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Let's Talk ~Fandom~

Howdy, hi, hello. Welcome to Engine Failure, a culture newsletter that dives into what the fuck is really going on in Formula 1. It’s written by me, Lily Herman.

Welcome back, folks! Thanks for bearing with me last week. I had a busier work schedule than expected and was also visiting my mom, two things that take priority over EF. (Much as I like all of you, Mama K is the definition of a Day 1 Girly™ and we always have a grand time!)

Anyway, I had about 85% of last week’s Engine Failure ready to go before I decided I didn’t have the time to finish fact-checking and proofreading. As such, there’ll be two EF issues dropping this week: This one and a second one shortly.

Lastly, three housekeeping items:

1. Last Friday, August 26th, marked the one-year anniversary of Engine Failure! Wow! Can you believe we’ve been sowing the seeds of F1 chaos for over 365 days???? Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who reads EF, forwards it on to friends, family members, and co-workers, sends me lengthy theories on everything from Max Verstappen’s sudden affinity for smiling to Pierre Gasly’s alcoholic beverages of choice, and everything in between.

2. Related to the news above: I’ve gotten an increasing number of questions about if people can tip me or pay for EF since it’s turning into quite the endeavor every week while still being free to read. (And as a longtime freelancer, it’s a lot considering my time very directly correlates to money earned.) That’s kind of y’all to ask! I have something in the works that I’ll probably announce in October, but I want to make sure I do it right and get the messaging how I want. Stay tuned.

3. Next week’s EF issue will come out a little late (either Tuesday or Wednesday) because we have Labor Day on Monday here in the States. For those of y’all abroad, Labor Day is a fun holiday where our nation pretends that we aren’t a capitalist hellscape that offers no national paid family leave, no viable minimum wage, and no consistently adequate safety net. But hey, at least some of us get one day off in early September!!!!!!

On that cheery note, let’s dive in.

What Does It Mean to Be an ~F1 Fan~?

I’ve thought a lot about the state of the F1 fandom recently, especially as we keep hearing people pit ~Drive to Survive fans~ (synonymous for newer supporters but usually coded to mean those who aren't cis het white European dudes) against ~old fans~. However, while I have a lot of theories and thoughts, I don’t have a decades-long history of watching the sport to be able to definitively say that I’m onto something. 

That’s where my pal Magnus Greaves comes in. Among his many talents and roles, Magnus is the co-founder and publisher of the spectacular magazine RACEWKND, which covers the circuits, cities, and culture of Formula 1. (It’s also not too early to put it on those holiday and/or birthday wishlists…I’m just saying…) 

Magnus is a Canadian who’s watched F1 since he was a kid; his love for the sport only grew after moving to London in his late teens and becoming further immersed in European sports culture. But for Magnus, whose parents are Jamaican and English and who identifies as mixed race, his Formula 1 fandom reached a new level in the mid-aughts when he read a Sunday Times piece about a young Black driver named Lewis Hamilton. Lewis was about to join the grid at the time, and Magnus was hooked; the rest, as they say, is history. After an early career in finance, he made the switch over to magazine publishing, where he helmed several impressive outlets. But as he’s found over his years as both a spectator of and later an entrepreneur in F1, the sport has a long way to go in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion on pretty much every front.

There are many reasons I love talking to Magnus about Formula 1, including that fact that he always brings a fresh and honest perspective I don’t find in many other spaces. On top of that, he's one of the few people I know who truly understands the potential pitfalls we could see from F1 trying to break into the North American (and more specifically, American) market again; in fact, he's seen several of the org's previous failed attempts up close and personal.

And despite Magnus being ingrained in this world faaaaar longer than me, it seems we’ve both come to the same conclusion: Formula 1 as an organization is often thriving largely in spite of itself, not because of itself.

What do I mean by that? Buckle up, besties! I hope y’all like subheadings, because we’ve got loads of ‘em as I make my way through a smattering of different topics Magnus and I discussed in a long conversation earlier this month. Onward!

Why Do Longtime Fans Have Such a Problem With Newbies?

One aspect of Formula 1 that I’ve been turning over in my head for a while is where longtime F1 fans’ animosity towards newer fans comes from.

