The ugly side of the 2013 car launches

This week has seen the 2013 Formula One season get under way in full force with the now traditional car launches, with each team inviting the worlds’ media along to make their launch stand out the most. Some go for glitz, whilst others go for the old fashioned, but still perfectly adequate method of launching their machinery in pit-lane. Unfortunately though, whilst some launches have been good, others have turned into a blatant PR stunt and one launch turned ugly.

The launches have, mostly, been good. The week started off with Lotus launching their E21 car at their headquarters in Enstone on Monday. Initially though the launch did not go according to plan, high winds thwarted their original plan, and the team were forced to relocate inside to the factory. Nevertheless, after a quick turnaround, the team were back on track, launching their car at 19:15 UK time with Craig Slater overseeing proceedings. McLaren, like Lotus, launched their car at their headquarters in Woking. Although the first half hour were filled with Vodafone related PR material, the last thirty minutes picked up significantly, with a touching tribute to Bruce McLaren, along with cars from the past 50 years being driven around the McLaren lake. Lotus and McLaren definitely, for me, fell into the good category.

Force India followed up on Friday morning and, like in 2012, took the old school route launching their car actually at a race circuit, a few minutes away from their base at Silverstone. Ferrari and Sauber launched at their bases’ respectively, although if you were a Formula 1 journalist wanting to go to every launch, you would have to pick between them given the close timescale and long distance between the launches. Not very handy, although it is understandable why a team like Ferrari would prefer launching at their base in Maranello in Italy than England, for example.

At the aforementioned launches, the journalists were invited, they got to ask questions and could take photographs. The fans could watch via some form, whether it was via that teams’ YouTube channel or Sky Sports News, so they too felt involved. Mercedes and Red Bull had different ideas. Mercedes took the route that involved the fans, possibly a little too much. Now, whether this was deliberate on their behalf though, and therefore a blatant PR stunt, is open to interpretation. On Saturday, Mercedes tweeted that they would “engage fans with a unique F1 W04 online reveal”. Basically, the name of the game is that fans tweet, the more they tweet, the more the garage door opens, leading to the reveal. Unfortunately, what the did not anticipate is that the fans would overload their servers’, crashing their website. Or did they? Because late yesterday evening, they tweeted “keep retweeting #F1W04Reveal and the car will be unveiled progressively between now and Monday”. So, in other words, there is little point of retweeting #F1W04Reveal, because the car will not be unveiled any earlier, the launch remains on Monday. Yes, there are grainy pictures out there as a result of the garage door opening more, but it won’t fully open until Monday. Which, I suspect was always going to happen. Unfortunately, for Mercedes, this goes under the category of ‘blatant PR stunt’, which a significant group of fans and journalists fell for. If anything, the egg is on our faces, and not Mercedes.

Thankfully, Mercedes’ launch did not resort to physical violence. Unlike Red Bull’s, which nearly did. The purpose of car launches is to invite the media to said launch, they take photographs, they ask questions, the fans get to watch online and the teams get a bit of PR out of it. That is a ‘win win’ situation for everyone. Red Bull, at the last moment or not, we don’t know decided to ban media from taking photographs, while the online launch never appeared. To prevent the media from taking photographs, G4S were assigned the role of security at the launch. Respected Formula 1 technical journalist Craig Scarborough tweeted “Red Bull are aggressively stopping photos being taken, threaten[ing] to take cameras away.”, whilst Keith Collantine on the F1Fanatic.co.uk website said “G4S nearly snatched my phone off me.” May someone need to remind Red Bull that this is a Formula 1 car launch event and not a press conference full of international delegates? Yes, Formula 1 cars may live in a top secret world from time to time, but threatening to take cameras off people, at an event that you expect them to give you good PR for, is absolutely ludicrous. It is even more ludicrous when you consider that the Red Bull car will be in the public eye from Tuesday around Jerez. What will they do if the car breaks down? Steal the cameras of anyone that has taken a picture? As a point of clarity, for what it is worth, this poster on AUTOSPORT Forum said that they had problems with the online launch and that no cameras were taken away – even if the first point is true, they could have explained that on their Twitter feed which made no mention of said problems.

Compare the Red Bull launch to the McLaren one, where we were treated to a fantastic video with Gary Anderson and Suzi Perry intrinsically looking at the 2013 machine on the BBC Sport website. The problem is, whilst the McLaren launch is fantastic for the fans, the Red Bull one is not as fantastic with their secrecy. Another problem with all, but one, of these launches is the time of day the launches happen. Maybe it is about time that all the launches took place all in one evening, with every team getting a 20 minute slot to showcase their cars. Unfortunately, each team has their own political and sponsorship agenda that would let such an idea ever taking place as they like to be the spotlight, an event like that would mean everyone is on a level playing field, which teams would not like. It is a nice idea though. Hire out a big arena such as the O2 Arena or the NEC in Birmingham, have the worldwide media there along with 200 or so fans being invited, an FOM World Feed to stream to the likes of Sky Sports F1 and BBC online so that it is accessible to everyone, all in one place meaning Formula 1 is forefront of the spotlight. You could go one step further, and make Birmingham (or whichever city in Europe), the ‘host city’ for the weekend where Formula 1 activities take place during that weekend, from car demonstrations to driver signings. With the focus on that city and the world’s motor sport media descending on that location, it may be a small money spinner. It also would reduce travel costs, all the media would travel to one launch instead of having to take flights to multiple launches at different locations.

At least, then, you wouldn’t have certain teams’ threatening journalists for simply doing their job…

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One thought on “The ugly side of the 2013 car launches

  1. If the Mercedes tweet idea was their idea of a PR coup it certainly didn’t work, because Twitter was and continues to be awash with thousands of negative comments.

    Not the way to go about selling cars or engaging fans.

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