AUSTIN, TX – Ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, fans who had made the journey to Austin were treated to a special forum with three top Formula 1 drivers as the importance of fan engagement to the sport was driven home.
Following the demise of the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA) earlier this year, the fans appeared to be the biggest losers as the successful FOTA Forums that brought them closer to the drivers and personalities in F1 were lost.
However, for this weekend’s grand prix at the Circuit of The Americas, former FOTA general secretary Oliver Weingarten and the Grand Prix Investors Fund came together to hold an event at Gibson Guitar Texas.
At a packed venue, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez faced questions from the fans, ranging from safety in F1 to their favorite circuits, and even what their favorite road car was. All three drivers were given a Gibson guitar by the venue, and took time to sign merchandise for the fans.
American driver Alexander Rossi also made an appearance at the event despite Marussia not racing in Austin, taking time to chat with fans and pose for pictures.
Perez and Gutierrez proved to be particularly popular at the forum, with a large contingency of Mexican fans making the trip over for the grand prix weekend. Unsurprisingly, questions about next year’s Mexican Grand Prix were met with great approval and chants of “Checo! Checo!” and “Guti! Guti!”.
The drivers also spoke of their love for the United States Grand Prix in Austin, which has already established itself as one of the best events on the calendar after just three years.
However, what was most evident about the event was how the fans embraced the opportunity to speak with their heroes and get to see them in a less formal setting. In the pressure of the F1 paddock, drivers can often have their personalities suppressed, yet the trio that appeared in Austin on Wednesday night were all immensely relaxed, sharing jokes with each other and the fans throughout the event.
Although Formula 1 may not focus on fan engagement as much as it perhaps should, events such as the COTA Forum are crucial to ensuring that the sport can bridge this gap more and give the fans something back.