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PR in the Paddock: The Rise of Formula 1

Published on March 26, 2024, 2:48 p.m.
By CamiLee Downey.

In 2023, the name “Formula 1” was springing up on every corner of the internet. Whether the motor sport was in the news, shown on TV or spotlighted by an influencer on social media, the sport felt inescapable.

Formula 1 began on May 13, 1950, with the first World Championship Grand Prix at Silverstone in the United Kingdom, and the season had seven rounds: Britain, Monaco, United States, Belgium, France and Italy.

Photo via Adobe Stock by 3D motion

This season includes 24 races with the first in Bahrain and the last in Abu Dhabi. The 2023 season added a new race in the U.S. in Las Vegas.

So, why has the Formula 1 industry seen such record-breaking growth in recent years?

Liberty Media Corp.’s acquisition of Formula 1

In 2017, Liberty Media Corp. acquired Formula 1 for an enterprise value of $8 billion. This acquisition opened the doors to the world of Formula 1 as we know it today.

Alexandra Schieren, founder of Alexandra Schieren Sport Communications, said that before this acquisition Formula 1 was more of a traditional sport. There was media access to the paddock; however, no one was allowed to publish moving images on social media from inside the paddock. This is because the view was that TV paid for those rights, so others should not have them for free. The acquisition was the point where social media became available for teams to use, and it opened the doors for media to reach teams and drivers on race day.

Formula 1 in the digital space

Formula 1 has built a large online audience in the past decade. Across all social platforms for the teams, drivers and official Formula 1 accounts, the sport has amassed tens of millions of loyal followers.

Before the acquisition of Formula 1 rights by Liberty Media Corp., digital media content looked different than it does now. Schieren explained that due to restrictions on moving images on social media, it was difficult to gather content from inside the paddock, and because of this, social media did not take off that much. Now, teams can do much more in the digital space to boost promotion.

Cady Chow, vice president of communications for Circuit of the Americas, stressed the importance of completely integrated teams moving forward, to ensure that social media messaging is cohesive. She underscored this need by noting how younger generations put so much value and trust in social media. It is where many members of younger generations turn to get their news. Thus, it is vital for Formula 1 teams and drivers to utilize social media effectively so that their audience is up to date and engaged in all circumstances.

Looking at the official Formula 1 Instagram account, it is obvious that the brand has mastered the art of digital content creation. With multiple posts going out each day, fans of the sport are constantly updated with recent happenings whether it is race day or the off-season.

Not only is the sport successful on Instagram, but it is also successful on a variety of other digital platforms. The sport has an active YouTube channel and its own app: F1TV, not to mention its consistent presence on other social media platforms such as TikTok, X and Facebook. The sport currently ranks as the No. 8 most-followed sport across social media platforms.

A docuseries’ impact on F1 popularity and growth

“Formula 1: Drive to Survive” premiered on Netflix in 2019 and introduced many Americans to the world of Formula 1. Set up by Liberty Media Corp., the show features many behind-the-scenes moments that had not been seen before.

Photo via Netflix

Chow argued the show is the “No. 1 reason the sport has gained popularity.” It allowed fans to build connections with drivers and teams and follow along with their racing seasons.

Chow stated, “The first season allowed you to develop a ‘relationship’ with characters that you could root for.” This is important when curating a show like this so that the audience will buy in and stay connected to the drivers, teams and sport as a whole across media platforms. The show has used these relationships to grab viewers’ attention and keep them watching season after season.

The rapid rise in popularity of the sport in the U.S. can be partly attributed to the storytelling done in the show and how it makes this formerly closed off community much more open. In looking at Instagram alone, following the season 5 premiere of the show, Lewis Hamilton, a driver for the Mercedes Formula 1 team, gained over 98,000 new followers. This is not only a testament to how much the show drives the sport’s popularity, but it also shows how it can connect fans to their favorite drivers and teams to follow them throughout their Formula 1 season as well as their everyday lives. “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” has been successful in its goal to bring a new generation to the sport and generate interest with engaging, unique stories.

Photo via Adobe Stock by Adolfo Perez Design

Beyond the paddock
Formula 1’s popularity has skyrocketed in recent years. This increase in attention means that the sport needs to be working overtime to retain popularity and keep its audiences engaged.

Some think that Formula 1 has hit its peak of popularity. Do you? How should the sport continue using digital media and its docuseries to keep fans engaged this season and beyond?

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