies have become, effectively, check writers. How much do we get for this much? What else do we get if we spent this much more? Sorrell ties that issue together nicely with the question of why F1 doesn’t do a better job of advertising itself:

“Formula One gives a platform to companies like Rolex – and that’s just in media space, watching television or reading newspapers, digital or physical. You see the brand in the context of the competition and bring it to the attention of everybody on a regular basis. But you must not only focus on the consumer, but also on what it does to you internally – getting people aligned to the strategic mission of the company – what it does to the suppliers, governments, all your stakeholders… So you have to see it on a broader level. But you also have to activate it properly. If you pay 50 million for something, you probably pay another 50 to 100 million to activate it. And the more you spend, the better you do. There is no point in just buying rights”.

That is exactly the key I have seen working with sponsors in F1. They make significant investments in the sport but do not spend the additional capital to activate their investment. They get naming rights and brand presence but fail to engage and activate that brand and presence effectively. You may not be seeing that much in the UK and Europe but in the US it is definitely a huge issue.

I’ve given many Formula 1 presentations at motoring events, car clubs and even did a series ahead of each showing of the Senna movie when it came out and I know what the US fans are looking for but current sponsors fall short of providing. Sorrell is spot on here and there is a lot to learn from this comment.

Another key comment is the notion of F1 going where the growth is and it has been a big criticism for a while now about taking the sport to far-flung location but these BRICS and emerging markets are key to revenue generation and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

To me, there is a point here though—the thing that keeps Spa on the calendar isn’t the robust Belgian economy and massive sanctioning fees they pay F1 for the right to hold a race, it’s the track that fans demand to see. They become irate if Spa is not on the calendar. If F1 was serious about taking the show to emerging markets and not being stuck with slow-pay, weak economies they would do a much better job of creating tracks that would rival or beat Spa in character, design and challenge. So far, few of the Tilke designed tracks have given any of the historic tracks a remote challenge for the emotional attachment of the F1 fan. None of them can compare with the likes of Spa, Silverstone or even Monza.

Sorrell says that Indonesia, South America, China, India, Africa and the Middle East are all market F1 should be looking at along with the US. The reason is that F1 is a brand with attached manufacturers and sponsors who have very high interest in these markets so the the sport should continue to be the vehicle and help take these brands to those markets.

It’s a very good interview and one that show Sorrell is certainly thinking about the sport and where it should be in the future. While most of the article I have seen discussing this interview use the VR concept as the headline, it is really the other commentary that is much more important so give it a read over at

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Peter Riva

Okay, here’s a suggestion: if the US fans are so dedicated and early-morning savvy, why not ask them to pick the top 10 courses of those currently being run AND the top 10 they would like to see. Then do the same thing for the UK (the other home of F1 rabid fans).
That list of the top 10 might widen Bernie’s eyes.

Alianora La Canta

Or not. Because the list of tracks Bernie wants to see is the richest tracks, and that, in his book, overrules everything. He has known for decades that fans worldwide vehemently disagree with him, so breaking it down by nation won’t help matters. Unfortunately.


I disagree, the world doesn’t vehemently disagree with Bernie. Nor does he us. Additionally a lot of the fans are very split over their choices of track, and this would play out in any survey results. Look at Monaco, half the people I talk to hate the place and think it is a boring race without overtaking. Personally I love it and would think it a tragedy if it ever left. There are a number of tracks on the current calendar now we would like to see go for sure, and I am sure they are there because they pay… Read more »

Negative Camber

In my thinking, that list may be very similar. We all know the best circuits and ones we want on the calendar.


