Renault F1 chairman Gerard Lopez agrees with recent suggestions from McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh that the sport had badly managed itself in promoting itself to a wider audience. He says the sport must make a big promotional push, including embracing the Internet and getting drivers closer to the fans, if it is to boost revenues and take its success to a higher level in the next few years.
"Formula 1 does need to promote itself better as it is a global sport," Lopez told AUTOSPORT. "It probably also needs to monetize better, which is a different thing. Promoting means putting money into something and hoping you get known, monetizing means making money.
"As far as we're concerned, we're looking at a situation whereby F1 needs to add other offers to its package, and Bernie Ecclestone will be looking at it, for sure. The future of the sport is an evolution in terms of adding additional media channels and increasing revenue. The future of the sport is also the new geography it's trying to go to. To do a better job acquiring audience in these new geographies, we all know what it takes to do that – which is having a successful driver from these places."
Lopez believes the sport has to change from the inside, too, down to the very way that the drivers interact with the fans on a day-to-day basis at grand prix weekends.
"It's very easy to criticize F1 as a sport and be detached, but we [Renault] push our drivers to walk without guards and so on, one kilometer down to the cars. Why? Because we think it's a good thing and nobody's going to kill them. Nobody's going to rob them. At the most, people are going to touch them. That's not the end of the world, right? Being over-protective of the drivers is kind of a first measure of not being close to your fans.
"And, also, the drivers enjoy it, unless you tell them that it's not the right thing. Vitaly [Petrov] and Robert [Kubica] will sign autographs for an hour, and those are little things where you tell yourself that even we as teams need to do a better job. And sometimes a better job at doing nothing – which means not over-policing it."
He added: "Look at it – it's F1. Most of the F1 people think that the paddock is the center of the universe, when it's not. So I think we would gain from just being more relaxed about certain things. I see drivers when they come from GP2 and they're all star struck, and they're more than happy to be recognized. Spend two or three years in F1 and they get into this mental behavior like it's not OK, that it's wasting time. Come on! You've got a couple of hours of racing and a couple of hours of debrief. They could spend some more time with the fans."
Lopez believes the biggest failure the sport has made in recent years has been in not embracing the Internet, and he fears F1 could make the same error as the music industry if it hesitates too long in working out how best to utilize the web.
"I think F1 has done a very good job, and I'll be killed for saying this, at not doing anything with the Internet so far, and waiting for it," he said. "You can do it the wrong way, like the music industry, where you don't do anything at the beginning, and then you do something that is half-baked, and then you find that you're in a troublesome situation.
"Bernie has waited for the market to mature, and nobody can criticize F1 in terms of security – it has been a very protected model – so now is the right time to act. F1 does not need to be more famous, but needs to do a better job at monetizing itself outside of television rights and so on."
Although Ecclestone does have restrictions in terms of what he can do with live broadcasting of F1 on the Internet, because of television contracts he has in various countries, Lopez believes there are many other avenues on the web that can be pursued that would raise good finance for the sport.
"There is all the historic video content, for example – and people would pay," he said. "I would, for example, love to really look at the Ayrton Senna/Alain Prost Suzuka accident, and I would pay to have monthly access to any race I wanted to watch.
"We know that all the races, including all the black and white ones, are now digitized, so there's a huge amount of historic content that you can sell. Then there's all the betting sites, and not just the high-end betting, also the fun betting. You can have mobile betting, at the tracks, outside of the tracks and full betting at the office, so all these different money games.
"Then there is gaming. Technology is coming out now for real-time gaming, so you can start the race on Sunday at 2 p.m. and be part of the race."
He added: "There are so many areas that can be developed. Obviously you need not the will to develop, because that at the end is something that Bernie has, but you have to have a sport where the teams themselves don't just criticize but make proposals. I think our role as teams is to not just voice criticism, which might be warranted, but also voice ideas."