Will Gray

Gray Matter: Can YouTube founder open up F1?

Will Gray

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Formula One has always been a closed shop for fans when compared to the welcoming paddocks of other series - but is that all about to change with USF1?

When the new American team fed out information about their new project they were open and honest. Clearly they knew it would be an uphill battle to make their way in F1, and a major challenge to convince the American public to look at any track sport away from NASCAR, but they were well aware that to make any headway they had to do things in the public eye - and the arrival of YouTube co-founder and CEO Chad Hurley will do that plan no harm.

Peter Windsor, one of USF1's bosses, said at their launch back in February that they wanted to learn from NASCAR and become a "fan-friendly, TV-led" team. They announced plans to open their doors to fans, both physically and interactively, and revealed they will have their own television production facilities on site in their Charlotte headquarters.

Hours and hours of footage has already been filmed in recent months and now it appears they have an ideal man to steer and innovate their plans for a media onslaught on a sport that has, considering its technological background, been surprisingly slow to embrace new media and online social networking.

Behind the scenes TV shows have come in plentiful quantities, with McLaren doing 'The Team: A season with McLaren' in 1993, Jordan getting in on the act soon after and now Williams - via Eurosport show 'The Factory' - and BMW Sauber also getting involved.

But turn to online and there are only scatterings from official sources and nothing yet has provided a truly focused long-term insight into life in an F1 team.

Ferrari and Renault were the first to have YouTube channels, but that was only in the middle of last year, and although most teams now have Facebook pages of varying popularity, it is only recently that the F1 drivers have started to 'Tweet'.

If USF1 can crack all these markets and the fledgling new innovations that are on the horizon then they may be onto something. The amount of F1 fans around the world must mean there is appetite for greater insider experiences of the sport - but USF1 will find plenty of challenges in the way of opening it up as they say they want to.

There is always going to be a limit to the amount of behind the scenes insight available from teams' headquarters - and while USF1 may be happy to open its doors wider than most right now, perhaps they will be a little more closed shop if they suddenly hit the front and have some secrets to hide.

There's no denying that physically opening the doors of an F1 factory to the public on a regular basis will be pretty unique, but there are so many secrets held within such walls that a tour could become more a quick steer into a tidy revenue stream in the merchandise shop at the exit than a true insight into what goes on behind the scenes.

And then, the biggest question, is how much insider access they will be able to offer once they get to the track? Circuit rules remain tightly controlled for the media and with TV rights netting highly lucrative funds how much at-track footage USF1 are allowed to release could be a crucial make-or-break aspect of their desire to bring F1 fans into their world.

Opening up F1 to the masses, then, is harder than it seems, which is perhaps why it has not successfully been done before. But with the arrival of Mr Hurley, USF1 should have a better chance than most...

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