Look, the fact that Martin Sorrell is on “the board of F1” at all is why “the sport” is getting stupider and stupider every year. This guy is interested in building wealth generation machines (otherwise known as multinational corporations). All he knows is this particular wealth machine is called Formula 1. Guess what? The way to extract money from a given holding has very little to do with bringing back pure racing and getting rid of gimmicks. In fact, I doubt he would be able to talk to that point at all, as that would require one to be a… Read more »

Negative Camber

In many ways, you are very correct and even in ways that you didn’t mention or imply but are still sighted in to great accuracy. The financial maximizing of the sport is perfectly fine by me but what is really at the core here is not VR (would you spend $150 on a pair of goggles to watch F1?) it’s more to do with the racing itself. The rule makers are all rushing around focused on the wrong issues and avoiding the biggest issue… returning to great racing and putting aside massive aero and contrived baubles to spice up F1.… Read more »

The Captain

I agree NC, but he kinda goes the opposite way in his interview doesn’t he? I mean he starts right off saying “It is entertainment and it competes with other entertainments – and not with other racing formats.” then goes on to say that fans love F1 when it’s ‘more competitive’ (I.E. no one knows who will win), that F1 should go to more ‘new’ places (at the expense of those classic tracks i guess), laud the Kardashians, and eventually quote Trumps advisers (rolls eyes). That’s how you get fan boost! I don’t want fan boost, I want an awesome… Read more »

There are VR goggles about to be launched for much less than that – notably Brian May’s, which require a smartphone (any type) and an outlay of $37 for the adaptor. I’m not convinced F1’s going to become the application that gets all the different VR units, but it’s a hot market so I can see why Sir Martin is discussing the area as part of his “state of the series” observations.


I disagree, the way to get money from F1 is to bring it back to pure racing.
Build it and they will come.
If they come, they give you cash.


That too. As important as some broadcast alternative to NBCSN is, there’s also a need for competitive racing and a track on the east coast. Watkins Glen.

Personally, I dislike street circuits. Indycar was very difficult to watch in Detroit.


I agree with him on VR. Sure “pushing the red button” is cool, and I do want to watch all the perspectives, but the race is where it is at. Not one single focussed point.


In this interview Sorrell states: “But the actual quality of the [Sky TV] production and the use of technology and the engagement of the viewer is much better than it ever was. The product is simply better.” Of course he’s right: the Sky TV F1 broadcasts are excellent. So how can FOM possibly expect F1 to build a wider U.S. TV audience with horrendous NBCSN F1 product? Even though it’s on pay cable, it has so many commercial interruptions that viewers miss over 1/4 of the track race time, it has commentators are sitting in an off track studio and… Read more »


I completely agree with all of your points. 100 percent. The US F1 future is not with NBCSN. SkyTV is superb. Livestreaming could be done over Amazon or Netflix, both of which have the infrastructure and the pay mechanisms. Maybe Roku.

And yes, we also need an inroad to MotorsTV. I believe it’s out there somewhere in cable land or Roku or something, but it’s so far down the rabbit hole that I gave up looking.

charlie white

The answer is simple: NBC is not paying the access fees to that extra content like SkySports. NBC’s contract with FOM ends this season. Simply, NBC doesn’t see the investment in F1 as it did with the Olympics where they paid FAR too much for the rights and has yet turned a profit from the broadcasts of past 3 Olympic Games. It will be interesting to see which network(s) competes to get it. Fox, which owns Sky, could bring some of that content here and push it off to FoxSports1 which used to be Speed Channel.

The Captain

The problem is Speed Tv’s coverage wasn’t any better than NBC’s is now and in a lot of ways was worse.

charlie white

And again, it boils down to broadcast costs. If you want more access to extra content, you pay more than just the world feed. It’s Bernie’s world. That’s why ESPN gave it up after 1995.

Negative Camber

That’s correct, NBC doesn’t pay for the total access that Sky has to pit, paddock and garages for on-air broadcast.

The Captain

It’s also one of the main reasons the NBC broadcast is riddled with commercials.

But since SKY manages to pay the more for their coverage and still goes commercial free I’m still inclined to blame NBC more than Bernie here. It’s just that Bernie is in no way helping.

charlie white

Commercials and advertising pays the bill at NBCSN and its cable affiliates. There’s no getting around it. We have to deal with it. Sky does have commercials in both free practice and qualifying sessions. Don’t expect NBCSN or whomever gets broadcast rights after this season to copy SkySports’s F1 coverage. We get the bare minimum in the USA.

