Formula 1 managing director Ross Brawn admitted last week the sport’s Sprint Qualifying race format is being introduced partly to target new young fans.
“Things change and young people don’t necessarily want to watch two hours of racing on a Sunday afternoon,” Brawn explained. “We may find the short format racing’s more appealing to them.”
Some question the assumptions behind this view. Suggesting young people invariably have more limited attention spans smacks of lazy stereotyping.
The ‘shorter format equals younger fans’ formula seems flawed, too. The popularity of football is not exactly waning, yet their matches are little shorter than F1 races. Popular culture is replete with successful examples of long-form content: 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame”, with its three-hour running time, was the highest-grossing film ever until recently.
Nonetheless, one of Formula 1’s youngest drivers believes the sport has it right by trying to tailor its product to an audience which wants shorter bursts of action. When RaceFans put Brawn’s explanation for Sprint Qualifying races to 21-year-old Lando Norris, he said: “I agree with that.”
“For someone watching TV, I think people in this day and age there’s just so many things to do in your life,” he explained. “There’s so many more things then there was probably 10 years ago, 20 years ago. There’s so many things people enjoy doing and it’s so easy to go out and do something, go meet your friends, play games, go online, whatever.”
Norris speaks from experience. Many of his fans are equally used to seeing him behind a steering wheel in his McLaren and behind a microphone on his Twitch stream.
Professional Twitch streamers can broadcast for hours on end. But as Norris points out, they don’t necessarily have the same viewers watching throughout, and maintaining their interest isn’t easy.
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“I’m not a massive streamer. A lot of my following is from Formula 1. Some of my following within Formula 1 is from the people from Twitch that didn’t have a clue about Formula 1, or racing and stuff like that. So it’s both ways.
“That’s one of the hardest things, if you’re successful on Twitch, keeping the viewers entertained the whole time. Which I don’t, because you have to be quite chatty, you have to chat to them a lot and answer their questions which sometimes I couldn’t think of anything worse to do.”
He admitted he doesn’t always feel motivated to sustain the level of interaction needed to keep his Twitch audience interested.
“Sometimes I don’t mind, I go on and have a lot of fun, chat, you have a good laugh with your mates. You’re reading the chat and questions from people and having a good laugh and people love it.
“But sometimes I go on and just because I’m tired or I’ve had a long day or something… Sometimes, I’d say most of the time, I’m not chatty at all. I don’t like talking, I’m quite an isolated guy. I like keeping to myself a lot. Sometimes I turn into that kind of guy and I don’t want to talk at all.”
With his experience of interacting with fans directly on Twitch, Norris can see the logic behind Brawn’s plan to win them over with a new, shorter race format.
“As soon as someone stops enjoying something, they will just go and do something else that they want to enjoy,” he said. “And there’s so many things that people enjoy.
“It’s so easy to move on very quickly if you lose interest in something. So from my side, I would say that makes sense.”
Read more from our interview with Lando Norris on his long-term commitment to McLaren and expectations for the future coming soon on RaceFans
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