Analysis: Is the digital age a threat or opportunity for motorsport?

The FIA's 2016 Sport Conference confronted some threats and discussed various opportunities for motorsport going forwards. Charles Bradley took part.

Analysis: Is the digital age a threat or opportunity for motorsport?
Overview of the first day of FIA Sport Conference
Lucas di Grassi at the FIA Sport Conference
Overview of the FIA Sport Conference
RoboRace NVIDIA livery
Roborace
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing race drones
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing race drones
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing races a drone
simulator zone
Sébastien Buemi, Renault e.Dams and Jean-Eric Vergne, DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team play simulator
A young fan in the simulator
Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team play video games
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with Halo 5 video game characters
Emma B., Bjorn Wirdheim and Christian Klien in front of the Jaguar R5 to promote the new PlayStation 2 game Formula One 04
A fan tries the iRacing Simulator
Hyundai simulator
Young fans at a simulator
Fans enjoying the racing simulator at scrutineering
iRacing Simulator

Recently I got to share the stage at the FIA’s Sport Conference in Turin with ex-F1 racer Lucas di Grassi, where he was brave enough to point out a real and present danger to our sport in the future – the potential for the rise of autonomous cars on our roads.

As we earlier reported, the Audi WEC and Formula E star – a thinking man’s racer who expresses himself eloquently – believes that the less people drive, the more motorsport risks losing its mass appeal among the next generation.

You might wish to write off driverless cars as a gimmick, but we should consider them becoming far more prevalent in years to come.

Di Grassi makes a valuable point, and also shares my view of the upcoming RoboRace initiative. In my eyes the world’s first autonomous racing series – that is planned to support Formula E in future – cannot be classed as a 'pure motorsport' event due to the lack of a human involved.

Don’t get me wrong – it promises to be a fascinating technology showcase, and the mind can only boggle about what level it might achieve on a closed course, especially with no requirement for marshals. Stand a long way back and let them loose, I say, capture the action on remote cameras – it could be amazing.

As an aside, at the end of last year I also attended the demonstration event for remote-controlled airborne Drone Racing League. I could see a great appeal in this taking off (no pun intended) as a TV or streaming sport – especially with the advent of Twitch, etc.

Again, when I spoke with the media strategists behind it, they agreed that their human pilots were the true storylines that they planned to develop.

And the same must remain true of motorsport. Racing cars are cool and play a huge part but we need humans to be in the loop and, ultimately, play a high percentage of the deciding factor of who wins. 

Embracing the digital era

Let’s not be too gloomy about the future; on the contrary, the digital age promises massive benefits too.

Also on the stage to answer the question of ‘what does the future of motorsports look like?’ was Sean Charles, head of E-sports giants ESL. Gaming is massive for both young and old, and racing video games are an important first point of contact for many.

“We know right now that there’s an audience out there that idolises the pinnacles of motorsport,” said Charles. “Whether it’s playing electronically or consuming content on social media, they’re being introduced to the wonderful world of motorsport and hopefully that ignites a passion within them – then they can make that next step, go deeper down the rabbit hole.

“How do I get out on a kart track? How do I take part in the real world?

“And you want to throw that net as wide as possible. We want people to fall in love with motorsport, and whatever mechanics you use – the more the merrier.” 

I see video games playing an increasingly important role. If people are going to be driving less on roads in the real world, then simulations of racing cars are going to be paramount.

Then the step of taking it up a level – to a real-world, closed-course race circuit environment – will be key. Think Nissan’s PlayStation GT Academy; perhaps that needs to become the norm?

Kids can still go karting, but likely only if mum or dad pushes them in that direction – after all, these parents might not be driving their kids to school anymore. Hence the requirement for high visibility of the sport online.

Streaming is a key platform

Another speaker with us at the FIA Sport Conference was YouTube’s Head of UK Sport, Tomos Grace. With his wide view of many sports, he felt what truly makes ours stand out is its blend of man/woman and machine. He felt this USP was ripe for exploitation against the mainstream bat-and-ball sports as we form the next generation of fans.

“Typically, the audience for YouTube is under the age of 35,” he said. “So it’s a very young audience. You have to ask yourself ‘when did I become a fan of this sport?’ Was it when you were taken to the races when you were young, or watched it on TV? TV audiences are dwindling by 25 percent for viewers under the age of 35.

