It’s that time of the year again when the world turns soothsayer, each aspiring fortune teller striving to be the one who can say “I told you so” in 12 months.
That’s not to say it’s a simple business, though - just ask anyone who predicted that Mercedes’ ‘zero-pod’ concept would decimate the rest of the Formula One grid. While this illustrates the perils of attempting to predict the unpredictable, that won’t stop us from trying.
2023 is set to be a tumultuous year across motorsport, with powder kegs primed to explode in many areas. Multiple series have made considerable investments ahead of next season, with the success or failure of these ventures having potentially serious ramifications.
With another year winding down, the BlackBook runs through some series-specific prognostications for the 12 months ahead.
F1’s continued expansion will have a ripple effect
Formula One will see the fruits of one of its most significant recent investments in 2023. It has committed to pumping a whopping US$500 million into its returning Las Vegas Grand Prix, which is set to create a permanent hub for the series in ‘Sin City’, highlighting its long-term ambitions in the desert - despite only signing an initial three-year race contract.
On top of this, Formula One is also promoting the event itself, which is a risk unlike any taken by the series before. But if you were to go all in on this race being a success, then you would probably win big. If this year’s inaugural Miami Grand Prix was anything to go by, there can be little doubt that Formula One can make Las Vegas one of its flagship destination events.
Formula One is also set to embark on the longest calendar in its history, so I think working hours will become a big topic throughout the season, especially around the triple-header weekends. This has already bubbled under the surface previously, with Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff having floated the idea of staff rotation from weekend to weekend.
This could threaten to heighten the disconnect currently growing between Formula One and the International Automobile Federation (FIA), which reached boiling point earlier this year when the global governing body reportedly blindsided the series’ teams with the 2023 calendar announcement.
Next year will also see the inaugural all-female F1 Academy season. While the future of W Series is uncertain and it is hoped that the investment required to resume operations is found, the Formula One-backed alternative offers a new opportunity to young female drivers.
However, this should come with a note of caution. Not only will the academy become a direct competitor to W Series when there should be a unified effort, but the target demographic seems to be all wrong. The funding should be going into karting to ensure there are enough female drivers ready to make the step up to Formula Four, rather than introducing a series at that level without the drivers to fill the spaces.
Nascar set for a year of consolidation as new TV deal looms
The American stock car racing series is also diversifying and adding a street race to its calendar for the first time in its history.
The event in Chicago is already projected to cost the stock car racing series US$50 million but, like Formula One, it is looking to embed itself in its chosen city for a long-lasting impact. Again, this event is likely to be a success purely because of the amount of money behind it. It also represents something new and exciting for a series that has started to suffer from a feeling of stagnation, so this may be the jolt that is needed.
While Nascar will innovate with its street race, 2023 will likely be a year of consolidation elsewhere. Servicing underserved markets and generating support in key areas and, more importantly, among key target demographics will be the focus for next year. We already saw the series’ first tentative steps in this area when it sponsored the University of Alabama’s collegiate athletics department, but Nascar will need to do more.
��NEW PARTNER ALERT��— Crimson Tide Sports Network (@UA_CTSN) August 19, 2022
We'd like to welcome @NASCAR as the newest partner with @UA_Athletics!! #RollTide pic.twitter.com/JPi2WJQnyx
Consolidation is important for a series that is suffering from fractures between teams and the governing body due to disagreements over the structure of the next media rights deal. But, Nascar will also look to be flexible and open to change, such as with the potential addition of midweek races.
Perhaps most significantly, next year will likely see Nascar’s new domestic media rights deal take shape, with its current agreements with Fox and NBC expiring after the 2024 season.
Nascar reportedly wants around US$1 billion per year from whoever decides to take on the contract. The most likely outcome would be an extension with its current partners, but I expect the new deal will have an increased emphasis on streaming.
Nascar predominantly utilised Peacock for non-race content last season, with only three live races shown on the platform, so the next deal will likely see a further evolution of that approach to cater to changing viewing habits.
IndyCar will ramp up marketing efforts to get back on track
One series lagging behind somewhat is IndyCar, something that has clearly been noticed by Roger Penske, the series owner.
A massively increased marketing budget has been allocated for 2023 and the series is trying its hand at a docuseries in the lead up to next year’s Indy 500. But as MotoGP has proven with its failed MotoGP Unlimited series, it’s not as simple as following the Drive to Survive formula.
100 days. Like you've never seen it before.— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) December 8, 2022
Coming Spring of 2023, you'll see an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at the countdown to the #Indy500 pres. by Gainbridge and the NTT #INDYCAR SERIES drivers competing in the historic race.
MORE DETAILS: https://t.co/11JEXGr0dd pic.twitter.com/81W0DFZ88t
Fellow American series Nascar has also struggled with its own attempt at a docuseries, but this appeared to be predominantly because of a botched distribution strategy more than anything else. Therefore, IndyCar’s docuseries could prove to be a misstep in its wider strategy, especially with the CW Network being used to distribute the series.
The series has the potential to reach a new audience, but hard figures will be the bottom line in determining whether it generates the anticipated impact for IndyCar. The average age of The CW’s audience has been reported to be 57.4, something independently confirmed with measurements from Nielsen. I imagine this is not the new generation of fans that IndyCar is aiming to attract.
Formula E’s Gen3 era will take time to settle in
The one series that will see the most visual change for 2023 is Formula E, which is introducing a new car next season. This will coincide with the roll-out of an entirely new look for the series, with a new logo and audio elements also set to be implemented.
Having been out at testing in Valencia, I saw the Gen3 cars first hand and how they look set to revolutionise the all-electric series. However, there are certain teething problems that will likely take some time to iron out, the most worrying being a software glitch that contributed to Sébastien Buemi crashing out with zero control over his car on the final day.
There will likely be similar incidents throughout the start of the season, especially with street circuits heightening the chances of a crash. But once the new generation is more established and better understood, Formula E will cement itself as the world’s most forward-thinking racing series.
With an exciting new start for the series and a lot of cars with empty sidepods, there will therefore be copious sponsorship opportunities for potential new partners, especially with manufacturers like Maserati and Cupra getting involved and the big racing name of McLaren joining the all-electric grid.