I love a lot of things about Formula 1, but if there’s one thing I adore, it’s the off-track drama (I did, after all, write a book about the greatest sponsor drama of the modern era). The racing is great — but so is catching up on the latest Instagram spat or poorly-worded interview quote. And for all of you out there who also like to indulge in the Real Housewives-esque theater, I’d like to introduce you all to my favorite newsletter, Engine Failure by Lily Herman.
Now, I’ve been following Engine Failure for a hot second, but I’ve become a religious reader these past few weeks, catching up on past editions that I’d just been too busy to click through before — and I’m obsessed. Described as “a weekly Formula 1 culture newsletter by writer Lily Herman that dives into what the fuck is really going on in F1" that will answer the hard-hitting questions like, “What do class warfare besties Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll talk about in the paddock?” Engine Failure is a delightfully nuanced look at the culture that surrounds F1 — and especially how women perceive and appreciate the sport.
There’s currently a lot of talk about what makes a “real” F1 fan, especially in the wake of a viewership spike due to Netflix docuseries Drive to Survive. Some longtime fans have critiqued the way new viewers — particularly women — watch and talk about motorsport. I’ve heard it time and again myself: according to a lot of these folks, the only thing that matters is what happens on the track, and we shouldn’t acknowledge anything else.
But that just isn’t the era we live in. DTS invited viewers to engage in a more dramatic, story-focused idea of Formula 1, and drivers have grown more open to sharing behind-the-scenes moments of their lives on social media. Hell, even traditional motorsport media covers the dramatic back-and-forths between team principals! The way women engage with culture and sports, though, has often been subject to dismissal.
What I love about Engine Failure is that it embraces the conversations these — often female — fans have about Formula 1 and discusses them through a critical, nuanced light that ultimately treats the subject of discussion with respect. It’s incredibly refreshing to see.
For example, a recent edition of Engine Failure dedicated several thousand words to the way WAGs — wives and girlfriends — of F1 drivers have used their status to become influencers promoting sponsored content. It sought to understand why some influencer activity from some WAGs feels natural while others are uncomfortable, something that largely has to do with the way the WAG in question utilizes her relationship. The discussion was prompted by Charlotte Sine, Charles Leclerc’s girlfriend, using her paddock access during Monza to promote a skincare line in a way that felt, frankly, hamfisted.
Herman has also utilized Engine Failure to talk about driver outfits (which have grown more interesting over the years thanks in large part to Lewis Hamilton’s knowledge of the fashion world). She’s used the newsletter to discuss the complexity of Formula 2 driver Juri Vips using a racial slur during a Twitch livestream, the response to which really represented the way motorsport as a whole deals with equality. And yes, there are even discussions of Pierre Gasly turning his Instagram page into a massive thirst trap, which Herman posits is an intentional framing to attract the female gaze. Hell, I’ll let Herman describe it herself:
Personally, I think Pierre is a genius for this female gaze pivot over the summer, however intentional or unintentional it might’ve been. Between this and his (now-overplayed) love of the “Liked by Pierre Gasly” meme, the Frenchman is showing that he’s embracing the new fandom in all of its digital-first and female-driven glory. While some annoying dudes on the internet are circle-jerking over each other’s bad, boring, and unoriginal takes about whether or not people (specifically women) should find the drivers hot, Pierre is providing those women (and many others) with the content they want. And you know what? This man will have a better and more fascinating fanbase for it in the long run; he’s certainly become infinitely more interesting to me over the past five months or so than he ever was. Last week’s missionary talk and DGAF attitude only added to the intrigue.
Engine Failure is fun and engaging in a way that a lot of motorsport media isn’t. It excels by the very fact that it isn’t a “professional” publication but instead run by a fan for other fans. Best of all, it’s totally free, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be reading right now.