The start of the 2020 motor racing season sees a new name enter the starting grid in the journalism world, following a winter of change for many involved in the sector.
Just how much has the scene changed in the off-season, and what can we expect to see moving forward? Motorsport Broadcasting looks at what 2020 has to offer…
The Race enters the market…
Part of the Torque Esports Group, The Race intends to shake up motor sport journalism with its offering this year across five different content strands (Formula 1, MotoGP, IndyCar, Formula E and E-Sports).
Led by Andrew van de Burgt and Glenn Freeman under the watch of Darren Cox, the trio have brought Edd Straw, Matt Beer and Scott Mitchell in from Autosport to front their F1 offering.
In addition, Sam Smith leads their Formula E coverage, whilst ex-MCN Sport correspondent Simon Patterson leads their MotoGP reporting.
Other familiar names, such as ex-F1 technical director Gary Anderson and broadcaster Toby Moody also shape The Race’s coverage this season.
Limiting The Race’s remit to five pillars to begin with is a good idea in my view. I am always of the viewpoint that it is better to cover several topics brilliantly, rather than many topics shoddily. Let the readers, and the underlying data points, tell you where to go for the next step of your journey.
The Race has followed in The Athletic’s footsteps by bringing in established names from elsewhere in the hope of hooking fans onto their product.
Crucially, I understand that The Race, unlike The Athletic, will remain free for fans to consume, which should allow them to build a solid foundation to begin with.
The way the site covered Haas’ F1 launch was a positive early sign, with plenty of analysis across their platforms.
Personally, I hope the site does not report day-to-day chatter in substantial detail, otherwise the analytical pieces may be less noticeable amongst the noise.
One might argue that The Race should not run live text feeds for example, instead using that resource to produce distinctive content – otherwise the brand may end up in an identity crisis: trying to be different, but keeping it same-y in tandem.
…presenting opportunity for journalists, young and old…
The Race’s arrival on the scene has created opportunity for a new generation of talent elsewhere.
Respected motor sport journalist Luke Smith arrives into the Motorsport Network fold at Autosport from Crash Media Group, whilst Alex Kalinauckas moves up to join Smith in the F1 paddock this year.
Kalinauckas’ exit from the Formula E paddock means Matt Kew moves into the vacancy left by Kalinauckas.
Unfortunately for the Richmond-based outlet, the exits have not slowed down recently, with Autosport.com international editor Jack Benyon the most recent to announce his departure.
Irrespective of your viewpoint on the wider Motorsport Network decision making, it is imperative for the future of Autosport that they stem the flow quickly, bringing back a sense of stability which they lost late last year.
Can Autosport bounce back? Yes. Will Autosport bounce back? The verdict is out, but I really hope it does. It is important for motor sport journalism that The Race succeeds, however it is equally important that Autosport remains in its current form.
For all the talk about The Race over the past few weeks, it is Autosport that has the brand name and a large following attached to it that The Race does not yet possess, which is to be expected when comparing a start-up with a 70-year old brand.
That helps when you look at this from a search engine perspective rather than a social media perspective: the bigger reach of Autosport will undoubtedly help them compared with The Race in the short to medium-term.
Alongside Autosport is Motorsport.com under the Motorsport Network banner, where the likes of Jonathan Noble remain.
…whilst some try to break into the upper echelons…
The Race’s competition is not just Motorsport Network, and to think that is a foolish statement to make.
The likes of Crash Media Group, RaceFans and Motorsport Week are all trying to break into Motorsport Network’s monopoly, some succeeding more than others.
Outside of F1, there are websites that specialise in other forms of motor sport.
Most recently, Inside Electric has established itself as an independent Formula E website, whilst DirtFish has expanded on its World Rally Championship offering, taking esteemed journalist David Evans with them in the process.
Number of followers on Twitter as of February 15th
323k – Autosport (Feb 2009)
152k – WTF1 (Nov 2019)
139k – Motorsport.com (Apr 2009)
98k – RaceFans (Feb 2008)
60k – Motor Sport Magazine (Mar 2009)
34k – Motorsport Week (Mar 2009)
34k – Crash.net (Jan 2009)
15k – Touring Car Times (Jul 2009)
14k – Motorsport Broadcasting (Feb 2012)
12k – DirtFish (Dec 2010)
10k – The Race (Jan 2020)
10k – Dailysportscar News (Jun 2015)
4k – e-racing.net (Mar 2014)
4k – e-racing365 (Oct 2016)
1k – Inside Electric (Sep 2019)
There are only a limited number of hours in the day, and there is a limited pool of passionate motor sport fans, so The Race’s arrival is likely to negatively impact the above sites in my opinion. How quickly The Race grows will dictate the impact it has elsewhere.
If you are a site which has small profit margins, a difference of 5 to 10 percent in your audience year-on-year could be the difference between another year online or closure.
Whilst The Race may succeed in driving up the quality of motor sport journalism, there could (regrettably) be casualties elsewhere. However, sites should only feel threatened by the emergence of The Race if they themselves fear extinction in the first place.
In just over a month, The Race has amassed 10,000 followers on Twitter. In isolation, the figure is relatively small, but consider that the likes of Crash.net and Motorsport Week have 34,000 followers built up over a ten-year period!
That is not a dig at either site, merely a reflection on why The Race opted to bring in the people they did instead of plucking for unknown talent.
It would be amiss to not mention F1 themselves, who have in-house journalists working for their website. Yes, F1 competing against journalists that they accredit to their own events. No, that is not a mistake, nor a typo…
…and others exist to entertain
One name referenced above is WTF1, which Dennis Publishing acquired last year.
WTF1 may exist primarily to entertain rather than to break news stories, however, the site now regularly reports news to a much younger audience thanks to the brand that the team have built over the past ten years.
Arguably, WTF1 is a bigger brand to the younger generation of motor sport fans than what Autosport currently is.
Despite scooping the exclusive story with the Haas livery unveil, WTF1 received far more engagement across social media than The Race, thanks to their loyal audience.
If The Race wants to be a successful player in the long-term and become an attractive proposition to potential future buyers outside of the Torque stable, it needs to establish a middle ground between Motorsport Network’s audience base (Autosport / Motorsport) and WTF1.
How it does that is not an easy task given that The Race wants to give readers a more analytical view of the world. Although they exist on opposite ends of the Richter scale, both entities have an interest in the Esports space, which may present opportunities further down the line.
One thing is for certain: the future is all to play for…