How Formula E's fan-first approach will leave F1 for dust
Say what you will about Formula E, but its focus on fans - and fan interaction - is second to none. Since its first race in 2014, FE has put as much emphasis on its fans as it has on its racing. Not only has this helped the series make a name for itself, but it's setting itself up for a brighter future than Formula 1 is in the process.
As the antithesis to Formula 1, FE needed to get people interested and involved from the outset. In stepped Fanboost.
Often dismissed as nothing more than a gimmick, Fanboost actually offers fans the chance to do something many of other competitions wish they could - get involved in the sport in a way that potentially makes a tangible difference to the result.
Sports fans around the world are renowned for doing whatever they can to help their favourite team. They buy jerseys, take part in pre-event rituals, some even wear the same pair of lucky pants if they think it'll help their team win. Most of these things, of course, do nothing.
Fanboost, however, offers fans who want to help their team to win a chance to make it so, allowing them to vote for their favourite drivers and give them an actual edge in the race. The drivers still need to use their skills to know when to use the boost, and to overtake or defend, but it's a slight edge that can make all the difference.
Formula 1, on the other hand, encourages you to vote with your wallet. You want to help your team? Buy something – buy from their sponsors, buy from their fan shop, buy from them at a race. Just buy something.
For perspective, Lewis Hamilton's reported £40million a year wage means that he's earning just over £76 a minute. You'd have to buy a hat and a t-shirt every minute of the year just to pay that - and that's before you've even put a car around him.
Fanboost gives drivers roughly a 20% power increase for a few seconds of the race and, while exact budgets are closely-guarded secrets, you'd have to buy a lot of hats and t-shirts to give a Formula 1 team a similar power surge.
Fanboost isn't the only way drivers can make up time though; Attack Mode, the new addition for the 2019 season, is a Mario Kart-type "power-up" that gives drivers another temporary speed boost and is activated by running off the racing line at a set location.
Lambasted by non-fans, the concept is not too dissimilar to Rallycross' Joker Lap or, arguably, Formula 1's DRS.
Everyone has access, and must use it, two times in a race. This creates a level playing field and, like Fanboost, adds an element of strategy. It also encourages drivers to keep pushing, rather than sitting back and waiting out the end of the race - something some F1 races have been blighted by.
Artificial boosts aren't the only way FE has tried to cater to a different type of fan.
The races themselves are another way FE has tried to help fans stay interested. At forty-five minutes plus one lap, they're last just half the time of a Formula 1 race, give or take.
There's not an F1 fan alive that hasn't been bored by at least one of the long races in recent years, and reduced distances are even something Formula 1 has considered in the past.
Shorter races not only help to keep people with narrower attention spans interested, but compress the action into a smaller time frame, meaning more racing per minute can be packed in and making it more exciting for everyone.
With 13-race calendar filling only a small portion of the year, FE has expanded its focus to what fans consume outside of on-track events too. Just look at social media.
Being just five years old, Formula E doesn't have the wealth of archive content that Formula 1 has (and relies on for social content). In place of videos of races, overtakes and crashes from years past, you'll find cartoons, explanation videos and teasers of upcoming events on FE's Instagram account.
A post shared by ABB Formula E (@fiaformulae) on Feb 14, 2019 at 3:20am PST
FE is having to find what fans want and, in the long run, will be learning more about how to engage with its fans than it would be by posting videos of former glories.
Another attempt at finding the fans is in their YouTube show 'Voltage'. Calling itself "the new way to watch", it uses a mixture of regular presenters and guest YouTubers to create a show that's tailored specifically to the next generation of fans.
Jarring to all but the younger audience it may be, but when that's the audience you're specifically going for, you can afford to forget the rest.
All this comes at a time when Formula 1 is in a state of flux.
Liberty Media bought the business from Bernie Ecclestone in 2017 and have done a lot to change it, but much of Bernie's legacy is still evident. He notoriously thought there was "no point" in trying to get younger fans interested in the sport because "most of these kids don't have any money anyway".
On the other hand, Formula E has worked the fans – and future fans – into every aspect of its business and made a racing series that, at present, is far more accessible for fans of any age than Formula 1 is. With so much to entice fans in and so much more to keep them than its petrol-powered counterpart, Formula E is setting itself up to be the single-seater series of the future.
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