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F1 takes Paddock Club virtual in Zoom hospitality tie-up

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc poses for a photo with a fan at the paddock of the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix (by MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Formula 1 has signed a new digital deal with Zoom Video Communications to enable the roll out of virtual Paddock Club experiences during the motor-racing championship’s Covid-19-affected 2020 season.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, F1’s first eight races are without the traditional in-person hospitality offerings. Hospitality is a key component of the F1 experience and business model, with the Paddock Club providing $358m (€314.1m) of its $2bn in revenue for 2019, so the companies have partnered to create a bespoke virtual hospitality experience for guests.

At the second race of the 2020 season, last weekend’s Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, guests joined the Virtual Paddock Club, through Zoom, and were afforded a range of experiences, including live updates and insight from legends of the paddock.

Additional experiences will also be created from this weekend’s Hungarian GP onwards, in line with International Automobile Federation (FIA) regulations. The US technology company will provide an exclusive experience throughout the eight-race European season, and in addition, F1 will look to work with Zoom to expand the Virtual Paddock Club offering to its global partners and teams.

The deal has been brokered by CAA Sports, F1’s exclusive sales agency and is initially intended to run through the 2020 season. Paddock Club tickets cost $3,800 for two days at European races. The Financial Times newspaper reported that the six-figure Zoom deal will not replace lost Paddock Club revenues, with F1 having no immediate plans to charge for the virtual events.

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Ben Pincus, director of commercial partnerships at F1, said: “We understood the opportunity Zoom presented to us, which was about delivering a live sporting experience for guests despite the fact much of sport is currently behind closed doors.

“Zoom by its very nature is about enabling and connecting businesses remotely and this partnership, which has been developed virtually, is an example of just that. We hope this will be the first of many innovations we roll out in the coming months for our partners.

“Over the past few months, through Project Pitlane and Virtual Grand Prix races, we have seen the ability to innovate is imperative as we collectively adapt to an environment that continues to evolve.”

Zoom has seen its video conferencing technology explode in popularity during Covid-19 and set a new business record in April by facilitating over 300 million daily meeting participants. Janine Pelosi, chief marketing officer of Zoom, said: “Long run, there’s an opportunity for a hybrid virtual/in-person model so distance is no longer a barrier to sports hospitality.”

The Zoom-F1 deal comes after Extreme E, the new electric off-road racing series, this month announced that it is working with Velocity Experience, the live event and brand experience company co-founded by former F1 driver David Coulthard, to develop ‘virtual hybrid events’.