SPONSORSHIP: Marketing in the driving seat - At 15, racing talent Tom Ferrier is already a marketing winner, writes David Sumner Smith

When a Grand Prix team uses The Spice Girls to add sparkle to the unveiling of their new-look racing car, it provides all the proof one could ever need that Formula 1 is no longer merely a sport. Ever since team colours were first replaced by sponsors’ liveries, Grand Prix racing has had as much to do with showbiz and marketing as sport.

When a Grand Prix team uses The Spice Girls to add sparkle to the

unveiling of their new-look racing car, it provides all the proof one

could ever need that Formula 1 is no longer merely a sport. Ever since

team colours were first replaced by sponsors’ liveries, Grand Prix

racing has had as much to do with showbiz and marketing as sport.



Spectators at race events are an inconvenience. Far more important are

the sponsors, the TV audiences and the glamorous, global exposure which

racing brings.



Though lauded as modern sporting superstars, the drivers are more keenly

aware than anyone of their business role. They need to achieve

respectable results because championship points have a strong influence

over next season’s fees. But racing talent is only part of the story. No

less important is their ability to get on well with sponsors, to make

after-dinner speeches and to look good on TV. In the world of modern

motorsport, drivers are marketing devices - and they know it.



One driver learning the lesson young is Tom Ferrier. Only 15 years old,

he is already being groomed for a future as a Formula 1 marketing

tool.



Like a handful of fellow kart racers, Ferrier is recognised as a

precocious talent, but he has taken a decisive lead by adopting a

startlingly professional approach to his racing career.



Motor Racing Services, one of the leading management companies in

Formula 1, has been working with Ferrier since early 1996 to plan a

career path that will take him into Grand Prix racing by the time he is

21. Promotional videos, newsletters and professional PR from a

specialist agency have already attracted substantial sponsorship for the

Surrey lad, though he will not even be allowed to compete in his first

non-kart race until his 16th birthday in November.



’I have enjoyed racing ever since I went to a karting circuit with some

friends on my tenth birthday,’ says Ferrier. ’When I began racing karts

it was easy to see that being quick only takes you so far. You need to

plan a least two seasons ahead and understand how racing really

works.’



The view is supported by one-time race driver Steven Malkin, who worked

as press relations manager at Brands Hatch circuit before founding the

Image Wizard sports PR agency. ’Motorsport success is partly about

getting more out of a car, but largely about building a business. Being

fast is just one factor among many,’ he says. ’To succeed on the track,

you need a passion for the sport and an ability to work with engineers.

To succeed in the business of racing, you need a professional approach

and a promotable personality.’



Malkin draws parallels between Tom Ferrier and David Coulthard,

observing how the Scottish Formula 1 driver began racing karts at the

age of five, gaining valuable experience in international kart events

before starting in a well-funded Formula Ford racing car at the age of

17. He quickly moved on to more powerful classes before becoming test

driver for the Williams Formula 1 team and taking his place on the grid

at the age of 23 after the tragic death of Ayrton Senna.



’Experience has taught us that working in PR for an individual sports

person seldom pays,’ admits Malkin. ’But we’ve made an exception in this

case. Tom’s results to date prove that he is a very good driver. But

what makes him stand out from the crowd is the way he comes across as a

nice bloke. He builds an immediate rapport with journalists and

sponsors, and it’s that - coupled with professional management - that

will take him to the top.’



Ferrier’s marketing-friendly persona is being carefully cultivated

through a media training programme at Brands Hatch circuit, where

Ferrier is regularly schooled in how to present himself well on TV and

radio. The experience is already paying off, with coverage on various

local and regional TV and radio programmes and a national motoring

magazine.



Ferrier’s unassuming character may have contributed to sponsors’ support

for the ambitious youngster, but it remains a calculated business

decision.



’We won’t see any immediate returns on our sponsorship,’ concedes Paul

Green, director of exhibition display company Photobition. ’But we’re

talking relatively small bucks that could reap big long-term

dividends.’



