Mobile Motorsports
By Carol Posthumus, Fri May 31 00:00:00 GMT 2002

Formula 1 fans get five lights - and it's a go, with mobility.

Formula One motor racing - a modern mobile opera blending the passions of speed and technology - is colored these days with mobile communication names. Watch a Grand Prix along with gazillions of people around the world - and it's impossible not to notice that the contending sleek dream machines and tracks lavishly sport names like Vodafone, Orange and Siemens. Moreover, Formula One fans are being driven anew these days by an array of mobile Formula One services. The world's most ultimately mobile sport is meeting mobile communication, in style.

Mobile, by comparison with old-timer type backers of Formula One - a glamour high tech game that needs seas of sponsorship juice - is yielding constructive, fun new services for tribes of passionate fans. For enthusiasts who've "been there, done that" and got the Ferrari T-shirt (flag, mugs, key ring holders) - and have grown bored with the often over-lengthy style old media coverage of the sport, F1-on-your-mobile is speeding into the gap with useful, succinct and personalized new media services. From F1-on-the-fone text information to Grand Prix quizzes ("for the dedicated petrol-heads", we are told) and driver or team screen savers for your mobile: F1 fanatics, undoubtedly, are being revved in new ways by mobile this year.

It's a rule to never under-estimate a man or a so-called "F1 babe's" passion for their team - and how far they will go to lay their hands on news, views and symbols of their tribal alliance. In places where fans cannot easily, for example, get genuine F1 mobile phone covers -like South Africa - roaring trade even exists in "gray market" type Ferrari or BMW mobile phone covers. When phones proudly decorated by such pretty, but illegal copycat and creative-theft type fare, give problems, fans are tending to stream in for a pit stop at accredited racing merchandise suppliers complaining that mobile phone companies won't help them out.

Riding with the Prancing Horse and Schuni on Your Phone

Says F1 fan merchandise specialist Grand Prix Gear's Adrian Dowling: "Fans love having F1 screensaver logos on their mobiles. They also are putting gray F1 products onto their phones, like covers, and then run into hassles as these goods are pirated and not recognized.

"In the last three years, I reckon, the sport has become five-times more popular than it was - there are fewer people who think that it's just about cars going 'round and round in a circle'! Fans are always looking for fresh ways to follow or reinforce their interest in F1. Mobile F1 text information services are a great service for fans who can access these, F1 fans do tend to be tuned in to new technologies - F1 is a lot about technology and marketing too."

Meanwhile, Wireless Entertainment Services in Finland, this year licensed official mobile graphics of Michael and Ralf Schumacher, the driving brothers of F1- another service fans supporting either sibling are sure to be enjoying.

Naturally, tribes like Tifosi - the true Ferrari fans, riding high with the prancing horse team - want accurate, up-to-date information and a feeling of kin with fellow Tifosi. Being a Tifosi means things like establishing an immediate sense of relaxation with a new doctor, because your healthcare provider has the entire range of Ferrari miniatures parked in his rooms. Furthermore, the information sharing and dedicated communication that new networks swirl with around the world between F1 or, for that matter, many other communities of dedicated motoring enthusiasts, can be mind boggling.

Motoring Talking Drums

An entrepreneur friend of mine, for example, who was without e-mail for a few weeks groaned about having to download 3 000 e-mails. A staggering 2 000 of these came from his chosen tribe of Land Rover enthusiasts around the world. These he didn't moan about, though - and joyfully set about replying to them.

People have very strong feelings around things they deem mobile - especially personalized forms, such as cars and mobile communication devices. And the talking drums are never still in any true enthusiast's lifestyle. Folk may be slow responders to emails from their bosses or partners. But communicados from fellow fans - discussing important matters such as 'launch control', 'composite materials' or ' pole positions' - are all most welcome. Such hobbies, it seems, are the sanctuary communities of this world.

Mobile Communication Changes Things

Of course, when the great debate over the Ferrari team's remote control last minute switching of their drivers' finishing positions in Austria broke out a few weeks ago, it was akin to a tribal emergency situation. And, those Tifosi drums around the world went into overdrive. Everyone had a lot to say. It's truly amazing what a few words via mobile communication devices can do in a matter of seconds.

Last minute commands from your team boss as you're driving along can change the course of things: and equally so for all of us, whether you're a sales rep or Schumacher 'in the office' in your car. A few words into the ear of Ferrari's Schumacher and Barrichello resulted in the latter easing up just before the checkered flag, and letting his team mate take the number one position.

As a Ferrari fan myself (yes, I admit subjectivity here), I followed all this closely. And, I felt, that the Ferrari sponsors' Vodafone's customized mobile offerings to Ferrari (and other teams) fans, launched this year, could've really supplemented what I was seeing and reading about in other news sources really well. I also would not have to keep on resorting to desktop Internet to hunt around all the F1 sites for the latest news and views.

F1 Text News Feeds and F1 Quizzes

Mobile subscribers - the lucky fishes! - from Great Britain, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Malta can, in fact, luxuriate these days in a range of short, text F1 message services from Vodafone. These services were launched this year, as the group started sponsoring Ferrari.

There exists an amazing range of F1 packages for mobile subscribers to choose from. Vodafone UK says, "for the complete die-hards", there's the "Premium Top Six" Package. This top of the range model gives subscribers everything from practice positions, grid positions after qualifying, updates throughout the race, points tables and up to five alerts per race on any major news. Fans also have the option to customize and personalize this information further - according to the driver or team they follow.

Moreover, F1 fans in the United Kingdom roared off at the beginning of the racing season, by indulging their interest with a Grand Prix Trivia Quiz on mobile, which proceeds over the F1 season until October. Cleverly, the Quiz is based on speed and accuracy - "like F1"- and players can have some fun, competing against each other for "pole position".

Like a popular "Footy on the Fone" and other Sports

Vodafone Group Services Senior PR Manager Julien Cozens reckons F1 services on mobile are looking to be pretty popular.

"This is the first season for our F1-on-the-fone services, and as with other sports text message services, like 'footy-on-your-fone' and cricket, this kind of service is welcomed by fans. A new and popular part of the football fan's lifestyle, for instance, is getting a text alert, wherever you are, every time there's a goal. Around one billion text messages are sent a month in the United Kingdom - and text messaging and sports information make for a very good match."

Interestingly, there are many marketing synergies between mobile communication and F - and these are being shown to good affect in advertisements in the United Kingdom for mobile. Some feature drivers using messaging - others show fans using mobile as part of their interest in F1.

Relaxed Drivers, Talk and Drive with Ease

One television advertisement for mobile depicts a F1 fan's car breaking down on the way to a Grand Prix. Frustrated as he is, the devoted fan is able to keep in touch with all the race action thanks to a friend who is actually there, and who kindly takes him through the race blow-by-blow on his trusty mobile. Everyone, it seems, can now be a commentator like Murray Walker - with your friends, your audience - if you're at a race (or any other sporting event) with your mobile.

Cozens chuckles when we ask him whether it is conceivable that we will see futuristic fanzoid offerings such as "win a chance to talk to the driver during the race" from mobile communication companies involved with F1. After all, drivers have been talking (and listening) while racing for some years now - and have been carrying cameras on their cars for ages for all eyes to share in their driver's view!

Smiles Cozens: "It did happen that a commentator spoke to a rally champion, while he was driving in a race - and the television audience could follow their exchange. It was quite amazing, I recall, to hear how relaxed the driver was. So there are new developments and experiments in driver-public communication in the motor sport worlds!."

Carol Posthumus is a freelance author, analyzing how mobile technology impacts our lives. She lives in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa.