At the end of last season, I became interested in Formula 1. I watched it once and discovered that it entails way more than just some fast cars driving circles. I started to follow all the remaining races and watched Drive to Survive, the Netflix series on Formula 1. The show gave me more insight into what goes on behind the scenes. There’s way more to F1 than only driving a fast car around; it’s the ultimate competition with uncontrolled drama, competitiveness, high stakes, and politics as said by Christian Horner, Team Principal of Red Bull Racing, in Drive to Survive.
On Sundays, my friends and I watch the F1 races together. Therefore also the 15th race of the 2021 season in Sochi, Russia. It was an exciting race, unexpected with its victories and setbacks. After the race, I walked home and began to think about writing a new blog post this week. What did I want to write about? I was struggling to find a subject, but then suddenly an idea was put forward: why not write about F1 itself?
Formula 1, which originated in 1950, is the highest class in motorsport as determined by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). To give a bit of background knowledge, the sport consists of various organizations with their own role. The FIA organizes the races, makes the regulations, and uses those if needed. The Formula One Group (FOG) is a company that deals with the commercial exploitation of the sport. Then there are other associations of various interested parties that have an influence on and a say in the organization of the sport.1 Formula 1 can be watched live or in summary in every country and attracts one of the largest global television audiences with its almost half a billion unique viewers. The reach it has on television is therefore humongous. The F1 fanbase is very passionate and active on social media, however, this wasn’t always the case.
Formula 1 is for the past years the fastest growing sport on social media, according to a video from the YouTube channel Athletic Interest which I found in the research for this topic. This social media growth is not without a reason. In 2016 Liberty Media, an American mass media company bought the Formula One Group. The deal was finalized in January 2017 and as a result the former chief executive of the FOG, Bernie Ecclestone, was replaced.2 This change started the rebranding of Formula 1. Ecclestone thought of F1 as an Old Man’s Club and wasn’t aware of the potential of digital media. He rather focussed on the old media, particularly on the broadcasting rights that are very profitable for the sport. He said:
And that was what he saw his target group as; the 70-year-old guy who’s got plenty of cash. He didn’t understand why the younger generation could be the target group as well, because they don’t have much money to spend right?
The social media investment
With all this being said, one thing is clear: Liberty Media transformed Formula 1’s image. They changed this idea of the Old Man’s Club and started to market F1 differently. That began with an enormous research of all the data they had. With the results, they got an understanding of what kind of target groups they have and what these fans want. So one thing they discovered to be very important was, and you wouldn’t have guessed it, social media. They increased their social media presence which created more interaction with the younger generation of fans. This was done in several ways, one being the investment in their F1 YouTube channel. Sharing many videos with highlights of the races making it available for anyone to catch up with a race, they made a series of fun videos with the drivers, and other videos that are all about F1. Uploading constantly to have a lot of content for the viewers created a stronger, younger, and a bigger fanbase. It also makes the fans invested until the next race weekend starts.
Engagement at its finest
Nowadays it’s also easy to immerse yourself into the F1 world via the official Instagram. The social media team make constant engaging uploads about the upcoming races, the results, announcements, the accomplishments/letdowns of drivers, the championship standings, memories/moments of past races, reposts of the teams/drivers’ Instagrams, funny ‘meme’ like posts, and so on and so forth. I personally follow this account which allows me to engage with the sport on a daily basis and makes it easy to catch up with everything that goes on. There are also lots of meme accounts on Instagram about F1 which I also enjoy following. These accounts also create an online community that shares the interest in Formula 1 in a fun way. Instagram is accessible, fun, and very addictive. It’s therefore in my opinion certainly ‘engagement at its finest.’
Drive to Survive: falling in love with the
As mentioned before, there is now also a Netflix series on F1 named Formula 1: Drive to Survive. The 2018 deal resulted in three seasons so far, the fourth now in the making. The series provides more insides in the ‘behind-the-scenes’ in several teams which interested me to get to know more. It additionally focuses on the drivers. Their personal life, background, and goals are shown. This makes you root for them and creates more of a ‘bond’ between a particular team/driver and the fan. I learned in this series many things about how F1 works but I also got to know how the drivers actually are which makes following a race much more interesting. This series, therefore, benefitted Formula 1 with new engaging audiences and it boosted the F1 sales. I heard from several people I know that they got interested in Formula 1 through the Netflix series, which for me was a fun way to see that their social media strategy/makeover actually works.
So, here are some social media advances that changed Formula 1 and helped it grow. What do you think, are there any other ways for Formula 1 to improve their online presence?
PS. Here’s one meme account recommendation if you’re interested: @f1troll. I really like it, I hope you do too!
- Van Eeten, Jeroen, “Zo werkt de Formule 1: Formula One Group,” Grand Prix Radio, August 31, 2018, https://www.grandprixradio.nl/2018/08/31/zo-werkt-de-formule-1-formula-one-group/
- “Liberty completes F1 acquisition,” Formula 1, January 23, 2017, https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.liberty-completes-f1-acquisition.3zzGTfOwC4OkEc8EAKMKKw.html
- “How YouTube Changed Formula 1,” Athletic Interest, uploaded March 25, 2021, video, 9:43, https://youtu.be/P9BLOZJ7YgM
I really liked reading this post since I also ‘just started watching F1 myself (I think I started watching in the middle of last years season). It’s actually really addicting, watching almost every Sunday, sharing the excitement with the fans (Max’s orange army especially)and the drivers themselves and of course the race for the world championship. As you mentioned, I also watched the Drive To Survive series on Netflix, which allows us to look at all the drama from a different perspective and to see all the things that you normally wouldn’t see on tv (I’m already excited for the next season haha). One of the YouTube channels I find really funny is WTF1, it’s basically people reacting on the race with memes, which is very very hilarious sometimes.
Thanks for commenting under my post, it is nice to see! Drive to Survive indeed gives us an inside perspective of drama and whatnot. However, the series gets much information not right and when it is, it is usually quite dramatized. This results in drivers not wanting to work with the series like Max Verstappen. For example, according to him, “rivals were faked that were not there at all”. There are many jokes about this online under the Instagram posts of the official F1 account. This in turn shows that DTS again promotes media interaction from fans which creates a close fan base.
And thanks for the tip, I will check the WTF1 YT channel out:).