Photobition has linked itself to motorsport for four years through

sponsorship of a Gulf McLaren F1 supercar. ’We didn’t see much return on

our investment in the first two years, but we have met a number of new

people and potential clients at events and slowly built relationships

with companies such as Logica and BMW as well as McLaren and Gulf,’ says

Green. ’We are now sponsoring a Porsche GT1 in the World Sportscar

Championship and taking a gamble with Tom Ferrier.’



Cheques and flags



Other early sponsors include Champion Spark Plugs, P&O European Ferries

and others. ’We are very excited about the potential of Tom Ferrier,’

says Nigel Aubert, managing director of the KSC group. ’Several years

ago, we passed up on the opportunity to sponsor a promising junior

athlete called Linford Christie. I’m not going to make a mistake like

that again.’



Some sponsors are already starting to see their gamble pay off. Keith

Michaels chose Ferrier as a promotional tool for its Dealer Direct motor

insurance service. Within a week, he was one of 25 kart racers selected

by McLaren Mercedes to compete in the six-race Champions of Future

series broadcast on a small number of regional TV networks. Barb data

suggests an audience on LWT of 179,000, of which 46% were ABC1 adults.

Following the popularity of the first series, Ferrier and other under-16

kart racers will be competing in an extended series planned to be

broadcast nationwide in 1997, with an anticipated audience of 12

million.



Having cut his teeth on karting events as far afield as Turkey, Ferrier

knows the transition to full-size cars at 16 will be a critical one.

Training for his first season racing against adults began at the age of

14 in saloons at Silverstone circuit.



Though Ferrier is the youngest driver ever to train there, by the third

session instructors from the Silverstone Driving Centre had moved him on

to Formula Ford single seater racing cars, in which he broke the racing

school lap-record on his first day.



’Any other lad who had half his talent would be really bratty and full

of himself,’ observed instructor Jeremy Howkins, ’but Ferrier has

remained a pleasant, decent lad. Taking a long-term training programme

like this will give him 18 months’ more experience than any other driver

his age when he moves up into competitive events.’



Having a long-term plan for success in the Grand Prix racing business

has already brought benefits, with the Silverstone Driving Centre

awarding him a personal race training programme.



When Peugeot was unable to provide one of their touring-car championship

drivers to compete in a high-profile indoor karting event at the UK’s

biggest motorsports show and asked Silverstone to send an instructor in

his place, director Paul O’Brien nominated Ferrier instead.



The gamble paid off, with the 15-year old scoring victory for Peugeot

against five professionals and, even more importantly, responding like a

seasoned campaigner to the resulting press interest.



Driving ambition



The virtuous spiral is already in place. Silverstone’s support helped to

secure the sponsorship of Grand Prix Racewear and persuaded Motor Racing

Services to take responsibility for managing his racing career.



’Our work ranges from procuring sponsorship for the Peugeot team in the

British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) to arranging Korean Air

sponsorship in Formula 1,’ says Jackie de Havas of MRS.



’Investing time in a young individual, who could potentially lose his

focus, is a risk but Tom’s racing is impressive. More importantly, he is

committed, articulate and pleasant, so he can be schooled to make

presentations, talk to sponsors and learn the real business of

motorsport.



’Tom Ferrier will continue in karting during 1997, before moving into

Formula Vauxhall Junior for 1998. We have chosen that class because

those races always run as support events for the BTCC, so Tom will get

exposure to an average of 40,000 spectators,’ says de Havas.



’After a season in Formula Vauxhall or Formula Renault - depending on

which looks better from a business perspective - he will move into

Formula 3 in the year 2000, with maybe a second season in the Japanese

championship.



The next step will then be Formula 3000, together with a contract as a

test driver for Formula 1 by 2001, or the following year.’



’All being well, Tom Ferrier will be in Grand Prix racing by the time

he’s 21,’ de Havas suggests. ’It sounds bold, but he has got the racing

talent and personal skills to attract sponsorship. With a professional

team around him to guide him through the business, Tom can go all the

way.



’Outstanding racing talent is just the starting point in motorsport.



What really determines success in the business is a talent for

marketing.’



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