F1 two-seater programme - conversation with Zsolt Baumgartner

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Formula One is adamant to improve fan engagement by its special F1 Experience programme, even offering a ride in a custom-built two-seater F1 car. F1technical.net's Balázs Szabó spoke to former Hungarian F1 driver, Zsolt Baumgartner who is involed in this very unique programme as one of the drivers.

Since Liberty Media took over the Commercial Rights, there have been numerous attempts to bring the sport, which had been regarded as infamously closed-off, closer to fans, giving a wide variety of experiences and attractions to spectators. Building deeper connections between fans and the sport has sat atop the job list of the American conglomerate.

Among those programmes is the F1 Experience which offers different packages at each Grand Prix, tearing down the rigid boundaries between the sport and its lovers. These packages include the starter, trophy, champion, premier, legends, hero and ultimate legend opportunities, all offering back-stage experiences at Formula One races.

The most expensive package named as ultimate legend includes a two-lap ride in an F1 two-seater car. F1 Experience is present at every race weekend, but the ultimate legend visits only a handful of venues in 2018. F1Technical.net learned from Zsolt Baumgartner that the relatively rare presence of this package is because of the costs involved in the transportation and preparation of these cars.

This part of the F1 Experience programme is run by former Minardi team boss Paul Stoddart. For this season, the car was developed and updated by the former Toyota technical chief Mike Gascoyne-led group. The team has around 20 engines and a unit does not last forever even if these engine are not used in race conditions.

(Photo: Balázs Szabó, 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix, Thursday)

Baumgartner also revealed that there are several other racing drivers who would be glad to get involved in the programme. Feeling the thrill of an F1 car equipped with ‘old-fashioned’ roaring engines is still exciting for racing drivers. Asked if he only cruises during these runs, the former Hungarian race drivers answered with a definite no. Among his guests have been not only F1Experience fans, but also celebrities for whom he wanted to show the real feel what a car of this sort can give.

Asked about the feedback of his guests, the 37-year-old said that every guest of him was taken aback. However, he admitted that some kind of sickish feeling can appear after the adrenaline level dropped.

Updating and preparing these cars is very expensive, hence is the high price for these rides. The preparation phase is similar to the one current F1 race machines require which means the team has a relatively large crew of engineers and mechanics.

F1Experience guests who do not take part in the two-seater rides can also visit its garage and witness the procedures involved in getting these unique cars ready. As it is not a race event for the F1Experience team, guests can enjoy a hectic-free, relaxed atmosphere and can get really close to the preparation activities.

A race weekend where F1Experience also offers rides with the two-seater machines is relatively long for Baumgartner. He usually arrives on Wednesday and drives the car from Friday until Sunday. Because the schedule of a race weekend is different depending on the support series, the timing of two-seater rides also varies from event to event. FOM always intends to find the best slot for these runs. On some occasions, Baumgarter has already drivien the two-seater car right before the reconnaissance laps when drivers roll out onto the starting grid.

During the Hungarian Grand Prix, Formula One offered a unique opportunity for fans who visited the pit-lane on Thursday. The two fans that received the most likes on their pitlane selfies were awarded with a two-seater ride on Friday morning.