Motorsport needs to grow it’s fanbase, and it can use Engineering data to do so…
On every forum, post and article, there will always be that comment that highlights how ‘Formula 1 is becoming more boring.’ With Formula 1’s global TV audience declining from 527 million in 2010 to around 400 million today, it seems the majority tend to agree. However, this decline is not a true reflection of the Sport becoming less interesting, it is in fact mostly to do with the move to pay TV. For example, UK viewing figures have dropped by a third since Formula 1 left the BBC in 2015, with the combined Channel 4 and Sky Sports race day figures only reaching 2.52 million, (compared to 3.74 million watching the BBC coverage).
People still enjoy the thrill of watching racecars hurtling round race tracks at 180mph, they just don’t want to pay to watch it, which is one of the major issues with our Sport today. This is supported by the recent Motorsport Network Global Fan survey, which not only received a huge response of 215,872 participants, making it the largest Formula 1 fan survey to date, but the percentage of fans describing Formula 1 as ‘exciting’ nearly tripled from 2015. The survey found that in general, fans are pleased with the new direction of the Sport as demonstrated by a 44% increase in fan belief that Formula 1 is the ‘pinnacle of Motorsport’ and a 43% improvement that the Sport fields ‘the best drivers’. Both of which are high on the agenda of Formula 1’s new owners.
Now, we can debate for days on whether Formula 1 is a growing or declining Sport and to some extent, the data can be fudged to either support or disprove whatever your opinion may be. However, one aspect that can’t be argued with, is that the average age of the Formula 1 fan is becoming younger and more diverse. This means Formula 1, and Motorsport as a whole, needs to adapt its media exposure to meet the changing demands of today’s dynamic generation, who are capable of consuming multiple streams of information like no other. Their hunger for knowledge is driving other Sports industries to utilise information for entertainment and if Motorsport wants to grow its fanbase, it has to do exactly that.
But how can Motorsport use information to add entertainment value to racing? This question presents two obstacles. First, the data needs to be collected, and Motorsport is way ahead in this respect. The nature of engineering relies on accurate and reliable information, which is why Terabytes of data is not only collected, but distributed across the globe during each Formula 1 race. The second obstacle, is creativity and this is where Motorsport needs some help. Recent years have seen a definite improvement, with tyre graphics illustrating pit stop strategy and infra-red cameras highlighting tyre temperatures. However, there must be more innovative ways to use all this data. Take the fantastic example of Hawk-Eye in Tennis, which has used data to transform the monotony of line calls into an exciting aspect of the game that is now worthy of an audience drumroll. Wouldn’t it be great if spectators started drumrolling in the grandstands to see if Max Verstappen’s wheels were in or out?
There are hundreds of other ways in which data can be exploited to educate the fans. Virtual streamlines explaining the effect of the slip stream during an overtake, or how damaging the so called ‘dirty air’ of the car in front can be. Thermal imaging can be utilised more effectively, showing the temperatures of the brakes, engine and driver, rather than just the tyres. What about the drivers? Each time a button is pressed on the steering wheel, a signal is sent to the garage, couldn’t that signal be used to show that a driver’s ‘office’ is closer to a jet fighter cockpit than a car? The answer to all these questions is yes, of course it can, but confidentiality is currently not allowing this.
Naturally in the white heat of competition, teams will do anything and everything in their power to protect their winning formula. However, this has resulted in a sport with technology that no one understands, and driver’s that no one can relate to. This is another opportunity for data to help us win back our fans. The subtle differences in each driver’s driving style could be displayed and explained through live data, educating the fans that one driver is destroying his rear tyres more than the others. Live percentage tyre lives could be shown, similar to the battery energy visuals in Formula E, to add another layer of excitement and entertainment.
The beauty of such information is that it suddenly opens Motorsport’s doors to a much wider audience. Anyone can see if a wheel is inside or outside of a line; anyone can understand that if a tyre is at 0% of its life, a pit stop is imminent and anyone can realise that red indicates hot, and blue is cold. There is a lot of talk surrounding the ideas of growing our fanbase and the ironic thing is, we are already collecting all the data and developing all the tools we need to do exactly that.
Of course, this is not new news, at Racecar Engineering we spend each day explaining the science of racecars and racing. However, there is only so much we can do when the garage shutters come down immediately after a session. The key message that teams need to understand: raising income at the top level, actually comes down to the engineers who can utilise their data to compete with other Entertainment sports and increase our audience. This also promises to enhance Motorsport’s value to the Automotive OEMs who increasingly fund our sport, by innovating and accepting the adoption of disruptive technologies to help build a lucrative future market among the global car-buying public.
The first step to achieving this is to combine the engineering minds who understand the data, together with the creative minds who understand the media. This is exactly what the MIA Entertainment and Energy Efficient Motorsport Conference at the NEC Birmingham on the 10th of January, 2018 aims to achieve.
Head Engineers such as Pat Symonds, Ulrich Baretzky (Head of Engine Development at Audi Sport) and Rodi Basso (Motorsport Director at McLaren) will sit alongside film industry and TV experts including Andrew Gower (Head of Interactive Media Research Group at BT) and Jeff Clifford (Managing Director of Evastute). Not only will the future of energy efficiency in Motorsport be discussed, but these inspiring panellists will brainstorm how engineering data can be creatively utilised to make our Sport more entertaining for our fans, and increase our global audience.
Keep up to date with these discussions live by following us on twitter @RacecarEngineer
To find out more about the conference and buy tickets click here