Three Years of Change
David Richards CBE opens up about his first three years as Chairman of Motorsport UK. Three years that has brought a lot of change, he tells us in his own words about the change and the future for the sport.
It’s now three years since I took over as Chairman of Motorsport UK, or the MSA as it was then called. Lewis Hamilton had just secured his fourth world championship title and I took on the role in the full knowledge that we were about to embark on a period of rapid change throughout the entire motorsport world.
Little did I know what was ahead. At the front of my mind was the question of relevance and how would car manufacturers view motorsport in the future. They have been such an important part of our history and yet marketing spend is now focused on environmental issues and engineering development on electrification.
I was concerned about the declining number of licence holders with a 10% drop over the previous decade and it was very clear that I was taking over an organisation that required a change of direction. The MSA had been a very competent regulator of the sport but had failed in its duty to promote the sport to a wider audience, nor did it offer vision and leadership when it came to the technical challenges that our sport is facing.
I therefore set out a clear agenda with the objective of establishing a sustainable future for motorsport in the UK and an organisation that was fit for purpose in the 21st century. We embarked on a fundamental restructuring of the governing body to ensure it was financially viable, forward thinking and most importantly accountable to its members. We redrafted the entire Memorandum and Articles and changed the structure such that the Motorsport Council now plays a strong advisory role representing all aspects of the sport, whilst the Board itself is far more diverse and fully accountable for its actions.
At the same time, we’ve complemented the existing executive team with additional talent that bring a new perspective to the role of sports governance. The highest level of our sport has always been extremely strong with British competitors winning in almost every category, but it was very clear that as a governing body we needed to spend more of our time and attention on supporting the grassroots of the sport. We had to make a number of difficult decisions such as increasing licence fees, as without a sensible financial model it would not be possible to deliver the governance and investment that our sport required.
An excellent demonstration of how this new management team has developed over the last few years is the manner in which they tackled the many challenges the COVID-19 pandemic threw at them. The fact that we were able to get motorsport up and running again before almost any other country in the world was a true credit to a far more dynamic executive team, led by Hugh Chambers, that are now at the heart of our organisation.
Our focus on the grassroots has resulted in a reduced burden of bureaucracy when it comes to medicals for licence holders and the life of certain safety equipment, which was not very popular with the suppliers. However, I have to admit we’ve still got a long way to go in reducing the overall financial and bureaucratic burden on the grassroots of our sport and that remains an ongoing task.
“Our focus on the grassroots has resulted in a reduced burden of bureaucracy when it comes to medicals for licence holders and the life of certain safety equipment”
All of this had to be undertaken whilst respecting our primary responsibility to maintain the highest levels of safety, which is at the heart of everything we do. We finally secured the Bill to close public roads for competition, which opens up so many new opportunities, and built far closer relationships with government and this continues with the newly formed All-Party Parliamentary Group for Motorsport.
At the same time, we’ve not shied away from engaging with a wide range of organisations to defend the motorsport community from the inevitable environmental challenges we face; the most recent being access to forests in Wales which lie at the very heart of rallying in this country. We’ve had our disappointments and none more so than the loss of the British round of the WRC, but I’m confident that with the right economic model we can encourage the Championship back to the UK in the coming years.
It’s easy to forget that when I took over we were facing the threat of the loss of the British Grand Prix but now with the benefit of a long-term contract we can look forward to many more years of F1 at Silverstone. The fact that we were able to accommodate two Grands Prix last year in the middle of a pandemic speaks volumes for the collaboration between Motorsport UK, Silverstone and the Formula One Promoter. One of the most significant achievements of the last few years and something that I take great pride in is the fact that Motorsport UK is now fully compliant with Sport England’s Codes of Practice and we meet the highest level of sport governance. Our adoption of a diversity agenda has been at the centre of this, although I freely admit we have only just scratched the surface.
Yet from a previous era, where we had little female representation on Council or our Board, this is starting to be addressed, whilst we’ve also witnessed the success of the W Series, the founder of which, Catherine Bond Muir, is one of our new Board members. We have encouraged a number of disability initiatives and engaged with Lewis Hamilton’s Foundation, yet I’d be the first to admit that we have a long way to go before we can truly claim our sport represents the demographic of the country at large. This must be our ultimate goal as we represent one of the few sports that should have no barriers to participation on an equal basis, yet access and cost remain a significant barrier for many.
“We continue a drive to reduce costs in order to open up the opportunity for youngsters to take that first step on the motorsport ladder”
Most racing drivers started their career in karting so it was inevitable that we should focus a considerable amount of our attention on this grassroots activity. We’ve taken over the promotion of the British Karting Championships to considerable acclaim. We continue a drive to reduce costs in order to open up the opportunity for youngsters to take that first step on the motorsport ladder whilst using junior karting to demonstrate new technologies such as electric karts or renewable fuels, which are sure to be a mainstay of our sport in the future. Like so many other activities, the pandemic has set us back with lots of our plans and it is unfortunate that in some areas we’ve lost 12 months of progress that we had planned.
Our offices have been closed for much of this time and many of our staff have been furloughed to help minimise our losses, yet so much of the basic workload of the governing body remains. The change of name to Motorsport UK was therefore symbolic of a fundamental change in culture and attitude throughout our organisation and this will be further demonstrated when we move to Bicester early this year. In many ways this will be the final piece of the jigsaw of my first three years of tenure. It will position us centrally in the heart of the motorsport community and provide far better facilities at reduced cost where we can welcome our members to visit and host events within the Bicester Motion facility.
We have significantly raised our profile not only with government, but also with car manufacturers and the FIA where we are now regarded as a proactive member who leads the way with many new initiatives.
