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Opinion: Females Dominate a New F1 Fanbase

Written by Ashleigh Wright, Edited by Sean McKean

Credit: Peter Fox / Getty Images

There are no two ways about it: Formula One is more popular now than ever, as its fanbase continues to grow and diversify.

So much has already been said about the number of new fans the sport has gained in the United States over the past years, but the trend is just as accurate in Australia.

In 2017, the Melbourne Grand Prix appeared to hit a serious slump, with peak television viewership declining for three consecutive years to just 3.4 million. However, six years later, the 2022 event saw 3.6 million people tune in across Channel 10 properties alone, with an additional 611,000 watching the race on Foxtel or Kayo. That’s a whole lot of new fans (and money) for the sport, and for that, it can thank women.

Between TikToks and Instagram fan pages worshipping drivers, and podcasts analysing the mechanics of cars or the politics of the sport, women are driving a newfound appreciation of motorsport.

In November 2022, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said approximately 40 percent of global Formula One fans are now female, which is up 8 per cent from 2017.Closer to home, a 2023 study commissioned by beverage brand Heineken revealed 65 per cent of new Australian Formula One fans are female.

So, how exactly did this once male-dominated fandom become so popular amongst women?

Well, you probably won’t be surprised to read the Netflix docuseries Formula 1: Drive to Survive has a lot to do with it.

Whenever someone asks me “Ash, how’d you get into Formula One?” I internally panic, trying to think of what to say or how to reply. Telling someone I became an F1 lover through Formula 1: Drive to Survive means people usually doubt my status as a ‘genuine’ fan.

I love F1 — why wouldn’t I? And my bank account would certainly agree. But I still constantly find myself having to prove it.

Other fans, particularly men, write me off as ‘uneducated.’ Because I came to Formula One through the docuseries, they assume I know nothing about the sport itself and that I’m only interested in the drama between drivers, and the driver’s physical appearances. Women can love F1 for the sport, and they deserve not to be excluded or insulted because of sexist stereotypes.

Especially because Formula 1: Drive to Survive was purposely designed to create new F1 fans, and was hugely successful in doing so. Liberty Media boss Greg Maffei said season four was the number-one show in 33 countries around the world. There was a resulting 29 per cent increase in the number of viewers at the final race of the 2021 season, compared to the same race in 2019. The show is clearly succeeding in its aim to give people an access point to motorsport.

Plenty of long-standing fans also sit down once a year to binge-watch the 10 episodes each season in this ‘imagined community,’ so why is it only young female fans are being shamed for it? It’s as if women have to go through this extra layer of ‘proving yourself’ to be considered a ‘real’ fan.

It doesn’t just happen in F1, either. How many female rugby fans have been ordered to explain the ins and outs of a ‘scrum’ to be accepted in the inner circle?

Women face much more scrutiny than men when it comes to being sports fans.

I started consuming F1 content passively at first, watching Formula 1: Drive to Survive by myself, on my laptop and in my bed, at home. I wouldn’t post about it anywhere or talk to anyone about it. I wasn’t collectively part of an audience, because I was an individual consumer of Formula One media.

However, what I’ve found most interesting during my experience as part of the F1 fandom is just how fast I went from being a participant-observer to an active and engaged audience member.

Once I finished watching the docuseries, I watched every YouTube video the teams, drivers and F1 content creators released about the past season and started to live-watch all the qualifying and races — sometimes more anxious than others.

I paid for a Kayo subscription to be able to consume more media live, as well as followed drivers, teams and F1 content creators across Twitter, Instagram and TikTok — even going as far as to insert myself into the fandom hierarchy, by becoming someone who comments on and shares content.

Formula 1: Drive to Survive planted my interest in the sport — I cultivated this and allowed it to grow.

Credit: Quinn Rooney / Getty Images

The energy and new opportunities female fans create directly correlate to the financial growth of the sport. The power of the ‘teen girl dollar’ creates massive wealth and crucial cultural relevance.

But despite the growth and excitement new fans are bringing to the world of F1, some ‘old-school’ fans are still not receptive to newbies.

Early media effects theory suggests women are seen as needing to be ‘protected’ from certain content because they’re ‘gullible’ and ‘easily influenced.’ But, here’s the thing: I’m more than capable of recognising there’s a lot of false storytelling and made-up rivalries in Formula 1: Drive to Survive — I think most girls realise this. Therefore, becoming a fan of the sport through watching the programme doesn’t permit people to belittle me or anyone else who got into F1 the same way.

These assumptions affect the wider female fanbase as a whole, and I believe this can add to limitations for audience members who don’t feel comfortable actively engaging with the sport or other fans, online or in person, as they fear being judged or having their status as a fan questioned.

At the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix, Formula One posted a statement on Twitter before the race about how they were made aware of reports some fans had been subject to completely unacceptable comments by others. This included sexist catcalling, homophobic abuse, and inappropriate touching of female fans.

Several drivers spoke out about the issue, including Lewis Hamilton who took to Twitter to write “We cannot sit back and allow this to continue.”

In an attempt to make women more comfortable at Grand Prix events, a new campaign was released called ‘#DriveItOut.’

Unfortunately, with the already well-established toxic fan culture targeted towards female fans, the question is how serious is this campaign being taken, and how long will it take to make a change?

Advice to new female fans of F1

So, if you’re a new female fan just trying to find their feet in F1, here is my advice.

Firstly, embrace your status as a newbie! Don’t view it as something shameful; it’s simply just a fact.

Next, ask questions, and lots of them. Opening up the dialogue between new and long-standing fans is already creating ripple effects of positivity, with the same 2023 study by Heineken finding 67 percent of new fans are spending more time with loved ones through bonding over the sport.

And lastly, show your support to other women and newcomers achieving great things in the Formula One community. Recommend your favourite female podcasters, gas up the women presenters, and be the positivity you want to see in the world of F1.

Credit: Robert Cianflone / Getty Images

Ultimately, people need to stop asking any fan, regardless of gender, whether they are ‘real’ or not, and definitely stop asking if they’re only a fan because they fancy their favourite driver.

A woman’s existence as a Formula One fan doesn’t threaten anyone else’s status as a fan.

So, how about you just let me wear my vintage Ferrari racing jacket in peace?

After all, I’m only just getting my engine started.

1 comment

1 Kommentar

21. Juni 2023

Motorsport in general is a great sport in which once underway during competition gender is all but invisible, which gives it a big advantage in terms of inclusivity than some other sports. Its also a sport that can be consumed by fans however one wishes, its a big enough circus that you can go live to an event and be consumed even without watching track action or you can stand in a braking zone absorbed by different styles, technique. The media presence too means you can watch simply the live track action or one of the many live or on demand magazine type shows and podcasts. I had a great conversation at a social event recently with a young female…

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