A legendary circuit, twenty-four amateur drivers (but all ultra-popular influencers and rappers), 60,000 places sold in half an hour: the second edition of the Formula 4 Explorer Grand Prix, organized by the videographer Squeezie, Saturday September 9, is on track to surpass last year's success.
In October 2022, the race, which already took place on the Bugatti circuit in Le Mans (Sarthe) in front of 40,000 supporters, brought together a million Internet users simultaneously (three million in total) on the Twitch channel of Lucas Hauchard, aka Squeezie , the man behind the biggest YouTube channel in France, with 18 million subscribers. A more than respectable audience: in 2022, an average of 1.2 million viewers gathered to watch the F1 Grands Prix on Canal.
What could have remained a joke, a challenge launched almost in a joking tone by a millionaire YouTuber with enormous online notoriety, was nevertheless able to convince and offer a certain legitimacy in a world of motor sports that is nevertheless considered closed : the Automobile Club de l'Ouest, the body at the head of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, agreed from the first edition to co-organize the GP Explorer.
“Capturing the interest of younger generations”
"One way, perhaps, for high-profile sporting events to capture the interest of younger generations who don't follow them. And this, while they are doing very well, with rights that have never been so high and an audience that remains excellent, ”says Benoît Caritey, doctor in sociology and lecturer at the Faculty of Sports Sciences ( UFR STAPS) of Dijon.
For a long time, celebrities and wealthy individuals have been passionate about racing cars and racing: Hellé Nice, Steve McQueen, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Patrick Dempsey, to name a few. As for the rapprochement between the world of streamers and that of motor sports, it is not that surprising, especially since some of the competitors at the start of the GP Explorer are “video game” influencers, a culture in which the competitive spirit is central.
Treating themselves to a life-size race is a new opportunity for these videographers-entertainers to show how entertaining their lives are, that they are not afraid and that they give themselves the means to go to the end. their wildest ideas.
Revisiting an archetype of the collective imagination
By flirting with a universe (that of speed and major circuits) associated with audacity, even virility, by taking up a technical and physical challenge that requires several months of training and, even, by putting oneself in danger, they arouse the admiration of their public. "There is a whole imagination of the racing driver, one of the few elected capable of things that ordinary mortals would be incapable of without risking an accident or death", recalls Benoît Caritey.
Slipping into the shoes of a runner “shows the ambition” of these influencers, believes Vincenzo Susca, lecturer in sociology of the imagination at Paul-Valéry University in Montpellier and author of the book Cultural Industry and daily life (Liber editions). For him, the latter attack “an archetype of the collective imagination endowed with a certain aura and divert it, update it” via new modes of mediatization.
This regular updating of existing symbols and recipes "is a typical mechanism of the cultural industry", assures the academic, who sees behind such an event "a materialized video game, in which any member of the public becomes a participant thanks to the online comments and involvement”. Vincenzo Susca also notes that the motorsport sector, with its system of teams and sponsors, is "like that of influencers, a very commodified sector and in which the work, the spectacle is confused with the brand". Each of the twelve teams of the GP Explorer 2 wears the colors of a sponsor, from Alpine to NordVPN, via Samsung or Overwatch2.
An old recipe
The public of motor sports "belongs to the working classes, explains Benoît Caritey. But it is also a sport with a somewhat aristocratic dimension, where we find gentlemen drivers, great industrialists and personalities from the world of the stage. Two populations that do not mix.
Net videographers, on the other hand, are unique in that they showcase proximity, complicity and interactivity with their audience. “The talent of these characters is to know how to connect and empathize with the fans. They involve them in their game and make them collaborate on their show,” explains Vincenzo Susca. Thus giving them the illusion that the dream is within everyone’s reach.
Squeezie is not only the instigator of this new kind of F4 race; it is also – via its networks – the main broadcaster. From the announcement of the prize to the first squealing of tires, participants share their preparation, their behind the scenes and their experience. They make a soap opera of the event. A strategy, again, not so far removed from that of the traditional media and television channels which hold the broadcasting rights for major sporting events, according to Benoît Caritey. “It’s a recipe that is as old as the big press,” explains the doctor in sociology of sport, who recalls that many races, starting with Paris-Rouen (the first automobile competition in history in 1894 ) were driven and orchestrated by newspapers.