At the end of the day if we are to represent you, our members, we must have a voice and be respected for our opinions well beyond the motorsport community into society as a whole. As far as the motorsport industry is concerned, we managed to secure Elite Athlete status for professional racing teams last year.
This allowed them to travel during the pandemic which was vital in maintaining Britain’s position at the forefront of international motorsport. Looking back over the last three years, it is very clear that change has accelerated even faster than I envisaged, and the environment has taken a pre-eminent place in the minds and actions of governments and corporations around the world.
“We have significantly raised our profile not only with government, but also with car manufacturers and the FIA where we are now regarded as a proactive member who leads the way with many new initiatives”
Some might consider this as a threat. I would rather look at it as an opportunity for us to reposition our sport, embrace change and demonstrate how we can adapt and lead with technologies that will help define the transport of tomorrow, just as we did one hundred years ago, in the early days of motoring.
There is no denying that there is a long way to go before I’ll be satisfied with the role that Motorsport UK plays as a governing body. It would be easy to make excuses and give a list of reasons why we still haven’t achieved all that I’d hoped for and with so much more to be done I’m sure there will be those who believe that we haven’t moved fast enough with our agenda of change. Most importantly, we are now listening to your priorities and ideas and I firmly believe we have the foundations of a very sound governing body that administers, trains, safeguards, develops and promotes motorsport in the UK very effectively.
As we come out of this pandemic, we will ensure that motorsport gets back on track as quickly as possible and we are already planning for the year ahead.
We will continue in our efforts to support clubs and grassroots motorsport. After all, this is where future generations of competitors and officials will come from and during the course of this year we’ll be announcing further initiatives to support this end of the sport. Our move to Bicester will provide an ideal base and hub for the motorsport community where we will host training days, seminars, conferences and larger gatherings.
When we take into account all our competition licence holders as well as our officials and volunteers, we represent a community of over 60,000. We will ensure that your voices are heard throughout government and within the media defending our rights to continue to participate in responsible motorsport against an environmental backdrop that will become increasingly challenging. There is no getting away from the fact that we will have to be far more aware of our environmental responsibilities and I don’t think any one of us would deny that this is appropriate and something we must all accept.
“Our move to Bicester will provide an ideal base and hub for the motorsport community where we will host training days, seminars, conferences and larger gatherings”
Over the next few years we’ll continue to improve the benefits we offer to all our members and ensure that membership is open to everyone, breaking down barriers and embracing diversity to ensure we appeal to the widest network of participants from all backgrounds. When I set out my original agenda a little over three years ago, sustainability was at the heart of it and this remains the same today. We need to continue on this journey of change and embrace all that this means to ensure Motorsport UK truly represents the interests of our membership, promoting a sustainable future for our sport and future generations of enthusiasts.
What others have to say…
Nigel Edwards Race Director for the British Karting Championships and CIK-FIA
Over the last three years the governing body of Motorsport in the UK has seen big changes. Changes of leadership, organisation and direction are evident, while the efforts to reduce ‘bureaucracy’ have taken shape and these must continue as a driver towards a clear and direct path of administration which has the power to link with its customer base and club driven foundation. David Richards has headed up this challenge and there have no doubt been some big ‘wins’ along the way, not least getting the organisation to function as a ‘team’, and overhauling and modernising its outlook.
However upgrading many years of ‘like for like’ thinking is ongoing and hopefully the more direct, business-like approach of the organisation will take us into the next chapter of motorsport governance. There are still challenges, not least the detailed communications with the various elements of UK motorsport, trying to understand their specific problems and help roll out some new thinking on customer involvement and encouraging newcomers into the sport, either as competitors or officials. In my specific discipline of karting we have many challenges, with a plethora of non-regulated activities popping up to challenge the ‘norm’.
Our sport needs to work together to embrace all karting activities and understand what our customers want and how we can offer that in an orderly manner, offering a quality product which covers all aspects of safety and fairness under one unified body. Challenges with new technology will also be key to the sustainability of our future, and aligning old with new is a big challenge for Mr Richards and his team in the coming years. In summary, the new leadership has probably done what is always the most difficult part of any organisation upgrade – having the vision and guts to make changes. This will not always be perfect but it will encourage us all to get thinking about our sport and the power of working together to achieve our goals – whatever discipline we come from.
Malcolm Wilson Managing Director, M-Sport
The true impact of what David and the team at Motorsport UK have brought to the sport during the past three years was never more evident than in 2020, when they faced a Herculean task to get the sport restarted in such a difficult situation.
The support the rally community has received has been fantastic, and the speed with which the team reacted to the changing conditions was so critical. It is that kind of decisive leadership that we needed to get us through and be given the clear guidance to get our Return to Rally Stages up and running. The amount of entries we received within only an hour showed how much pent-up demand there was, so it was a real achievement in a challenging year.
Similarly, I know we can count on the Motorsport UK team to help us create our next event – they understand just how important rally is and they are firmly focused on its future. And with the World Rally Championship, I know that David will be doing everything possible to bring the event back to the UK in a way that is better, stronger and more sustainable. I, for one, look forward to seeing what the next three years will bring, and the relocation to ‘Motorsport Valley’ is the right move at the right time and will leave the organisation better positioned for achieving its vision.
Peter Bayer Secretary General for Sport, Federation Internationale de l´Automobile
We are delighted that David Richards will continue to bring his trademark rigour and creativity to the position of Chairman of Motorsport UK for a second term.
During the past three years David has introduced a number of innovations to the role that Motorsport UK plays in supporting ASNs and clubs in a range of areas including training, toolkit creation, research and consultancy. He has engendered a spirit of collaboration with the FIA and our Championship promoters and under his leadership members of Motorsport UK have been valued and constructive participants in FIA Commissions, particularly supporting initiatives such as Girls on Track and Purpose Driven.
We look forward to a collaborative and productive future with David and his team.