McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh says Formula 1 must wake up to the poor job it has done in marketing itself in the last few years and make a concerted push as soon as it can to expand its popularity worldwide. Whitmarsh thinks imminent discussions to frame a future direction for F1 with the Concorde Agreement are a great opportunity for the sport to make amends for what it has gotten wrong recently.
The current Concorde Agreement finishes in 2012, and talks are being penciled in for after this season to try and make progress in agreeing to a framework document that will come into place from 2013. But while the main focus of those discussions will be on sorting out financial arrangements – with teams demanding a greater share of the sport's income from Bernie Ecclestone and shareholders CVC – Whitmarsh thinks there are other issues that are just as important. He is particularly concerned that the sport has totally failed to market itself properly, with promotion having been pretty much left up to teams and sponsors.
"I personally believe that in F1, it is remarkable we are a successful sport," said Whitmarsh. "I am not pointing fingers at CVC, because we, those involved, have really badly managed this sport. There is no central marketing – no strategy. There is no real cooperation. It has been divide and conquer.
"We don't look at developing young talent. We don't look at developing young people's interest in the sport. How many multi-billion dollar businesses don't spend one dollar centrally marketing themselves?
"But I am optimistic. I think it is great that F1 is such a powerful product that it has been able to overcome collectively how badly we have managed it – and the teams are as bad as anyone. We have now demonstrated for a while [through FOTA] that the teams can work together and be quite responsible, which in a way they perhaps have not done historically.
"If we can properly engage with the FIA and the commercial rights' holder and say, 'Let's work together, improve and develop this sport,' then we ought to make it a much bigger sport."
Whitmarsh hopes that this winter can be spent making productive progress on the new Concorde Agreement, and thinks it vital the talks are done away from the racetrack.
"To negotiate it takes two to tango, but I think it would be good for the sport if the teams and the commercial rights holder, quietly, out of the spotlight of racing, came to an agreement that secured the future of the sport beyond 2012," he said.
As well as better marketing and improved financial terms for the team, Whitmarsh said he hoped the Concorde Agreement would also deal with a succession plan for the post-Bernie Ecclestone era.
"Across the whole business, we need to have stability," he explained. "If we are talking 2013-2018 being the next five-year period of sign-up, then we have to look at how many of us will be around in 2018 in this sport. And, if some of us are not, we ought to be thinking responsibly about succession."
When asked if a breakaway championship was still an option, after the teams came close to creating their own series last year, Whitmarsh said: "I think it is an option, but I think the sensible thing is for the parties to cooperate and not fight. F1 is good at creating fights, and it would be better if we concentrated on working together. Through the bumpy debates and negotiations we have, we have arrived at where we are today.
"I think to now rewrite that is possible and, if you cannot get agreement, you have to look at all your options. Arguably, the teams do not need the FIA, and the FIA does not need the teams. Arguably, the teams do not need the current commercial rights holder, and the commercial rights holder does not need the current teams.
"We can all go our own ways. The FIA can have its FIA championship; there can be a GP1 with CVC, and F1 can go off and do grand prix racing; and the teams are big enough and ugly enough to do that as well. But to do all that would be counter-productive; we should try and find a way of working together."