Like many other car enthusiasts, I have spent my fair share of time in front of the TV watching some form of motorsport. For me, it was Formula One. From 2009-2012, when F1 was on the BBC and fronted by the fantastic Jake Humphrey, David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan, I was addicted. I’d set my alarm for the Chinese Grand Prix and forgoe my weekend lie-in to watch Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber battle it out for the top step on the podium.

Towards the end of Humphrey’s tenure at the helm of my favourite sport, things started to change. In 2011, due to the high broadcasting costs and increasing budget constraints on the BBC, a deal was struck between the terrestrial broadcaster and Sky in which every race from the start of the 2012 season would be broadcast on Sky Sports. Only 10 races would be broadcast live on the BBC, with the rest shown as highlights. I was gutted. How could I continue to be my village’s most dedicated F1 fan (citation needed…) when I couldn’t watch every race?

By 2015, the BBC had pulled out of broadcasting the sport all together and, despite Channel 4 covering some of the races in the intervening years, from the start of the 2019 season, Sky Sports F1 won the exclusive right to show races live. With Channel 4 securing 65.7% of the total audience viewing percentage in the UK in 2018 compared to the 34.3% totalled by Sky Sports, you do wonder how many will make the leap to pay for their coverage.

F1 is not an isolated story. The communications giant BT has swallowed up many of our former free-to-air favourites, with the World Rally Championship, MotoGP and revolutionary Formula E championship now the property of BT Sport. How can young motor racing enthusiasts get their live, uninterrupted kicks when it’s up to their parents to pay?

The virtual reality

 

It could be argued that the future of 21st century motorsport exists in the virtual world with the booming Esports industry. According to the British Esports Association, one in ten Brits follow the virtual competitions, with NewZoo data suggesting that UK gamers total a staggering 36.6 million people. The latest iteration of the Forza Horizon racing platform recorded the best launch in the 13-year history of the brand, according to market research firm, The NPD Group. By December 2016, more than 14 million unique players were registered in the Forza community and had amassed in excess of $1billion in retail sales. With figures as surprising as those, you do have to wonder why you’d seek an adrenaline rush from watching motor racing when you can give it a go for yourself from the comfort of your living room sofa.

The pinnacle of excess

 

A collective decline in support for commercial motorsport is more than just an inconvenience for the brains behind it. Viewing figures correlate to sponsorship deals and consequently the money needed to race in the first place. Formula One has spent years adapting, developing and refining its rules to deliver the very best spectacle for its audience. Perhaps, F1 and other top-tier race series need to further distance themselves from the mediocrity of everyday life. Fit these icons of excess and raw skill with big, powerful, noisy engines, race wheel to wheel rather than on strategy spreadsheets, let the spectators marvel in an experience that can’t be found elsewhere. Make it worthwhile to spend the cash to watch it on pay-per-view TV.

E-motorsport the future?

 

Attitudes, however, are changing. Society as a whole is rapidly waking up to the need to protect our environment and provide future generations with a sustainable world in which to live.

Perhaps the solution is to follow the trend and work on developing the presence of electric vehicle motorsport. I for one would love to see Jaguar I-Pace vs Tesla Model S vs Porsche Taycan in an Electric Touring Car Championship.

While there is a passion and enthusiasm for cars, motorbikes and lorries, I’m certain there will still be an enduring market for broadcast motorsport. The racing figureheads have a responsibility, as guardians of a sport which commands respect from its illustrious and diverse heritage, to ensure people of all age and social backgrounds can be inspired by the simple pleasure of watching live on-track action. Time will tell what form this takes as our dependency on traditional, corner-of-the-living-room television diminishes. However, if we are to offer a new generation the chance to dream of heading the pack through Eau Rouge, we have to act before it’s too late.

Written by Euan Antona