The Lotus F1 Roadshow (Renault F1 Roadshow until 2010) began in 2004 to bring Formula 1 closer to the fans. It has traveled to key cities across the globe to showcase the sport, the team and their star drivers. So, what makes the Manila Speed Show this past weekend any different?
It's unique in the sense that Lotus is showing support at such a high degree for a driver who is still at the junior level, Filipino-Swiss racer Marlon Stockinger. There is a business side to this endeavor. It's no secret that Formula 1 sees Asia as an untapped market, with Europe close to being milked out. We didn't give the driver-team venture much thought before the event--rather, we kept wondering if the Philippines was ready for an F1 car to blast through its streets and if safety could be contained, considering the lack of discipline here. Come press con, the idea started to roll.
In the evening, we had an unsettling feeling during the gala dinner. Things started to unravel that there was more to just supporting the first Filipino driver with a realistic shot at entering F1. It's just too good to be true. It's distressing for a fan like yours truly--who has always seen the sport for what it is--experience the hard sell firsthand. The event turned out to be an in-your-face reminder that this sport has become a big commercial business. It's a reality we wish didn't have to happen.
The bigger picture here is that Lotus F1 Team owner Genii Capital is keen on creating partnerships with influential companies in Asia, and what better way to do that than through Marlon? That's not to say everything automatically falls into place after that. Stockinger has to deliver, and you can only imagine the pressure he has to deal with. Yes, we get it: Business is business and sponsorship is a vital aspect for a driver and/or team to succeed, and that makes Formula 1 go round. That has been the case for years. Marlon's talent is in no way being questioned. He has gotten this far, so why stop now? We’d love to see him reach the top level of the sport and for Tom Stockinger's (Marlon's father) efforts to pay off.
As for Lotus F1, the team is distinct, owned by an investment management firm. Theirs is a new-school approach, using F1 as a tool for their business model. It's no longer just a sports car brand that wants to improve the breed through racing. Yet they’re just like any other team, doing what it takes to get to the top.
That said, we're not singling out Lotus here as a shrewd team doing whatever it takes. They have a job to do. We're thankful they put us on the map even for a brief moment, and gave hope to Marlon's quest to be the first Filipino Formula 1 driver.
We absolutely love this sport, and we know we have to accept the bigger picture. Racing, especially in this modern age, will never be entirely pure. Ayrton Senna said that the only pure kind of racing happened in go-kart events.
Photos by Mikko David