The evolution of traditional motorsport

20 Aug 2019

By: Sport Industry Group

Tim Welland, Associate Director, rEvolution, gives his views on the evolution of motorsport, and how some innovative new ideas are transforming the image of the sport.

The world of motorsport has experienced a seismic shift over the last five years, which has demonstrated the industry’s evolutionary attitude and has helped to highlight the sport’s bright future.

The changes haven’t solely been linked to, or trailblazed by, Formula One. 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 and launched in October 2018 – crowned its inaugural champion, Jamie Chadwick, ealier this month. Chadwick received a cheque for £415,000 and, perhaps more importantly, substantial media exposure which will be pivotal if the 21-year-old is to make more history and race at the pinnacle of the sport. 

Chadwick is not the only female motorsports personality making waves, however. Spanish motorcycle racer Ana Carrasco became the first ever female rider to win a motorcycling world championship, which she achieved as one of only two women in the 36-rider World Supersport 300 Championship.

Four-wheeled motorsport continues to develop apace, with CEO and founder of Formula E, Alejandro Agag, 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. 

Meanwhile, motorcycling is also evolving, largely driven by MotoGP’s commercial rights holder, Dorna Sports, with its all-electric MotoE series launching to critical acclaim at Sachsenring in July 2019. 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 back in 2010, but 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 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 Reddit, Formula One’s global research director Matt Roberts commented that “the average age of a global Formula One viewer is 40” with the under-25 age group accounting for just 14% of total viewers. In recognition of this, 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, meanwhile, was founded in 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 races 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.

Similarly, 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 younger audiences in the same way that the new challenger motorsports are. Today, thought, it appears to be more conscious than ever of its reputation and is acutely aware that in order to future proof 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 young drivers.