Formula One rebrands to focus on fans

Formula One has rebranded this week, changing its logo for the first time in 23 years to coincide with the close of the season and mark a new era for the sport, which is looking to put fans back in pole position.

The rebrand is based on research conducted in April this year, which found that fans’ perception of the sport was that the glory days were behind them. The early 90s in particular were cited at those heady days when Formula One was at its best, with the likes of Nigel Mansell on the track. The sport was now perceived to be much more about cars and business as opposed to the fans.

This, coupled with the fact that audience figures for Formula One have been in steady decline, with worldwide viewing figures falling by 10 million in 2016, meant that Formula One had to make some changes. The rebrand, therefore, has been designed to reposition Formula One as a sport that resonates more with its fans.

 It has started with changing the logo. The logo, whilst iconic, ‘lacked an identity’ according to Ellie Norman, director of marketing at Formula One.‘When we talked to fans about what made Formula 1 amazing, what we heard was people loved the real, exhilarating, unpredictable and incomprehensibly fast elements of the sport,’ she explains.  ‘It was about racing.’

This informed the new visual identity, created by Wieden+Kennedy London, which echoes the shape of a Formula 1 car: ‘flat, low to the ground and with a suggestion of speed’.

‘The new marque aims to embody the core forces of Formula 1 racing: speed, attack, and control; while its sleek, sharp interlocking components celebrate the technical prowess of Formula 1 engineering teams,’ says Richard Turley, executive creative director of content and design at Wieden+Kennedy. ‘It’s aesthetic is aspirational and leans into the future, but extends naturally from a rich heritage of motorsport graphics.’

But Norman has moved far beyond thinking just about graphics. She’s thinking about all of the senses, not just sight. She has even thought about smell. ‘Sense of smell has the strongest memory linkage,’ she says. ‘You go into a Viceroy hotel and you know the smell. From my perspective, it’s doing the full 360, scent, sonic identity, tone of voice, taking those elements to reassociate people with the positive feelings they associate with Formula One.’

This isn’t Formula One’s first attempt to bring the experience of Formula One closer to home for its fans. Formula One have implemented a number of new programmes since its takeover by Liberty Media in January.

It has established dedicated FanZones at each of its races, where fans can take part in Pitstop Challenges, which simulate the experience of a Formula One pitstop. They can also test their driver fitness - drivers experience a high level of G-Force around the racetrack and have to have incredible reaction times. All of the experiences in the FanZone are designed to helps fans comprehend much more of the elements of Formula One racing.

The sport recognises of course that it has to take these experiences out on the road, as it were.  More than 100,000 visitors attended F1 Live London in July, experiencing an immersive, live event designed to give fans unique access to the world of Formula One. Norman says that they tried to create a festival feel and have plans to take the show on the road again to four major cities, including Berlin and Shanghai.

According to Formula One, the initiatives have already made a difference, even this early on. This season’s Grand Prix attendance has increased, as have digital and TV figures. The rebrand is hoped to continue those improvements.

For Norman, the rebrand means an opportunity to reconnect with fans. Whether that’s in person at races or on digital platforms which the sport is planning to relaunch in March, Norman notes that the aim is to drive forward a new association with Formula One for fans, that will break down the barriers and bring out a more compelling narrative.

‘It was clear we were going to need to address some fundamentals of our brand, if we were to realise our ambition to make Formula 1 a major entertainment player and claim our rights to be the global media brand we should be,’ she says. ‘What we say and do now is so important for our future, but it must always be driven by our fans. They come first.’