To be clear, large swaths of the issue are, in fact, systemic racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and other discriminatory beliefs; we see this all over different sports, and gatekeeping is a very real issue. But I believe we can go a step further and look critically at how Formula 1’s specific setup has become a petri dish where such bigotry thrives. Part of that, as Magnus has found, might have to do with how F1 was marketed prior to Liberty Media taking over.

It’s hard for many people who came to love F1 after roughly 2016 or 2017 to imagine, but there was once a time when fans didn’t have the current level of access to teams, drivers, paddock activities, and the Formula 1 Cinematic Universe at large. Social media activity was discouraged, drivers didn’t always have to engage with the public as much as they do now, and the idea of letting everyday people see the insider magic of F1 wasn’t a top priority by the org. F1 was, in many respects, intentionally inaccessible, and people who loved the sport at the time had to find ways to create their own fan spaces within the series' narrow confines.

As such, the way to be an F1 “fan” was much more limited just a few years ago than it was today. “Formula 1 is a sport of statistics and knowledge; because there's technology involved, you can go really, really deep on that knowledge,” Magnus explains to me. “I feel like the debates amongst fans [back then] were always based on those [technical ] elements, which I guess in some people's minds meant it was a more ‘serious’ sport than some others.” To be clear, some folks did try to engage with the cultural elements of the sports despite the restricted access, but it took a lot more effort and required greater activation energy to do so.

So, if the main way to show or "prove" your fandom was through knowing a very specific array of facts ‘n’ figures, I could see how it’d be incredibly destabilizing for the entire sport to be upended in a matter of years; suddenly, this wasn’t the only way to gauge who the "real" F1 advocates were. “With this interest in the lifestyle elements [of F1], I think maybe some people feel a bit threatened by it,” Magnus notes. “They may wonder if it diminishes this thing that they've spent so much time on — such as trying to learn every statistic and every intelligent angle of the sport. But it's fascinating to me how ferociously some people push back on it.”

A large group of F1 supporters view this expansion of fandom as a valuable asset that should be encouraged, while others see that as a terrifying prospect that needs to be quashed at all costs. But in the minds of both Magnus and myself, racing stats, paddock fashion, engineering feats, team dynamics, and WAG happenings are all legitimate ways to love a sport, as much as certain folks might say otherwise. (Not to mention, plenty of people keep up with all of the above. We contain multitudes!)

At the end of the day, F1 “is human interest,” Magnus says. “In any walk of life or sport or industry, that's what always connects us. But the enthusiastic embracing of the human interest side of F1 is really offensive to some people.” Why? “It [forces] them to confront some of their own thinking or look at a sport in a deeper way.” And sometimes, what we find is pretty damn ugly.

Okay, What's Wrong With the Business Side of F1?

On top of that ongoing supporter question, a big sticking point for Magnus throughout his years in the sport has been that Formula 1’s corporatism really puts a damper on entrepreneurial innovation, particularly when it comes to fan service. “The problem then, which shockingly remains the problem now, is that Formula 1 is more of a B2B business than it is a consumer business,” he tells me. This includes real lapses in opportunities for independent media, merch, and other products that largely center spectator engagement. The brand and its teams just don’t often work with anyone long-term who can’t offer them big bucks — and that's usually at the expense of smaller but more authentic (and typically cheaper) efforts to reach fans.

Take, for instance, the burgeoning F1 merch economy on Etsy. I won’t lie: As soon as I started getting into Formula 1, I was immediately dismayed by how ugly 80% of the official merch is in this sport (in addition to how goddamn expensive it is). Most teams have a few hits here and there, and I’d argue that Williams (followed by McLaren and Mercedes) is doing the best job of consistently putting out actual wearable merch. By and large though, F1 and its teams seem to believe that its fans want to look like they’re part of a team as opposed to a fan of a team. (Oh, and the official merch — plus many of the third-party pieces — are almost never size-inclusive, creating yet another barrier that keeps large numbers of folks from showing their fandom through material means. In addition, a lot of clothing only only comes traditional cis men’s sizes and proportions.)

