How can modern motorsport adapt itself to become more attractive to a younger internet generation, one with a different idea of what freedom represents and how it relates to their everyday movements across the planet?
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Is a passion for racing a matter of culture? After many years on the circuits, I think that it is. To better understand why, we should first think about what exactly it is that we mean by “culture”.
The word comes from Latin and means “to cultivate”. To cultivate means to sow, to grow
plants and collect their fruits. Culture is precisely that and, if we go to see a motor race as children and enjoy it, that will then be the seed that will grow to become a passion. The culture of the car
and motorsport has seen the former in the role of central protagonist for over 100 years, symbolizing the values of power, freedom and status. These values have remained more or less
unchanged over the years: roads, even before racing tracks, allowed us to feel intoxicated by
a power that, especially for men, became an extension of their sexual dreams. The freedom to go anywhere, any time, without the limitations of time and discomfort often associated with public transport, often too slow, uncomfortable or expensive. The notion of car as status symbol came
from its flaunting as proof of one’s success in the economic and social hierarchy.
Even if the world has changed, these values still remain part of the experience of owning a car.
With one difference, however: the experience changes radically from country to country. So, for
example, the Americans quickly became used to speed limits, but this didn’t stop them from loving
fast sports cars. They have learnt to appreciate their character, almost as though they were expert tamers of wild horses from the Wild West. On the other side of the world, in China and now also in India, the desire to own a car is comparable to what Europeans experienced in the aftermath of World War II, when the pleasure of having your own vehicle became a symbol of personal success. We could look at a thousand other cases, finding ever-different responses, but always justified ones. All responses that confirm how the fundamental values of the car have not changed. What has changed, however, is the socio-cultural context in which we find ourselves: the car is no longer a choice of absolute freedom. There are so many ways of moving quickly and easily. Today, we often find ourselves deciding whether to use a car or not, something that was never really possible in the past. Then there are the profound changes in our living habits: we are all connected by virtual networks and can organise face-time/Skype conferences instead of travelling or, if we are wise, we think about the world we live in respectfully, and decide to move around it more rationally. This state of things is inevitably reflected in the cultural formation of young people. Leaving aside Formula One and a few other major international races, motorsport has seen a drop in spectator numbers and appears incapable of winning them back. Instead of being surprised by this, we should realise that, if the world is changing, then the ways of racing can’t remain the same. In racing, our dream of an unobtainable car was linked with the daring deeds of heroic figures from the past. Now, however, the car is within everybody’s reach and such dreams are limited to a few rare, unobtainable models, such as Ferraris. This by itself is not enough to feed the great fire of passion. Motorsport has to know how to transform itself
into something that, with its daring and potential aspiration, can attract people by arousing passion with the so-called minor races. The Americans were the first to understand this,
proven by the success of NASCAR and IndyCar. Formula One also does this quite well, even if
it does retain the perverse habit of keeping the drivers too far removed from the public,
imprisoned in the absurd, inaccessible, gilded cage known as the paddock. However, the so-called minor formulas do not seem able to interpret the desire to be the carefree spirit that the internet generation aspires to when it turns off its tablets or smartphones. The sporting spirit should become a kind of a “carefree sporting spirit”. That would be a way of keeping the level
of passion high in the digital world.