Thursday , 24 September 2020

Is motorsport doing enough to tackle its most pressing issues?

Motorsport evolves and adapts. It, like this giant floating rock in which we all live and breathe on, is a living thing. It’s something that grows and changes with time and has done over more than 120 years.

Like us all, it encounters troubling times and difficult questions it must ask itself. It has had to come to terms with how it responds to events with catastrophic questions, and an endless safety debate. Recently, F1StatBlog went to Autosport Show International, where the ‘motorsport bible’ celebrated 70 years of publication.

It too, has had to evolve over time – for better or worse.

70 years of racing was on display in physical and photographic form, and it produced a stark reminder of how the racing world has adapted within that time – be it for better or worse. But there was a pressing question – what this sport will look like in 70 years’ time – by 2090.

The overall health of the sport in 2020 is an interesting topic, and not one with any obvious good or bad answer. To deny that it has pressing issues that it needs to address soon would be very dangerous. Like it or not, many of the issues facing the globe today are also issues that motorsport must tackle if it is to survive.

Some issues – such as safety – has been an ongoing issue for over half a century now. It’s not a new issue and, while they remain important, are not included here.

The inclusivity problem

This sport is largely controlled by straight, white men. Now this may not come across as an issue for some, but one thing remains totally clear – this alpha-male dominated sport largely rejects those who do not fit ‘the mould’.

There have been initiatives set up in recent years attempting to shatter these barriers – the likes of Dare to be Different and Racing Pride have been totally revolutionary in making a positive impact on our sport. In fact, D2BD has led onto the FIA getting involved with its Women in Motorsport Commission.

The current world champion Lewis Hamilton has also outlined how he would like to play a positive impact within the sport by helping those who may come from a different background to making their way into Formula 1. Hamilton, of course, is the F1 driver with black heritage.

Hamilton is the exception to the rule. There is a lack of icons and inspiration for young people at the highest level. And while the introduction of the likes of Racing Pride has genuinely been well-received within the motorsport and wider global sporting world, there are a lot of views within all levels of the sport that are scarily dated and quite frankly disgusting.

This sport is one of a very small number where your gender, sexual orientation, colour, and to a degree disability does not matter. It is something we should all embrace and encourage. That applies in any role within the sport – not just the driving aspect. But on the topic of disability – Billy Monger totally changing what the FIA believed was possible for a disabled driver showcases that these things can and will change.

For a sport that is all about evolution, pioneering and innovation, that is incredibly alarming. Those determined to break down these barriers – some of whom F1StatBlog had the chance to chat to during the weekend – deserve heaps of credit for taking on such a monumental task. It requires a lot of people with dated views to change their views, but these barriers can be broken. With enough strength and support, they will be broken.

The climate question

The planet is burning. Oil supplies are running dry. Revolution is inevitable. To those who believe, naively, that gas guzzling V10 or V12 engines are the future, there will be a lot of disappointment. The climate crisis does affect motorsport, and motorsport should react to it. It affects us all, at the end of the day.

While Formula E is very-much established now and can boast an enviable quantity and quality of manufacturers in its repertoire, it remains to be seen just how high it can go – especially after a few shaky moments early into its life. The whole debate over whether F1 or FE is better is utter nonsense. Right now, the two are capable of coexisting, although it is clear that one must adapt drastically to survive, while the other will continue to grow and thrive. F1, at least, has outlined a strategy to reduce its carbon footprint.

But that’s not where greener technologies end in motorsport. Many series are going hybrid – and soon. Even the likes of IndyCar and BTCC – two series in which the idea of either going down the electrification route just a few years ago would be infeasible – are adopting these greener techs that are growing rapidly.

They are even being introduced at grassroots level. Electric karting is in no way new, but the series launched at ASI by former Ferrari race engineer Rob Smedley will aim to take it to the masses in a competitive sense.

There’s more series on the horizon too, not least the Extreme E concept. Heavily linked to FE, it is very much an unknown just what this concept is capable of. As it’s Alejandro Agag-led, it would be safe to assume that there is a lot of potential within it.

But there are other avenues too. We are on the verge of introducing hydrogen as a viable fuel source, and once that becomes viable than electricity has a major rival in terms of green sources.

The cost issue

This is hardly a fresh issue, but one that has been spiralling well out of control in recent years, and there is a feeling that there is a glass ceiling that high-level motorsport is inevitably going to hit soon, especially with the aforementioned new technologies having to be introduced to remain relevant.

Motorsport is not a cheap hobby, and it never has been. But to make it to a high level now almost requires being picked up by an established outfit from a young age to make it, or a totally extortionate amount of money to pay your way up the ladder and then fund a seat within the top echelon.

Pay drivers have and always will be a factor in motorsport, but the sheer scale of money required is a major issue. To be from a working-class background and make it to F1 is incredibly uncommon in today’s world.

That is not the only area where costs are an issue, however. Manufacturers are willing to hurl money at what are effectively nothing more than vanity projects in what become very costly spending wars. Once that money dries up, they often pull out, sending the likes of the LMP1 category in the World Endurance Championship into extinction. F1 teams are spending around US $300M a season to operate two cars, while the likes of IndyCar still seeks it’s a third OEM to join its ranks.

One fairly cost-effective avenue into motorsport – which has proven its value in recent years – is Esports. Yes, it’s not real racing as such, but it’s real enough to take drivers – and even teams such as Veloce – into racing cars.

Esports is a growing community and market, and sim racing is very much making strides in that. The Esports presence at ASI was proof of that – and something that even five years ago would have seemed far-fetched. It was, over the weekend, arguably the most impressive area of the show itself. The intrigue shown by onlookers as the Le Mans Esports Invitational race got underway was fascinating to see. It drew in a fantastic audience, and not just those whom would normally be classed as Esports spectators.

About Craig Woollard

Motorsport historian and journalist Craig Woollard has had an unusual path to a career in motorsport. After graduating from the University of Essex with a degree in mathematics in 2013, he changed his career path immediately after discovering a talent for writing. After occasional freelance work in 2015 and 2016, he joined the Autosport Academy for 2017. In the same year, he became an archive digitiser at Motorsport Images - which is his full-time job to this date.

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