“Fandom is determined at a very early age – roughly at the ages between five and 15. Look at the figures, and you’ll see that age group is watching television less and less. Ask yourself, ‘Are they on the internet, watching YouTube?’ Of course they are.”

But are we getting this important part of the motorsport strategy right? It seems not…

“I would say that other sports are more advanced than motorsports in their engagement with YouTube,” he added. “Other sports are prepared to take more risks, and I think that’s crucial in understanding what works and doesn’t work on the internet.”

Conclusion

So while we should prepare for the autonomous age of road cars in the very long term, and think about how that will affect the scope of participants in motorsport, now is a great time to grasp some rather more immediate opportunities.

The digital age has given the majority a voice, and allows content to be shared between the populous to a greater level than ever before.

Should we be concerned that motorsport has already fallen behind on a platform like YouTube? Definitely. An obsession with TV rights isn’t going to help a generation that isn’t actually watching TV.

Some more risk-taking on that front, and a continued development in the digital space –­ both in social media and gaming – is something that has to be considered at a strategic level.

Going back to Di Grassi, he is very active with his social media accounts. He says that when he pitches to a potential sponsor, the second thing he's asked – after his achievements on track – is how wide his social media reach is.

Times, they are a changin'. We have to move with them.

Like all motorsports, if you stand still you get left behind.

shares
comments
Motorsport.com Announces Acquisition of World’s Largest Online Ferrari Community - FerrariChat.com
Previous article

Motorsport.com Announces Acquisition of World’s Largest Online Ferrari Community - FerrariChat.com

Next article

New non-profit group forms to seek management of Laguna Seca Recreation Area

New non-profit group forms to seek management of Laguna Seca Recreation Area
Load comments
The one-time Schumacher rival rebooting his career Down Under Prime

The one-time Schumacher rival rebooting his career Down Under

Joey Mawson made waves in the middle of the last decade, beating future Haas Formula 1 driver Mick Schumacher - among other highly-rated talents - to the 2016 German F4 title. A run in F1's feeder GP3 category only caused his career to stall, but now back in Australia Mawson's S5000 title success has set that to rights

General
May 20, 2021
Why Todt’s FIA successor could be cut from the same cloth Prime

Why Todt’s FIA successor could be cut from the same cloth

Jean Todt has signalled that he will not stand for re-election as FIA president. Mark Gallagher analyses the strong credentials of one potential successor…

General
May 2, 2021
The lesson football’s would-be wreckers could learn from racing Prime

The lesson football’s would-be wreckers could learn from racing

OPINION: The greed-driven push for a European Super League that threatened to tear football apart is collapsing at the seams. Motor racing's equivalent, the football-themed Superleague Formula series of 2008-11, was everything that the proposed ESL never could be.

General
Apr 21, 2021
The real-life racing rogues stranger than fiction Prime

The real-life racing rogues stranger than fiction

The forthcoming Netflix film linking the world of underworld crime and motorsport plays on a theme that isn't exactly new. Over the years, several shady figures have attempted to make it in racing before their dubious dealings caught up with them.

General
Jan 31, 2021
The cherished curios kept by motorsport's professionals at home Prime

The cherished curios kept by motorsport's professionals at home

Keeping trophies and momentos of key triumphs is par for the course for motorsport professionals, but what are the most cherished souvenirs picked up by the drivers and engineers who have seen and done it all?

General
Dec 26, 2020
Why motorsport should consider a mid-week future Prime

Why motorsport should consider a mid-week future

International motorsport has been the preserve of weekends, but the pandemic forced Formula E to get creative with its Berlin season finale as four races were held mid-week. Should FE and other series break with tradition and repeat the experiment?

General
Oct 5, 2020
How pragmatic principles made Ron Tauranac a design legend Prime

How pragmatic principles made Ron Tauranac a design legend

Jack Brabham's 1966 world championship campaign in his eponymous car was also a defining moment in the career of designer Ron Tauranac, who would apply the same ethos to his ultra-successful production racing car business, Ralt.

General
Jul 23, 2020
The ingrained failure motorsport must fix to avoid 'turf wars' Prime

The ingrained failure motorsport must fix to avoid 'turf wars'

OPINION: The FIA has warned that the major motorsport championships must not get engaged in 'turf wars' when it comes to the urgent need to re-organising the 2020 calendars, but there are tedious past problems that must be addressed to satisfy all.

General
May 3, 2020