BBMF 2022: Nascar’s European plans, Drive to Survive’s future, and improving diversity in motorsport

The BlackBook picks out some of the highlights from this year’s BlackBook Motorsport Forum, which took place at London’s Leonardo Royal Hotel on 17th August.

BBMF 2022: Nascar’s European plans, Drive to Survive’s future, and improving diversity in motorsport

The BlackBook Motorsport Forum returned to London on 17th August for the first in-person edition of the event since 2019.

Attendees from 20 countries gathered at the Leonardo Royal Hotel to hear from more than 15 speakers from across the motorsport industry, including representatives from Formula One, Nascar, DHL, Animoca Brands, Shell and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

There was also ample opportunity for guests to reconnect during more than four hours of roundtable discussions and networking sessions, bringing together race promoters, teams, circuits, brands, OEMs and key service providers to discuss a new era of motorsport.

With the eighth installment of the event now in the books, the BlackBook looks back at some of the highlights from the seven sessions on stage.

F1’s growth is doing Nascar a favour

Formula One’s resurgence is benefiting motorsport as a whole, according to Michael Lock, chief executive of AMA Pro Racing and international marketing and communications lead for Nascar’s Garage 56 programme.

In a session discussing how the US stock car racing series plans to increase its popularity in Europe, Lock acknowledged that the proliferation of media means consumers are now spoilt for choice.

However, he dismissed the idea that Formula One could draw attention away from other series.

“In fact, Formula One is doing a favour to motorsport of all shapes and descriptions,” said Lock. “The Nascar product and the Formula One product are completely different. So what you have to do to compete for your space in the world now is make yourself interesting. That’s the job of brands like Nascar to make themselves interesting to new audiences in new ways. 

“There is no uninteresting motorsport. It’s just a question of can you get it in front of the public, can you hook them with the stories so that they stay for the racing?”

As part of renewed efforts to grow its presence in Europe, Nascar will enter its Next Gen car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the iconic race’s centennial celebration in 2023.

Lock said the series does not want that to be its only European endeavour next year, revealing that it plans to head to the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England in the summer.

“We would like to be able to create ripples after [Le Mans] and explore what comes out of it,” he added.

Drive to Survive popularity will be sustained by evolving storylines

Much has been written about how Netflix’s Drive to Survive docuseries has attracted new fans to Formula One. While it may be an overstatement to describe the show as a silver bullet for the series, it has highlighted the value of an established sports property pulling back the curtain and giving fans a fresh perspective.

The question, though, is will the success of Drive to Survive endure? Season four was criticised by some for manufacturing driver rivalries, leading to suggestions the show was sacrificing credibility for entertainment. Two more seasons have already been confirmed and the expectation is more will follow if viewers keep tuning in.

“If we’re happy with it, if people seem to want to consume it and watch it, and Netflix are happy with it, then I think we’ll continue,” said Ian Holmes, Formula One’s director of media rights and content creation.

Speaking during the second session of the day, Holmes was optimistic Drive to Survive will keep its freshness through different story arcs as new drivers and personalities enter the series.

“The advantage we’ve got is that the storyline is always changing,” he continued. “The protagonists change, the drivers change.

“What we saw certainly in the last series, maybe the last two series, the team principals seem to take a more central role. But effectively we’re dealing with 30 people and this is where I think we have an advantage.

“We have 30 people and that’s it. So you can actually go in quite deep with them and cover the whole grid. I think our sport lends itself to that.”

Better scheduling will help reduce environmental impact of logistics

Formula E reached a significant milestone in 2020 when it achieved a net-zero carbon footprint, becoming the first sport to do so. Even so, the all-electric series knows there is still work ahead on the sustainability front.

On-track emissions are just one piece of the motorsport eco puzzle. Formula One, for example, was responsible for 256,551 tonnes of carbon emissions in 2018. A mere 0.7 per cent of that came from cars on circuits.

In fact, it is logistics and personnel travel between races that remain among the worst offenders in contributing to motorsport’s carbon emissions.

It is a situation Formula E is mindful of. During the afternoon’s sustainability-focused session, Jim Wright, the commercial director at Andretti Autosport, which races in the series, admitted the championship’s current schedule needs addressing.

“When you look at our calendar that we’ve just completed for season eight, we have a schedule of races that really doesn’t make sense in terms of reducing and minimising [the impact of] logistics,” he said.

“We were in Jakarta in June, we then did races in Europe and in the States and then we were out in Seoul for the final race in August. That doesn’t make sense.”

For Wright, Formula E and motorsport more broadly must rethink its approach in order to achieve meaningful progress.

“We’re very good at providing a new sustainable car, the Generation 3 Formula E car is going to be the most sustainable racing car ever produced,” he continued. “But that accounts for one per cent of what we’re generating in Formula E.

“The bigger picture is the logistics and the staff travel. And we’re not going to get that down to zero. But if we can make inroads into that 74 per cent, I think it is, then we’re really starting to make progress.

“So I think prioritisation at FIA [International Automobile Federation] level on scheduling and calendar with the promoters would be my suggestion.”

Motorsport must broaden its horizons to improve diversity

The final session of the day saw Hayaatun Sillem discuss some of the key insights from The Hamilton Commission.

Published in July 2021, the in-depth study on diversity in motorsport, established by seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton, made a number of recommendations to improve opportunities for Black and ethnic minority (BAME) communities in motorsport, including a diversity and inclusion programme.

Sillem, who is co-chair of The Hamilton Commission and chief executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, explained that Formula One and the wider industry must do more to address why BAME people are underrepresented, starting with the hiring process.

“The reality is that Formula One teams are rockstars in terms of their profile,” she said. “But they’re SMEs [small and medium enterprises], they’re smallish companies in terms of the way they’re set up. They have quite limited HR capacity.

“It means that [there is] the temptation to go to those small number of universities where you’ve had a good experience in the past, maybe you went there yourself. It’s understandable. And if you’ve found good people through a particular route before it’s not surprising that you want to go back there.

“But the consequence of that is there are so many people that don’t even get to first base in terms of opportunity.”

Sillem was also quick to dismiss the idea that diversity and inclusion is a compromise for organisations, pointing to research that highlights the gains it can give businesses.

“Focusing on diversity and inclusion is not about lowering your standards,” she continued. “The premise for advancing diversity and inclusion is that it’s the best route to achieve excellence.

“The evidence base for the business benefits of diverse teams working in inclusive cultures is irrefutable.”