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Girls Just Want to Watch Formula One

Written by Ashlie Church, edited by Sasha Macmillen

With the new season of Drive to Survive (DTS) released only last week on Netflix, some people will be hurrying home, TV on, feet up to watch. Others meanwhile will be sighing and wringing their hands at the show which has fallen victim to mixing up footage audio as well as orchestrating rivalries and drama which simply doesn’t exist. And this season already isn’t immune to criticism. But outside of the criticism of the show itself and looking at the effects DTS has had, there is an element of resistance from certain viewers of Formula 1; we want more people to watch the sport, but only certain people and only people who talk about it and watch it in the way we want. Not always but quite often, this centres around female viewership, which has grown exponentially in the past few years, despite the fact that women have been watching Formula One since, well, since forever.

Via PlanetF1

It is no secret that DTS has brought in a whole host of new female fans, mainly younger women who, as products of a younger generation, found the format of Netflix and other social media channels an easier way to access Formula 1. But what is often overlooked, is that this upsurge in feminine energy has not just introduced new fans but also given existing female fans a place, a voice and most importantly amplification, because as it turns out women, shockingly, enjoy discussing and expressing their interests with other women, shown by the growing community of female content creators.

However, this is where the conflict appears to be emanating from; the assumption that women aren’t interested in the technicalities of the sport and the assumption that there is a singular way to be interested in it. What many women, with some clout online are arguing for is not simply to be taken seriously and their interest in the sport legitimised, a cause which was not helped by Geri Horner’s husband, Christian Horner, with his recent comments concerning young female fans, but also the ability to not have a serious or technical interest in the sport and not be haruanged online. Yes, you can bring up the point of ‘fangirls’ and the problems many of this demographic bring, as detailed here, but I would argue this is a small but loud section of female viewers present in almost every public facing industry.

The closest comparison I can make to the current situation with Formula 1, is views during the most recent World Cup and Euros, specifically from an English point of view. The new England team were an instant hit with female fans. They had great coverage on social media and YouTube concerning both the intricacies of their careers and the fun training diaries from St George’s Park. And there was no shame in it. It was perfectly okay for both men and women to enjoy Josh Denzel’s mini youtube series on interviews and games. The vitriol online was nothing compared to that which female Formula 1 fans receive. So, what’s the difference?

The main takeaway is that the Euros and the World Cup are temporary. They will finish and people will go back to their lives and new players will come into the squad. The hysteria surrounding football in these periods died down immediately after the competitions finished and most fans knew this would happen, so the online unpleasantness wasn’t worth it. However, DTS introduced new fans, female fans to the sport. And four years later, they’re still here. It’s almost as if female fans are tolerated up to a point before they have to show their worth, display their interest and prove their worth. Formula 1 is already essentially an exclusive, subscription-only sport with it now only being shown on Sky Sports in many territories, so there are less casual fans and therefore it seems fanship should be less casual too. Combine this with being a woman, and suddenly any vague interest you have in the sport has been snubbed before you’ve even begun. It’s the continuation of a long tradition of women’s interests in anything being questioned, delegitimised, and their point of view being valued less than a man’s.

So, where do female fans stand at the end of the day? The fight for casual viewership and surface-level enjoyment continues as it always has. Maybe they are watching the sport for Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton, or maybe they are watching it to see how Mercedes have developed their car over the summer break, or maybe they are just watching it because it’s on. This seems to be exclusively a problem online, which is sadly the only place many fans can afford to watch Formula 1, and even more frustratingly, is largely unregulated so much of the harassment goes undealt with. To sum up, there are many women forging new and interesting ways to enjoy the sport and dissect it, as well as safe places for women to enjoy it in whatever way they please, which hopefully soon will be redundant.

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