Etsy sellers, however, have had their own hurdles in trying to get cool merch to the masses; I’ve heard from several over the past year who’ve run into odd copyright issues with specific drivers or teams. Not to mention, there are just certain things individual merch creators can’t do that a large-scale operation like F1 can, further preventing what could be a thriving enterprise for the organization. The bottom line: It’s unbelievable that F1 and its teams haven’t consistently invested in having rad merch for fans of all shapes and sizes across the board.

Moreover, RACEWKND isn’t Magnus’ first foray into trying to work within the F1 media space, and he’s found throughout those experiences that there’s often a lack of interest in innovation. “Most other sports have fertile entrepreneurial ecosystems,” he says. “And if you look at it, there [are] a lot of NBA, NFL, and MLB teams that have startup incubators, and they have funds [where] they invest in startups related to the sports space. They can leverage their [resources], whether it's office space, their location, or the visibility of their athletes.”

Magnus is quick to point out that F1 didn’t always used to be this way. In fact, much of the sport’s early success was thanks to the intrepid entrepreneurship and #yolo attitude (for lack of a better phrase) of some of its early pioneers. That's not the case anymore though. “Formula 1 is kind of behind other sports, where the entrepreneurial ecosystems are very well-developed,” he notes. Related to that, “there are so many gaps in the fan experience, partially because it's such a transient sport; it goes to your country and then it leaves.”

Does F1 Actually Care About Activism? (Uh…Well…)

The sport’s lack of business innovation also barely scratches the surface of the lack of diversity F1 shows across the board. For example, Magnus has had the experience many times over of being one of the few people of color when in media or business circles. “I would go to the media center [when] we had FIA accreditation, and many times, I wouldn't see any other Black people in there or many non-white people.”

Even when the F1 brand has tried to pretend it was interested in tackling issues like racism, the efforts have fallen flat. Back in 2020, Magnus reached out to contacts at F1 to see how they were planning on addressing the global anti-racism movement that grew exponentially after George Floyd's murder in the United States. “I just said, ‘Hey, listen, this stuff is really kicking off in the United States and different leagues are dealing with it. Formula 1 is going to have to deal with it. And I would be more than happy to give you some insight,’” he recalls.

Magnus never got a response to his outreach — and several months later, the amorphous and murky #WeRaceAsOne initiative debuted to mixed reviews. (It has since, as you’re all probably aware, disappeared from the sport for the most part. But don’t worry! We now have the equally vague and ineffective #DriveItOut campaign to take its place!) “Honestly, I was super disappointed and I was super offended,” Magnus explained. “The thing that struck me at the time was I was receiving weekly emails from F1 asking for my opinion on [something like] F1TV, but I didn’t get a chance to express anything [on this front].” Magnus’ other attempts to engage the organization, its teams, and its drivers have also largely gone unanswered. Unfortunately, it appears he's far from the only one who's had that experience.

Does F1 Actually Want American Fans?

To round us out here, Magnus and I have both held a similar theory for a while: Formula 1 has no idea what to actually do with American fans, and more generally, the burgeoning North American market. It doesn’t seem to really care as long as rich people keep shelling out money to flock to the U.S. for races. Moreover, Magnus believes that F1's lack of entrepreneurial mindset is at odds with much of the spirit we see in American sports culture.

We’re also not the only two people who feel this way: Motorsports journalist extraordinaire and F1 hot take queen Elizabeth Blackstock penned an excellent piece just this week getting at many of the same sentiments. Austin is slowly being considered the “affordable” option for American F1 race attendees (and even that’s already financially out of reach for most folks on this side of the pond), while Formula 1 has made it clear that Miami and soon Vegas are meant to be luxury destinations. To make matters worse, neither of the current existing tracks (nor the one being proposed for Vegas) are all that great. (To be fair, COTA isn’t horrendous by any means, but few people I know will tell you that it’s objectively the best track on the entire F1 calendar.)

