According to Pat Symonds, CTO of Williams, digital technologies like virtual reality are set to play a key role in how fans engage with the Formula One experience.

From fashion to travel, we’ve seen many brands utilise this new technology to enhance the consumer experience.

For the motor racing industry - a sport that’s occasionally criticised for being elitist and inaccessible to fans – it could help to bridge the rather large gap between the fan and the race track.

On a recent trip to Silverstone (as part of Avanade's press day), I sat down with Pat to get his views on the topics of data and tech within the sport. 

Surprisingly, he wasn’t too precious about data being the property of those behind the scenes of Williams.

At the moment, we have the data… We’re the ones looking at it as the drivers go around the track.

A lot of it is too sophisticated or complex to be easily understood, but as faster data transmission happens, I think it’ll be completely natural for fans to gain access - to log on to a car and see everything that’s going on.

Accessing data might be an exciting prospect for an existing and dedicated audience – but what about enticing new fans to Formula One?

Could gaming be the next step?

Even further, the ultimate will be having a virtual race where you can compete with the guys at Silverstone. To my mind, that scenario is not that far away.

We use simulators to develop our cars, and while they cost millions at the moment… home simulators are definitely coming.

In a few years, the average games machine will be a VR machine.

Pat’s passion for technology is evident. However, with a lot of criticism about tech taking away from the sport, i.e. reducing the influence of the driver on a race, I also asked – is there such a thing as too much technology? 

Apparently, the answer all depends on how you view Formula One.

Is it a business, a sport, or merely entertainment?

In my view, Formula One's most important function is as entertainment. And people are entertained in different ways. Some, like me, love technology.

I think it’s what gives cars their incredible performance… We need to recognise that technology has set the bar for Formula One. 

But of course, balance is key, and we mustn’t do it for the sake of it. The pit-stop is amazing for fans, but it shouldn’t be the only reason to watch.

Interestingly enough, one thing Pat agreed on was that Formula One (and Silverstone specifically) is far too exclusive.

From getting tickets to even getting into the grounds, it’s all a bit too ‘VIP’.

For those watching, it's worlds away from the weekly ritual of supporting a football or rugby team.

Formula One needs to be visual, simple, short. I don’t know why we race for 300km, that’s way too long.

If we could get it over within 45 minutes, that’d be optimum. Like a football game – fans don’t want to wait around when they could be enjoying a pie and a pint.

We’ve tried to be too exclusive… It’s not easy to get into Silverstone and that’s a great shame. Not just physically, but in a virtual sense.

Having recently teamed up with Sky to produce a number of videos, it appears Williams is already trying to enter virtual territory. 

While some argue that 360-degree videos are rather basic, and still worlds away from the fully immersive style of virtual reality, it does back up Pat's desire to bring the fans closer.

Nikki Gilliland

Published 12 July, 2016 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)

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Naz Mehrzad, Head of Acquisition at Whitbread

I'm almost certain his name is Pat Symonds...

over 1 year ago

David Moth

David Moth, Editor & Head of Social at Econsultancy

Whoops, thanks Naz. Very embarrassing, thanks for flagging it up.

over 1 year ago

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