Females In Motorsport recently interviewed Anastasia Lopes, also known as AnaOnAir, a French content creator set to participate in the highly anticipated internet event of the year: the second edition of GP Explorer.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, motorsport has experienced a surge in popularity across all categories, attracting both longtime enthusiasts and new fans. Notably, there has been a significant increase in the female fanbases. Formula 1's CEO, Stefano Domenicali, stated that approximately 40% of F1 fans are now women, marking an eight percent rise from 2017. While Netflix's "Drive to Survive" and the series’ marketing efforts contribute to this trend, the rise of content creation also plays a crucial role in the sport's renewed appeal.
According to a report by We Are Social agency titled "Think Forward: Sports Edition," the new generation is turning to social media as a gateway to discover sports content. Digital fan communities play a crucial role in introducing sports to young fans, making it more inclusive and accessible. Social media platforms offer a diverse array of motorsport-related content, catering to a wide range of interests. From edits on TikTok to podcasts reviewing the latest Grand Prix or a blog sharing the story of amazing women in motorsport, there's something for everyone.
That is why content creators are becoming real assets: they are first and foremost fans, passionate people who create content that they themselves would like to consume.
“The common thread with all of us is that we are creating content out of necessity, we are creating content that we would want to consume and we are creating content that we just haven’t seen,” explained Toni Cowan-Brown on our podcast.
A number of content creators on Twitch or YouTube have even produced genuine sporting performances worthy of professional events, each time attracting a large audience, whether online or in person, even though most of that audience is novice in the sport in question. And one of the most striking sporting events on the internet is the GP Explorer.
“I've seen people discover motorsport at the GP Explorer and then start watching Grands Prix,” Anastasia tells Females in Motorsport. “That's when you realise that motorsport was really well promoted in the first edition and I hope that it will be again in the second and it will spark off more things - whether it's people who start watching or even people who start karting or driving in certain categories.”
The GP Explorer is a Formula 4 race organised by French YouTuber Squeezie, bringing together internet personalities. The first edition, contested by 22 content creators, attracted nearly 40,000 spectators to the famous Le Mans circuit in October 2022. The event, which was streamed live on Twitch, also set an audience record in France, with more than a million people watching. That's almost as many viewers as the 2022 French Formula 1 Grand Prix, which attracted an average of 1.69 million viewers in July on Canal+ according to RTL.
The success of the event is the result of organisation and production worthy of an F1 event, but with the DNA of online content creation. Commentators, live coverage from the pit lane, dozens of cameras all over the circuit, on-board camera shots in every car all gave the event an extremely professional feel. The race was also a thrill to watch, with some great action on the track highlighting the hard work put in by all the participants.
This is a success that should be repeated on the 9th of September for the second edition of the GP Explorer, whose 60,000 tickets (20,000 more than last year) were sold out in 30 minutes! This year, 24 participants divided in 12 teams will be taking part, including six female content creators - Maghla, Kaatsup, AnaOnAir, Baghera, Horty and Manon Lanza.
The event will still take place over a single day with free practice in the morning, qualifying in the early afternoon and then the race at around 18:30, for fifteen laps.
For this year's edition, Anastasia will be moving from the stage to behind the wheel. Last year, she was one of the guest presenters on the stream, sharing her knowledge of the sport with an audience of mostly inexperienced motorsport viewers.
“After the first GP, deep down I really wanted to take part in the second, but I could see that time was running out, and by the time I got the call I thought it was all wrapped up,” she says “In my head, I wasn't expecting it any more. So it was all the more surprising.
“During the winter I was contacted again by the same person who works with Squeezie, so obviously I was really happy and I cried. It took me at least two days to settle down, calm my emotions. After that, things moved on quite quickly. We started training three weeks later.”
Her participation is made all the more special by the fact that she will be sharing the grid with her close friend and content creator Depielo.
“When I found out I was doing it, I was really happy, and then I was told that he was doing it a second time... honestly, it's incredible to go through all this with him,” Anastasia says. “He really is my big brother. He's always there for me.”
Anastasia is teamed up with another rising star of content creation in France, Maxime Biaggi, and they are part of the team sponsored by Mouv' (a radio station in France). As she pointed out during our interview, she is the "smallest" in terms of visibility among the participants.
“I felt a bit of pressure, but in the end it's just the first few hours when everyone gets to know each other a bit,” she says. “Now, though, the atmosphere at training sessions is just crazy. It's like a holiday camp. We're all enjoying it.”
Motorsport is a sport with its share of risks and dangers. Training is therefore essential for the participants, who are not all motorsport enthusiasts, or even driving enthusiasts, and some have taken their driving test just for the occasion. To ensure that they are fully prepared and ready to race, the FFSA Academy is responsible for teaching them the fundamentals of driving. The event is also an opportunity for young mechanics and engineers who are still in training to try their hand at the job by assisting the content creators.
“We're all really into it, really focused, listening to the instructors,” she says. “I hope it's going to be a great race because we're really putting in the work and we're doing everything we can to make it great.”
For someone like Anastasia, who has been passionate about motorsport since childhood, being immersed in it in this way is a unique opportunity. It allows her to discover aspects of the sport that she wouldn't have been able to experience otherwise.
“You don't realise all the data you can accumulate about a car on the track and then learn to read it, learn to understand it,” she says.“It's really interesting. When you watch F1, for example, it's things you don't see at all.
“It's the same with mechanics - they're not just mechanics... there are so many different roles: those who look after the tyres, the car, the aero...
“You're really immersed in a world where everyone makes their contribution and you realise that if everyone isn't coordinated, if everyone isn't going in the same direction, you're bound to feel it on the track. It's important to be part of a team and to see what's going on inside.”
