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A Formula 1 car during the São Paulo Grand Prix in 2022
A Formula 1 car during the São Paulo Grand Prix in 2022
Original photo by Valentine Boutsiavaras
Culture > Entertainment

Since when is Formula 1 so popular?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

The first ever Formula 1 race happened in 1950 and since then it has been one of the most intriguing (and fastest) sports in the world. However, its high speed hasn’t been present only inside the racetracks, but also on its fast increase in popularity in these past years.

According to F1, the 2021 season had a 1,5 billion viewing rate. The hashtag #formula1 has 8,3M posts on Instagram and 2,9M on TikTok. The 2023 São Paulo GP had over 300 brands and experiences for fans at Interlagos. These numbers are just a sample of how, even though some researches show a decrease in audience over the past 2 years, Formula One has established itself as one of the strongest brands in the sports world.

A little history

Bernie Ecclestone, British ex-driver and businessman, held F1’s commercial rights for almost four decades and had a key role in making the sport a billion-dollar business and a global success. However, facing a decline in audience and an aging fan base, in 2017, American media company Liberty Media, part of 21st Century Fox, bought Formula One’s commercial rights.

With a series of changes on F1’s communication and PR strategies, including a deal with a streaming platform, bigger presence on social media and promoting unique experiences for fans, Liberty transformed (and grew!) the relationship of the category with the public. According to Rodrigo França, Brazilian Formula 1 journalist, “they understood it was time to revolutionize. To start creating new opportunities, bringing in a younger public. They were also able to bring in new sponsors, making Formula One a business environment”.

The power of social media

The main factor behind Formula 1’s growth is, definitely, the execution of a strong social media strategy, which generates huge digital engagement. With almost 70 million followers across Instagram, X, TikTok, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube, F1’s profiles have become powerful platforms. Fans can interact with each other, get to know news about the sport and watch exclusive content such as “Grill the Grid”, a YouTube series with the drivers and “Secret Santa”, a Christmas special.

But it’s not only through F1’s official profiles that we’re able to connect with the sport. The teams’ pages have also been turning into big hits, interacting and replying to fans, entering viral trends and posting memes. The drivers are also becoming more accessible, either through their own profiles on Instagram and X or doing lives while racing online (or Sim racing – very strong during the pandemic).

This approach was essential to bring into the sport a younger public and more women. As reported by Liberty Media, there was a 44% growth of the audience younger than 35 years old on broadcast transmissions. Furthermore, checking digital platforms, it’s easy to find pages administrated by women and focused on the female audience, and not only fan pages as people can sometimes think, but also discussing race technicalities, rules, strategies and more. As beautifully put by F1 presenter Laura Winter, “We are here to stay and we are right where we belong”.

Drive to Survive and the pandemic

In 2019, the first season of Drive to Survive dropped. A Netflix production that promised to show, across 10 episodes per season, the behind-the-scenes and all the drama around Formula One. A year later, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and season 2 of DTS dropped during lockdown, talking about the 2019 championship.

Drive to Survive, even if telling stories in an overdramatic and fictionalized way oftentimes, made the sport known to new audiences. And, undoubtedly, making a new season available during lockdown, while people were home with not many new options on what to watch, helped. Besides that, during the pandemic, Formula 1 was one of the first big sports’ championship to go back (with health precautions that included a much smaller calendar, masks, no public inside the racetracks and heavy testing of staff), meaning that another season of the show would be launched the following year. The “Drive to Survive formula” was so successful that other categories from motorsport such as NASCAR, Indy and Stock Car are launching documentaries too.

While it may not be F1’s superfans’ favorite show, due to its romanticized portrayals sometimes, Drive to Survive has certainly had an impact on the sport’s audience. “We got used to the language they use (on Drive to Survive) now, but as long as there’s drama to be shown, they’ll keep on doing it”, says França.

Concern and attention with the fan experience

Liberty has also worried and taken care of the experiences fans have inside the racetracks and online. With exclusive VIP events, The Paddock Pass and Club, F1 Garage Hospitality and Fan Zones, fans who attend the races can feel closer to that atmosphere and other fans.

For those at home, it’s possible to follow what’s happening through F1TV, Formula One’s own streaming service with several features, the F1 app, contains all the information of the race calendar, championships standings, news of the paddock and F1 Explains, F1 Nation and F1:Beyond The Grid, Formula One’s podcasts. As a way of making fans engage, there’s also F1 Fantasy, a kind of game where you can put together your own racing team, win points with every race weekend and compete with friends.

What to expect now and future challenges

Looking ahead, Formula One has some challenges on how to keep its popularity growing, the main one being how to make the sport more competitive. The cost cap, implemented in 2021 was an attempt to do that and that year’s championship was one of the most exciting ones in the history of motorsport. However, 3 years later, Red Bull Racing is far ahead from its competitors. “Formula One’s biggest problem is that it is a dominance sport. It always has been. Liberty’s challenge with the 2026 regulations will be to balance that. You don’t need to have 10 strong teams, but you need to have at least two or three”, explains França.


The article above was edited by Fernanda Miki Tsukase.

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Olivia Nogueira

Casper Libero '26

Brazilian journalism student who loves to talk about music, books, TV shows and Formula One.