The Captain

Well my point is commercials and ads pay the bills at Sky too. They just do so in a way that lets them broadcast the race commercial free (and get more coverage). And NBC also does this with the Premier League games now. NBC manages to show those commercial free and still make money. Its just that NBC is choosing to take the lazy way out of it rather than finding larger sponsors that would mean less needed commercial spots. And hell, when the race is on MSNBC half the commercials are just promos for MSNBC shows! That’s just not… Read more »

charlie white

Unlike F1, Premier League has a half-time period where the network and its local cable affiliates can insert commercials. I have no love for NBC and totally believe they could and should do a better job on F1. Spanish language Galavision does F1 races commercial free, I’ve watched them using Twitter for track-side updates and it’s possible to watch F1 in high definition without a cable subscription.

charlie white

I found this spreadsheet of F1 television coverage on another site where they break down the package and cost for access. Yes American race fans, we’re getting screwed

PlayF1 Manager

Er… hang on….. Fox owns what? Sky is owned by Sky PLC. Do you not think that if Sky owned Fox, or Fox owned sky…. they would both be benefiting from sky sports F1? The fact must be (entirely assumed) that Fox cannot afford to pay for Sky coverage. I believe I did read something about Sky being paid for its feed for the US grand prix…. whether true I don’t know. But one thing is for sure, having once watched a US F1 feed…… the US feed was worse than bad. The shit being fed to our American cousins….… Read more »

charlie white

I thought Sky was owned by Fox but there is a minor connection to Rupert Murdoch. Anyway, we Americans get the same FOM world feed minus the bonus coverage done by Sky or Channel 4. We simply can’t “vote with our feet” as suggested because it is a choice of fest or famine. And I lived in areas where I had no way of watching F1 races live but broadcast delayed by 2 days or 2 weeks(in the late 1990s) on a regional sports channel. I do have a few websites bookmarked for watching Sky coverage but they are laden… Read more »

PlayF1 Manager

It is understandably confusing…. but at the heart of it all is Rupert Murdoch, and the need for each company in a sector to own shares in the other companies. There is no point in dwelling on it because it would get us nowhere, and we’d still be none the wiser. But for fun, let’s have a look: Sky Plc is a publicly quoted company on the LSE. In $ it’s market cap is $25b 21st Century Fox is $55b One of the many companies contributing to that value, by way of shares owned, is Sky Plc…. 21st own around… Read more »

jiji the cat

Well the viewing times are bad for us down under as well

Negative Camber

Very true. :)

charlie white

In the second highlighted quote, one could replace the Rolex name with Red Bull for here in the USA. This weekend, spectators saw the Red Bull brand posted everywhere at two events here in Texas: ESPN’s X Games at Circuit of the Americas and Global RallyCross in Dallas. Yes, I am aware that RedBull has 2 teams in F1 but my point is that these spectators at the events, mostly under 25, have no idea about the correlation. That’s unfortunate since Global Rallycross is a motorsport! I saw a few Red Bull television ads during the X Games and NBA… Read more »


Who evers get F1 broadcast rights in the US next needs to evaluate what races (if any unfortunately) are shown on free TV. Right now we get Monoco, which is generally not very exciting, though the last two were pretty good, and three races we might actually be able to attend (US, Canada, and Mexico). Of course US TV should broadcast the US GP. Canada and Mexico are good tracks, but Spa and Silverstone and Monza provide good fast racing, could be broadcast live and all they would preempt only Sunday morning news shows. That would leave the broadcaster with… Read more »

Negative Camber

I agree in that when trying to catch the interest of the casual American fan, the open-wheel nature of F1 gets confused with Indycar. I spend a lot of time explaining the difference. That’s not Indycar’s issue but F1’s when it comes to differentiating itself in the US. this is where they need to spend some time in marketing.