Why Floersch’s Facebook fine matters for motorsport

It’s been dubbed the most over-the-top penalty applied to a motorsport competitor in the last decade but, whatever your view, the €5,000 fine handed down to Sophia Floersch’s at last weekend’s ADAC Formel 4 event at Oschersleben is a cautionary tale for everyone. It also showcases the very real need for PR support no matter what level of motorsport you are competing at.

If you missed it, here’s the video. During Friday practice, 16-year-old Floersch narrowly missed a recovery vehicle that drove across the circuit as the Mucke Motorsport driver approached at high speed.

Accusations and counter-accusations flew on-site about whether or not Floersch had slowed down sufficiently during red-flag conditions, and then about whether the flags had even been displayed in the first place.

The whole situation accelerated when Floersch posted the on-board footage of the incident on her Facebook page, creating embarrassment for race officials that only intensified as race fans and professional drivers shared and commented on the video. It swiftly went viral; a thread about the incident on Reddit achieved more than 4,000 comments.

Possibly as a result of the red faces caused by negative comments from people such as 1996 Formula 1 World Champion Damon Hill to his 50,000 plus Twitter followers, officials decided to issue the huge monetary fine to Floersch for ‘uploading the video without the permission of ADAC’.

Initially reported by Floersch as €20,000 – something that caused fans great ire and again called into question how highly safety is valued versus broadcast rights – the DMSB, Germany’s motor racing federation, later stated that the fine was actually €5,000. Whatever the amount, it’s a huge amount for a young driver to have to pay.

It all could have been handled differently – as was seen in the FIA World Touring Car Championship round in Portugal two weeks ago.

Dutchman Tom Coronel (yes, that would be the guy who filmed a live video on his mobile phone during the warm-down lap at the Nurburgring last year, was fined €5000 for it on safety grounds and then successfully crowd-funded his penalty money before donating it to charity instead), crashed into an ambulance during a practice session, threading a needle between two unprotected road signs that should have been protected by a crash barrier.

Sensing an easy PR win, Coronel and the WTCC organisers released footage of the incident from multiple angles through both of their social media channels. The footage went viral, boosted the profile of both driver and series and possibly even led to an increased interest in the race itself.

We’re not here to say one tactic is right and the other wrong, but there are clearly two issues in play regarding the Floersch incident.

Firstly, the embarrassment factor. At a time when the details of the incident were sketchy, Floersch’s social media actions could be taken as seriously barbed against the race organisers which is typically not something they stand for.

Secondly, there are rights issues in play, and if a competitor has signed up to contest a series in which video content is deemed to be the property of the race organisers, or a main broadcast partner, then these are rules that must be obeyed just as rigidly as not jumping the start of a race.

The fine, it seems, could have been avoided had the team or driver had media support that was aware of the guidelines regarding video. It is one of the many roles of such a support structure to know these rules inside out, or to ask explicitly if they don’t.

The sheer magnitude of the penalty shows how seriously the DMSB takes its Ts and Cs regarding footage, and how little it likes to be left red-faced. And they’re certainly not the only organisation with this attitude.

So ask yourself; is it really worth it? If you don’t know, perhaps you’d benefit from someone who does.

At Top Step Communications, we’ve dealt with such red tape, pushed the boundaries, but always stayed on the right side of officialdom. We can help you to do the same while promoting yourself.

Get in touch with us today to find out more by emailing info@topstepcommunications.co.uk

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