Even the most fanatical devotee of motor racing has never had a chance to influence a race quite like this.
Every driver in Formula E, a new championship for electric cars that starts this year, gets two “boosts.” These are brief spurts of extra power that the driver can deploy at any time during a race. But there’s one more boost available in the very last lap for the driver who gets the highest number of tweets directed at him in the form of @-mentions during the race. That means fans watching the race at home can materially alter the outcome.
Alejandro Agag, the boss of Formula E, is honest about the reasoning: “We need to target a different demographic” from Formula 1, he says. Formula E is aimed at urban 20- and 30-somethings, who are more likely than older people to buy electric cars, more attractive to the sponsors who will support the growth of the new championship—and more likely to use social media.
Having been born in the online era (it was created in 2012 and the first race will be in Beijing in September), Formula E was created with social media in mind. “We are lucky we started with a blank piece of paper,” says Agag. “So we are building this championship almost as a video game.” (Indeed, there will also be a online game for future fans, letting them race against the drivers in real time.) YouTube is part of the strategy as well: Spectators on the track will be encouraged to film and upload videos. Whoever gets the most views will receive free tickets to the next race.
Considering the global nature of the championship—there are teams from the US, China, India, Japan and Europe—there is also the risk that teams from more populous countries might dominate the Twitter boosts. Might the Chinese team, for example, not have an unfair advantage? “Oh they will get the votes always,” says Agag, laughing. “That’s fine. It’s what we want. They won’t win the race only because of that.”