In 2019, Formula 1 launched its documentary series Drive to Survive. The show offered a behind the scenes look at a complex sport that can be alienating for outsiders. Despite covering a season that had long since wrapped up, the show proved a hit and has since spawned two additional seasons on Netflix.
In the years since the debut of Drive to Survive, F1’s global audiences have grown and the sport has seemingly attracted a new, younger audience that is eager to uncover all the drama F1 has to offer.
In the US, F1 viewership grew 7% in the year following the debut of the Netflix show. It also increased a further 1% during the 2020 season, which didn’t feature its usual US Grand Prix in Austin. On top of this, almost every event on the 2020 calendar took place at unsociable hours for stateside viewers.
But Netflix isn’t the only ingredient to F1's recent success. Budding race fans can also scratch their motorsport itch across a multitude of platforms.
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In recent years, F1 itself has created a variety of podcasts offering an inside look at the sport. These include Beyond The Grid, which interviews prominent figures from the sport, and Weekend Warmup, which previews what to expect from upcoming grand prix.
In addition, teams themselves now churn out behind the scenes YouTube shows such as McLaren Unboxed, which offers fans an up close look at the team and its drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. Hundreds of thousands of fans tune in to watch these shows after each race, and other teams like Red Bull Racing and Williams all have their own iterations of the formula.
Clearly, this open door policy that F1 now has is aiding its accessibility for fledgling fans, and driving viewership of races. Why, then, isn’t every motorsport series doing this?
This is a question posed by NASCAR’s Denny Hamlin as well, who recently said the sport needed to follow F1’s approach to showcasing everything it has to offer. And this is something I wholeheartedly agree with.
As a recent resident of the US, I came over excited to get a taste of everything racing in the states has to offer – especially NASCAR, which from the outside looks like a BBQ near a racetrack where some cars happen to be doing laps. Sounds like a great way to spend a weekend.
But while the sport is easy to find on TV, it’s tricky to become immersed in it and move beyond the idea that it’s just fast cars going round an oval. How do I figure out what team to support, how do I pick a favorite driver?
Recent seasons have brought with them a drop in TV viewers for NASCAR’s races in the US, and measures to stem the spread of Covid-19 over the past 18-months have hit race attendance.
Clearly, the series needs a way to bring those that can’t make it to the track inside the action.
This is what F1 has managed with assets like Drive to Survive and its F1 TV subscription service. An abundance of race weekend action, post-race analysis and YouTube highlights make it easy for people to stay abreast of a hotly-contested season.
Obviously, you can’t cut and paste techniques from F1 to NASCAR as the two series are seemingly polar opposites on the motorsport spectrum. But both now fall in a similar position of awaiting new machinery that promises to shake up the racing action.
The 2022 F1 car promises closer racing, which drivers have been able to talk about openly. In contrast, NASCAR’s next-gen racer seems shrouded in mystery, and some drivers haven’t been happy with a lack of transparency around its introduction.
Instead of this secrecy, NASCAR should throw open the paddock doors to inquisitive new fans. Let them follow the buildup to the new season, offer them an insight into the creation of the new car, and showcase why the series will be the event to follow in the new year.
At the moment, attempting to get into NASCAR seems similar to how it felt being introduced to F1 by a dedicated fanbase that looked down on anyone without an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport.
That attitude won’t win any sport new followers. And with hundreds of new ways to absorb media, there’s no excuses why NASCAR can’t meet the demands of interested motorsport fans looking for another series to follow.
After all, NASCAR’s racing action, off-track drama and the sound of those rumbling V8s should be enough to attract anyone with an interest in cars.