Elizabeth’s ending paragraph really gets to the meat of the issue: “The novelty of a glitzy, expensive event may not last. The folks who can afford the $125,000-per-night hotel room in Miami aren’t going to the Grand Prix because they’re a fan — they’re going for the party. The series isn’t gunning to get more American fans to the track; it’s focused on attracting VIPs. How long can that business model — which is largely based on novelty — sustain itself? Formula 1, for better or for worse, seems determined to find out.”

It’s a shame, too. American sports culture gets a lot wrong, but I’d say this country’s Formula 1 fans have quickly become some of my favorite people. We’re a passionate and hardcore bunch; you have to be considering most race weekends on the calendar are during the early morning hours or the middle of the night here. (West Coast fans are especially diehard. Do not fuck with them on a Grand Prix Sunday! Once they’re fully awake from their groggy slumber, they will eat you alive! I mean that as a compliment!)

Like me, Magnus wishes F1 saw it this way and seized the opportunity — not just in terms of outreach to American supporters of this sport, but anyone who doesn’t fit the traditional mold of fan.

(Photo credits: RACEWKND, Lewis Hamilton, and Formula 1.)

Like what you see? Check out other recent Engine Failure issues, check out the EF website, and then forward this newsletter to a friend because you're a nice person who wants to see me ~succeed~:

And if you have tips, suggestions, theories, intel, gossip, or questions, tweet me, send me an email, or use EF’s anonymous tip box.

Y’all, I’m getting extreme motion sickness from the rollercoaster that is the 2022 silly season, and I'd very much like to get off of this ride. But first, let’s recap the latest updates in Formula 1’s quest for the utmost fuckery:

1. Most notably, Daniel Ricciardo is officially out at McLaren after this season, marking the end of his tenure with the team a year earlier than previously expected.

2. Who is getting McLaren’s open F1 seat? Well, chaotic cashew Oscar Piastri is still getting his contract sorted out, so we don’t actually know. Elsewhere, one of the racing outfit’s two Formula E seats went to…René Rast. Considering his name hadn’t really previously come up with various McLaren silly season rumors, the announcement was a little bit out of left field for most people. 

Ngl, I feel like I’d have more success explaining an episode of Riverdale at this point than trying to lay out this McLaren soap opera across all of these different motorsports series.

3. Anything Alex Palou-related immediately makes me sleepy, but he’s still in the midst of his civil suit with Chip Ganassi Racing and trying to backtrack on why he wants to move teams. *snores loudly*

4. In one of the wildest silly season rumors to date, talk suddenly sprouted up over the weekend that Pierre Gasly may say goodbye to AlphaTauri (where he already has a contract) entirely and head over to Alpine. For those who are newer to the piping hot F1 goss, Pierre and current Alpine driver Esteban Ocon have A Whole Feud™ going back to their teens that no one can quite figure out. (Esteban has refused to talk about it in interviews, while Pierre has hinted at various points that it’s due to Estebestie’s professional jealousy.) You can read more about Esteban’s bizarre web of pals and frenemies in one of EF’s earliest issues.

Also, you’re telling me that two French drivers who have a long-standing dislike for each other could potentially be on the same French team??? This would make my little enemies-to-lovers heart flutter. The AO3 girlies would be REPLENISHED if this happened. (And while we’re at it, let’s make it a messy French trifecta and bring back Cyril!!!!!)

5. LMAO @ Alfa Romeo and Sauber severing their partnership at the end of 2023. I guess Alfa is doing its usual “okay byyyyyyyeeeee” thing.

6. In another twist, Ferrari is reportedly ending its relationship with Mick Schumacher at the conclusion of this season. Things have been looking increasingly dicey for Schumi Jr. over at Haas, and this isn’t helping matters. What will come of the baby-faced, blue-eyed Under Armour king after this year?!?! (Oh, and to make matters even weirder, Italian Jesus aka Antonio Giovinazzi might be in the mix to take over Mick's seat. WHAT?!?!?!)

7. Less pertinent to F1 but still of interest to this crowd: Tatiana Calderon is headed back for Formula 2, and W Series star Jamie Chadwick is reportedly doing some IndyLights testing. (For those who are confused by the whole IndyCar scene, IndyLights is its developmental series. A lot of racers drive in it during their younger years.)

(Photo credits: Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren.)

