Walter Mertes has been involved in motor racing for more than 40 years. For 26 years now, he has been responsible for sponsoring and marketing of the DTM, inter alia as board member of the DTM umbrella organisation ITR. As CEO of the Formel 3 Vermarktungs GmbH he has been organising and promoting the FIA Formula 3 European Championship for many years. We met him for a Q&A.
Q: Mr Mertes, you have been working in the motor racing world for many years and know a lot of race series. What makes the FIA Formula 3 European Championship so special, from your point of view?
Walter Mertes: For young talents, the FIA Formula 3 European Championship has been the stepping stone to professional motor racing for more than 25 years – no matter if to Formula One, DTM or the WEC. No other series helped more young drivers advancing to the pinnacle of motor racing, with World Champions such as Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg having learned their trade in this series. The latest example is Lance Stroll who won the 2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship title and secured a Williams F1 GP seat for the 2017 season straight away. Thus, following the footsteps of Max Verstappen who advanced from Formula 3 to the pinnacle of motor racing in 2015 and celebrated impressive results from his F1 debut season. The series is extremely professional and has maintained a familial atmosphere, nevertheless. And we as promoters are working hand in hand with the FIA to keep on optimising the series while – at the same time – keeping the costs at a low level.
Q: A good number of talented young drivers has already been announced to compete in the 2017 season. Is there a driver you already would call your favourite?
Walter Mertes: Although the entry period for the 2017 season only ends on March 17th, the entry list already features a far bigger number of drivers than last year at the same point in time. The quality of the starting grid is incredibly high and I expect a thrilling battle for both the team and the drivers’ titles. I believe that drivers who are contesting their second or third seasons, such as Maximilian Günther, Callum Ilott, Joel Eriksson or David Beckmann, will have particularly good chances. But we know from the past that you mustn’t underestimate the rookies. And it goes without saying that I am looking forward to the continuation of the fight between Mick Schumacher and Joey Mawson who both advanced to our series from Formula 4.
Q: How many drivers do you expect to contest the 2017 season?
Walter Mertes: We expect to achieve a number of 24 drivers this season. Together with the FIA we have been working for years on optimising the series for teams and drivers and offering an attractive package. And while doing so we make sure that the series remains financially feasible and cost-efficient. Last year we have introduced a price money scheme for rookies, which has been extended to teams and drivers this year. This way we try – in cooperation with the FIA – to help teams and drivers to fund their season, thus improving the professionalism and the quality of the series.
Q: Could you please describe the cooperation with the FIA?
Walter Mertes: The commitment and the support of the FIA are exemplary. The FIA as governing body is responsible for all sporting, technical and safety relevant aspects of the sport, while we as promoters are in charge of the organisation and the commercial exploitation of the series. As some of the areas overlap, we are working closely together with our FIA colleagues in Geneva and Paris. The teams are also involved in various discussions.
Q: Could you please tell us about the development in the series’ sponsoring area?
Walter Mertes: Here we could observe a positive trend. The interest in the series is enormous and never before during our pre-season preparation have we been in such a good position at this point in time. The series rights are virtually sold out and in the hands of top-quality partners.
Q: You also are responsible for marketing and distributing the championship in the media. Could you already give us an indication in what countries moving images of Formula 3 will be available?
Walter Mertes: For the promotion of a race series, TV coverage is essential, as only TV coverage reaches a big enough audience to make the product interesting for sponsors. It already has been confirmed that we are going to continue our long-term partnerships with the TV stations n-tv and Eurosport. n-tv once again will bring live coverage of every single race weekend while Eurosport, Eurosport 2 and Eurosport Asia will show a 30-minute magazine with race highlights, background features, technology stories and driver portraits following every race meeting. Further licence deals have already been signed for other European countries such as France, the Netherlands and the UK as well as with international broadcasters such as Fox, ESPN, DAZN and Motor Trend on Demand – this means that we are addressing viewers all around the world. The distribution of the international TV rights is running flat out and we are convinced that we will be able to bring in further renowned TV stations before the season kicks off. And it goes without saying that fans can once again watch all the races live via the free of charge live stream on the official FIA F3 website.
Q: What do you expect from the coming season?
Walter Mertes: The quality of the teams and drivers that will contest the 2017 season is very high. So we can already look forward to exciting race meetings and a thrilling battle for the title. In 2017 we will be racing at 10 different circuits in eight different countries. Apart from the race meetings held in the DTM support programme we also will race as part of further top events where – just as in DTM – a perfect TV production is guaranteed. The quality of the TV production can be compared with Formula One. The major part of the races will be held at GP venues and the calendar will be completed by the two prestigious street races at the Norisring and in Pau. At the end of the day we provide a European tour that is second to none.