With the race fast approaching, Anastasia can feel the excitement building. It promises to be yet again a great event, and she is determined to make the most of it.
“I'm really looking forward to this day,” she says. “I'd at least like to finish my race cleanly and be able to squeeze ahead a bit. The three of us, with Manon Lanza and Kaatsup, have set ourselves the target of finishing in the top-10, so we hope to be able to put the girls fairly high up the field during the race.
“Beyond the race and the desire to perform, we are incredibly lucky to be able to experience this... To live the day to its fullest, to share it with the people who will be there, and there will be a lot of people, and to promote motorsport.”
Anastasia's passion for motorsport extends beyond content creation, recently experiencing her first race weekend as a driver at an FFSA Tourisme TC France round. Although she doesn't plan to pursue a professional driving career, she relishes occasional racing opportunities.
“I've got this thing of always wanting to be competitive so at the beginning I was a bit bummed because I was behind the regulars,” she says. “I had to put myself in the mindset where I had to take it as experience rather than trying to be competitive because it was a full discovery.
“As the weekend went on, I started to enjoy it more and felt more confident in the car, so it was really cool.”
Anastasia switched from her job working at a radio station to creating content full-time last summer. It's a decision that seems to be paying off today; she now has a community of nearly 160,000 followers across all her social media.
“I've always talked about motorsport on socials,” she says. “During lockdown, motorsport really took off and I started talking about it more, doing live streams and things like that. Since then, it's worked out really well.”
And that's the least we can say. Anastasia has since become an Esport Ambassador for Alpine. Her role as ambassador is in line with Alpine's drive to make the sport more inclusive and with the Rac(H)er programme.
“I was invited to an event a year and a half ago at which Esteban Ocon was present,” she says. “After that, we kept in touch with the people at Alpine Esports and things just worked out.
“They were already developing the Rac(H)er programme which was announced a few months ago. That's a bit part of it, although it's more on the esports side. It's all part of Alpine's approach to promote women and girls.”
“I knew it was something they really wanted to do,” Anastasia says. “When they unveiled the project for this year's F1 car reveal, it was great and I'm still seeing everything they're doing throughout the year. They're really putting a lot of work into it and I hope it will unlock other things in other teams, in other championships.
“It's been almost a year now and I'm really proud because it's really exciting and I really have an affinity with this team, with the drivers. I'm really proud to be able to promote Alpine and the esports side of things.”
Anastasia can count on the support of her community, as well as the other content creators who are there to back her up.
“Depielo and Idreau really helped me when I started out,” she says. “They really pushed me. I was a bit hesitant, but they told me to go for it... so it's also thanks to them that I'm where I am today.
“I find that the motorsport content creation community is really benevolent. We all get on really well. When we see each other at events, at a race, it's always a good atmosphere. We're all trying to push each other to the top and above all to promote our passion together.”
What makes Anastasia's content particularly enjoyable is her contagious passion for motorsport. Her content is authentic, informed and fun. And it's even better when you know that her passion comes from her grandmothers.
“It comes from my grandmothers and great-grandmothers who were passionate about motorsport and F1 in particular,” she says. “After that, I took over on my own to teach myself about it and with time, the new categories.”
What's also great is that she covers not just Formula 1, but many other series, especially GT and endurance racing, which is great for new fans wanting to get into motorsport as a whole. In fact, she was recently at the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa.
“Last year, I was with a team because I was in charge of a driver's communication and this year I was with SRO in the communication team,” she says.
“I experienced everything from the inside throughout the week - managing accreditations, social media, everything to do with communications and also, unfortunately, with what happened on Saturday.
“All in all, it was intense and there are a lot of things you don't realise when you watch a race on TV. During the week, we went round the circuit at night to check the lighting and that's something I'd never thought about in my life - lighting is lighting, but no. You have to check that everything is in the right place... there's a lot of work to do.
“With motorsport, when you dig deep and go behind the scenes, you learn something new every week.”
Anastasia is clearly a passionate, hard-working and dedicated person, who knows how to seize every opportunity presented to her, and we can only encourage and admire her for that.
“I'd really like to have my own motorsport team, but that's maybe 10 or 15 years away. It would be a dream of mine, something I'd like to achieve one day,” she says.
“For the time being, something I'm starting to move towards is the role of PR for drivers. That is something I'd really like to develop.
“I love what I do on social media, but I'm not going to do it for 15 years. I really want to stay in motorsport; I'm starting to feel really good there and especially in GT, I have a lot of contacts and I'm starting to be really well surrounded, so that's something I'd like to develop - working on communication, promoting drivers, teams and what they do and giving them a bit of visibility.”
Anastasia's inspiring journey showcases the power of content creators in making motorsport accessible and appealing to a broader audience. Through their efforts, motorsport enters a new era of popularity and inclusivity, inspiring a diverse and engaged generation of fans worldwide.
As the sport continues to evolve, content creators play a vital role in introducing motorsport to new audiences, breaking down barriers and providing a behind-the-scenes insight that educates and entertains fans. Their dedication to promoting motorsport, both on and off the track, encourages more people to get involved in the sport, attend races and explore the different racing series beyond Formula 1.
The remarkable success of events like GP Explorer, combined with the dedication and enthusiasm of content creators like Anastasia, bodes well for the future of motorsport. By harnessing the power of social media and digital fan communities, motorsport has entered a new era of accessibility and popularity, inspiring a diverse and engaged generation of fans from all walks of life.
All in all, when you make motorsport accessible and offer opportunities to passionate people like her and her fellow content creators, magical things happen - SEE IT. BE IT.