The world of motorsport has experienced a truly seismic shift over the last five years, which has demonstrated the industry’s long-sighted, even evolutionary attitude, helping to highlight the sport’s bright future.
The changes haven’t solely been linked to, or trailblazed by, Formula 1 – the sport is evolving right across the board, in both two- and four-wheel formats. Female motor racing drivers are now more prominent than ever, while a new generation of motorsport fan and its very own lucrative cyber-racetrack have been born through the inception and meteoric rise of esports, not to mention the rise of drone racing.
The W Series – a world first, ground-breaking motor racing series for women – launched in October 2018 crowned its inaugural champion, Briton Jamie Chadwick at Brands Hatch last weekend. On the back of Chadwick’s championship win came not only a cheque for £415,000, but substantial media exposure, which will ultimately prove pivotal in helping the 21-year-old realise her Formula 1 dream of racing at the pinnacle of the sport. Elsewhere in women’s motorsport, another first was marked in September 2018 when Spanish motorcycle racer, Ana Carrasco became the first ever female rider to win a motorcycling world championship, an extraordinary feat, which the then 21-year-old achieved as one of only two women in the 36-rider World Supersport 300 Championship.
Four-wheeled motorsport continues to develop apace, with the visionary entrepreneur, CEO and founder of Formula E, Alejandro Agag, again at the forefront. Set to begin in January 2021, the Spaniard’s latest bold venture, Extreme E, will see 12 fully electric SUVs race across the Arctic, Himalayas, Amazon, Sahara, and on Indian Ocean islands. With the concept unveiled on the River Thames in January 2019 on board the series’ floating paddock, a former Royal Mail Ship called St. Helena, and the vehicle revealed in July 2019 at the world-renowned Goodwood Festival of Speed in West Sussex, UK, the concept is set to follow in the footsteps of its successful older brother, Formula E, which Agag launched just five years ago.
Largely driven by MotoGP’s commercial rights holder, Dorna Sports, motorcycling is also evolving, with its all-electric MotoE series launching to critical acclaim at Sachsenring, Germany in July 2019, but only after a devastating setback, which saw its entire fleet of bikes either damaged or destroyed by fire at the Circuito de Jerez in Spain. Some would argue the series has been a long time coming when considering the Isle of Man TT held the inaugural race of its ‘TT Zero’ class in 2010. However, Dorna certainly can’t be accused of dragging its feet to bring the sport into the digital age, especially when its MotoGP™ eSports Championship started six weeks ahead of Formula 1’s respective series.
If asked where the future of motorsport lies, many would point towards Formula E, Extreme E and MotoE. However, an increasing number would look far beyond Agag’s and Dorna’s battery-powered circuses and single out the esports and drone racing markets. Esports alone is capturing the imagination of the 18-34 demographic, a notoriously difficult segment to market to, which, according to Activate accounts for 62% of the esports audience in the US.
In an open Q&A on discussion forum Reddit, Formula 1’s global research director Matt Roberts commented that “the average age of a global Formula 1 viewer is 40” with the under-25 age group accounting for just 14% of total viewers. In recognition of this, and advocated by Liberty Media’s CEO, Chase Carey, the Formula 1® Esports Series got underway in September 2017 in a drive to re-engage the brand with a younger audience. Liberty Media’s esports marketing initiative appears to be working, with the series drawing in a combined audience of 5.5 million in 2018, of which 70% were under the age of 34, while the enterprising move has attracted some big-name partners, including apparel giant, New Balance.
Drone racing was founded in Australia in late 2014 and has since grown exponentially, today boasting its own association, the Drone Racing League (DRL), which reached an unprecedented 57 million viewers in its first three seasons. The concept, which was born behind a Home Depot on Long Island, USA in 2015, will this year debut on NBC, Twitter and Chinese online video streaming platform, Youku, the latter of which will expose the DRL to another potential 374 million viewers. 2018’s DRL winner walked away with a cool $100,000, which pales in comparison to prize monies at established motorsport championships; but the sport is very much in its infancy, and with more nations, broadcasters and commercial partners set to join, it’s tipped to be the next big thing.
Spectators won’t attend Extreme E’s races, as without any infrastructure it simply won’t be possible; rather the series will be marketed at a new type of fan, reached digitally, including via a 10-part docu-series. And far from threatening the traditional motorsport properties, the introduction of these new futuristic, challenger motorsports are in fact bringing new blood into the industry, which many would argue is vital.
Up until recently, traditional motorsport, including Formula 1 and MotoGP, simply wasn’t engaging with the digitally savvy millennial audience in the same way that the new challenger motorsports are. However, today it appears to be more conscious than ever of its reputation and is acutely aware that in order to futureproof itself, as much as possible, it must move with the times. Whether that’s through implementing bold new esports ventures, creating an all-electric two-wheeled Grand Prix championship, or even by deciding to replace ‘grid girls’ with ‘grid kids’, steps are being taken in the right direction in traditional motorsport’s drive to ultimately inspire and excite the next generation of motor racing fans and budding drivers.