CEO’s July Message – Hugh Chambers

Thursday 23 July 2020

Before March 2020, few of us knew that the word Zoom meant a great deal more than an onomatopoeic reference to speed. In the space of just over 100 days we have become accustomed to a new virtual reality, in which we can simultaneously speak with dozens of people, spread across the globe, as if they were sitting across the table. Our ability to adapt and embrace change – when forced to do so – is a demonstration of the age-old maxim that necessity is the mother of invention.

Motorsport has been at the forefront of innovation in the automotive world for over 120 years, with the pursuit of clever solutions born in the crucible of competition. That defining characteristic of our sport has attracted more than its fair share of brilliant engineers, and talented managers; and this permeates throughout the culture of the sport. Even at the grassroots level of the sport, where budgets are minuscule, the challenge that is met by every competitor is that of eking out the maximum performance from every last pound.

So we are good at adapting and being efficient. Our own ‘necessity’ has been the resumption of motorsport in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic. And the inventions that derive from this fall into two categories. Firstly, how do we operate our sport safely and viably with the ongoing situation? And second, how do we take this experience and turn it into an opportunity to reimagine so much of what we do, and build back better? Before the crisis we had already identified a perfect storm of existential threats to the sport; with the real spectre of becoming a social pariah through the gathering opposition to the internal combustion engine – and the seeming impossibility of bridging the gap between our almost universal use of the ICE and the imperative to embrace society’s expectations.

Allied to this is the fact that society’s love affair with the car as a symbol and tool of freedom seemed to be ending, becoming increasingly a utility machine with AI beckoning, and perhaps as a result a lack of connectivity to youth and subsequently an ageing community of motorsport aficionados. And aside from Formula 1, there is very little visibility in the general media, and as a result, motorsport is at risk of becoming mainstream invisible.

Last autumn, Motorsport UK declared its intention to ensure the long-term sustainability of motorsport through a bold plan of investment and sport development. Built around four pillars, this is designed to focus our resources on better promotion, helping the clubs to recruit more people into the sport, elevating our programmes of learning and development and being innovative in the formats and delivery points. As we were beginning to deploy these new interventions, so COVID-19 struck. On the 17th March, all motorsport activity ceased, with no sense of when it may resume.

We should share a sense of collective pride that the UK motorsport community has done such a fantastic job of getting back on track just 110 days after it was put on hold. The need to rethink every aspect of the sport was greeted with determination and commitment by members from across the whole sport; and with leadership from Motorsport UK we gained the approval of the government to restart on the 4th of July. Since then we have seen hundreds of competitors back behind the wheel, and before long we will also have co-drivers back in rallying.

All of this would be an achievement in itself, but what is much more important is what we have learnt that can have a long-term impact on the sport. I think that we have all appreciated the potential benefits of IT, (from those Zoom calls to home shopping), and so with our sport we have adopted digital signing on, online driver briefings, pre-event scrutineering and post-event evaluations. These are all working well and beg the question “why go back to how it was before?”

To communicate the new ways of working, we conducted a series of webinars with officials, marshals and COVID-19 officers. In the space of ten days we reached 544 people with the key details. Each year, in January, we run a series of training sessions across the UK, and yet now we have to ask if we are better off doing these with an even wider group, but all done remotely through the innovative use of technology.

No wasteful travel or imposition on volunteers’ free time. As a result of the pandemic, I think it is true to say most people have been forced to reflect on many aspects of their lives, and in a wide range of areas have a desire not to return to the old way of doing things. It is this zeitgeist that has invited such a broad response to the debate on equality, diversity and inclusion. Later in this magazine, our chair, David Richards provides his thoughts on the subject, and I am delighted that Lewis Hamilton has provided Revolution with his perspective. Surely, we cannot let this opportunity go to waste to reset our perspective on what all of this means to our sport – and what we need to do to change it.

For some time now, the sport has begun to focus on ways to make it more appealing and accessible to girls and women, with important initiatives led by the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission and our own support of Dare to be Different and Girls on Track. But when females represent just 9% of our licence holders, we clearly have a very long way to go. For me, the most promising initiative that we had planned for 2020, pre COVID-19, was the tie up with TeamSport, the indoor karting leaders, in order to enable their keener racers to access a pathway into more advanced forms of karting. Together we developed the KI (kart indoor) licence for their most competitive customers across all their 33 tracks. The intent was clear; to engage their town and city dwelling customers and inspire them through the purest and most affordable form of motorsport. Equally exciting is that 30% of their customers are female!

We have to get a much higher proportion of girls into contact with the sport and provide an environment where they will be comfortable and welcomed; now we know who they are, and so with connectivity comes communication and engagement. Our plan is to create the introduction of pathways from indoor karting to the next steps along the way, like arriveand-drive Club 100, now a Motorsport UK permitted series. We also need to be innovative in how we bring more young people into motorsport. It is an easy assumption to make that we should try to bring all youngsters into karting and take them on a pathway to professional careers. But I don’t think that is really the point here.

We have around 45,000 licence holders, of which less than 100 are professionals. We need to start to promote the diversity of motorsport, as in so many ways, a great opportunity for kids as young as 14 would be to compete using a low-cost secondhand hatchback, with no helmet or expensive overalls, in autosolos. They are fun, social, low cost, and run by small clubs that embody the very best of motorsport’s generous and welcoming culture. Motorsport UK is fully committed to come back from this crisis stronger and more dynamic than before. We need to fight the corner of motorsport, and use all of our collective inventiveness and innovation to Build Back Better.

Kind regards, Hugh Chambers CEO, Motorsport UK