We’ll get to an assortment of final summer break looks and other paddock fashion in this week's other EF issue, but today’s Fit Check is focused on exactly one topic: The bizarre tale of Lewis Hamilton’s new merch line launch.

First, let’s recap! About two weeks ago, Lewis Hamilton did something he basically doesn’t do: He followed an account on Instagram. It was called @plus44world, and it was set to private, meaning that all we could do was request to follow and hope the account accepted.

Over the next few days, @plus44world privately accepted 1,000 requests and later went public for an hour to accept another 9,000 before going private again. Mysterious! But then, right before the Belgian Grand Prix, we finally learned what Lewis was doing: He launched his a merch line independent of Mercedes.

A few things I found a tad weird about this social media strategy and the initial drop:

1. The whole extended Instagram teaser got a bit goofy after a while. Not only was there not much for folks to look at, but the account teased some sort of riddle in the form of coordinates and random phrases that ended up not really going towards the immediate merch launch itself. It felt like a little more of a vanity thing than an actual engagement for fans to take part in. (Maybe it will eventually make sense though! We’ll see!)

2. People figured out what Lewis was launching before the Instagram account even went public. How? The website was listed in the IG bio, and folks who are much smarter than me looked at the source code and saw that it included a Shopify embed and the word “merch.” Womp, womp. An amateur move on his team's part.

3. The merch itself was…okay? Granted, it’s better than 95% of drivers’ apparel (save for Danny Ric’s), but considering that Lewis is the fashionista of the grid, I guess I was expecting something slightly more elevated. (Oh, and it was only three items and one of them was a $25 neon yellow poncho. I have…inquiries.) However, it was only the first drop, so we’ll see what else he has in store. I’m willing to give him more than a few chances on this front!

I’ll also note my distaste once again that virtually all F1 merch (whether team merch or merch created by drivers) isn’t at all size-inclusive. I don’t want to solely single out Lewis when everybody is guilty of this, but given his affinity for fashion and greater social awareness, it saddened me a little bit to see that he continued this trend of clothing inaccessibility for an enormous swath of fans.

Mark my words: The team and/or driver who cracks the code on creating apparel that’s both aesthetically pleasing and size-inclusive (and relatively affordable, though that’s often asking for too much in this sport) will instantly pick up an absurd number of supporters.

(Photo credits: +44.)

The good news: It was Val’s birthday on Sunday! The bad news: He was out of the race pretty early! Other than that, my F1 OTP spent the rest of their summer break cycling and seeing Val off to his first post-break race.

(Photo credits: Alfa Romeo and Tiffany Cromwell.)

Pals, I have never, in my year and a half of keeping close watch on Carlos’ pants choices, had this much trouble finding photos of him throughout the race weekend. I got confirmation of his denim on Thursday and Sunday, but no one was really able to pinpoint anything for Friday and Saturday. Is Carlos suddenly in on the prophecy and trying to avoid us? Who knows!

(Photo credits: Formula 1 and Imago Images.)

Toni Cowan-Brown’s F1 Beginners Guide is incredible (and not just because she gave EF a shout-out!). Behold: F1 drivers’ astrological signs. NYLON has a great new piece on F1 fandom. Ohhhh, an interview with an F1 PR icon. IndyCar x cheese collab. Is Formula E’s battery gonna die? American media discovered Logan Sargeant and Colton Hertaespecially Colton Herta. OMG Grindr is now a motorsports sponsor (and there might be some drama)??? IndyCar driver and engineering grad Dalton Kellett loves a good STEM education!!!! Vintage car racing sounds fun. Just photos of Max Verstappen in pool floaties. Thoughts on Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari? Let’s talk about F1 ~broadcast technology~. Carlos Sainz can sing too. Eeeeeep, bbs Alex Albon and Charles Leclerc. Lando Norris is down for rallying in the future. Enjoy this stressful Fernando Alonso commercial. Make some avocado toast at 200 kilometers per hour. A lil’ Charles Leclerc feature for the girlies. Surprise: Women like working together. Hmmmm, a new America-centric F1 post-show? Lando Norris has no sympathy for Danny Ric. NYT says that Max Verstappen is doing well. NASCAR on the streets of Chicago? Anybody got a DisneyPlusUK login so I can watch Jenson Button’s Brawn GP docuseries? Whoops, things still aren’t fair in F1. Red Bull drivers in reverse.

Thank you to everyone who wrote into last issue’s Conspiracy Corner question: You’re sending two F1 couples on the most chaotic double date possible. Which couples do you choose, what bizarre activity are they doing, and what ends up happening? Set the scene!

As always, y’all are great:

  • Jane: These people need to get off their yachts and get a little dirty. I’m sending Lando and Luisa and Carlos and Isa CAMPING. Some tents, a campfire, and some s’mores. But these guys need a little more. Of course, they’ve probably never been real camping before, so they forget to clean up their food before bed and a family of bears surprises them. I can already see Lando hiding behind Luisa; they are gonna get so scared that they just get into the car and drive.

  • Olivia: It's last day of summer break, and as fate would have it Max and Kelly randomly bump into Cha and Cha at the Puma Clothing Convention. They decide to grab dinner in the name of off-track camaraderie, Kym Illman is potentially hiding in the bushes with his camera, and all "inchidents" are in the past. Suddenly, they realize this isn't any regular restaurant, but one where the maître d' is Christian Horner and the entertainment is Geri Horner tickling the ol' ivories. Is this Charles' hell, or was this Christian's master plan all along to entrap him with Max and win him over to team Red Bull?

  • Manvi: Lewis and Roscoe are meeting up with Zhou and I at Paris Fashion Week. (Hey, if I’m sending an F1 driver on a date, I’m going to be on it, especially if it means I get to breathe the same oxygen as Lewis.) We take our seats at the front of the Prada show. Suddenly Lewis and Zhou stand up and start walking down the runway. Zhou is sporting his look from Silverstone and Lewis is showing his new collab with the designer. Roscoe is sitting in my lap. Once the show ends, we grab a bite to eat. Dream over.

  • Em: Gotta be Max/Kelly and Valtteri/Tiffany right? The scene is date night at an escape room (because that is a date night place now?!) location; it was probably Tiffany's idea because initially she actually wanted to take the experience seriously. Despite the complete lack of chemistry between the four of them, due to the strong desire to *not be there* and the very odd combination of skills and intelligence types between them, what actually happens is they successfully escape in record time. They do this by taking a bizarrely effective but utterly harebrained approach which is somehow completely legal but up to that point unconsidered by the people running the room. They part ways knowing they will never do anything similar again, but also more relaxed in each others company than when the night began.

  • Michael: Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso board a private jet with their partners, Sara Pagliaroli and Andrea Schlager, on a short flight from NCE to VIE to attend the opera. Little did they know, protesters would be blocking the runway, leading to one of the longest standoffs in French aviation history — with our drivers, partners, and flight crew stranded (but increasingly inebriated) within one of the world’s finest private aircraft. Ten minutes in, a surprisingly frustrated Fernando loudly takes a call in Spanish in front of everyone (AirPods in) as he rummages around the wine, drinks, and snacks fridges for no reason. His swear words needed no translation. Two minutes later the media shows up. Fernando shrugs, feigns interest, and says, "What canna you do?" Thirty minutes in, Sara and Andrea make some great points about wanting to bargain with the protesters and are let off the plane to do so. After a short discussion, the protester chain opens and they’re allowed to leave. They’re back at the hotel in time for drinks and to watch the rest of the standoff. Their social profiles are set to "private" for a while. Two hours in and still drinking on the plane, Lance loudly and proudly makes a call on speakerphone and only says “my dad” twice. He was able to have food sent to the plane but was not able to sneak out as a delivery person before Fernando noticed and pulled him back in. Two-and-a-half hours in, Lawrence emerges from what everyone thought was a bookshelf wearing nothing but a robe and declares “wheels up in 5.” They were wheels up in 5. Fernando decided to crash at the Stroll villa that weekend after all.

Today’s question: You've been tasked with giving the Formula 1 brand a new tagline. What do you choose and why? (Wrong answers only!)

Submit your answer here.
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