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"Looking For A Man In F1"

Image Courtesy: Pexels- Alban Villain

 

The rise of Formula 1 (F1) has attracted  a new demographic of fans, causing discontent among long-standing fans who disapprove of the shift in focus from the sport to the attractive appeal of F1 drivers.

 

The Rise of ‘Drive to Survive’

In recent years, F1 has experienced a remarkable surge in global popularity, which can be largely attributed to the success of the Netflix documentary series ‘Drive to Survive’, released in 2019. While watching the races themselves are unpredictable, tense and exciting, the series provides an in-depth look behind the scenes of F1 and has captivated a new generation of fans, reigniting interest in the sport.

‘Drive to Survive’ has changed the perception of F1 from a motorsport beginning in the 1950s, into a mainstream entertainment series. With currently six seasons released, it highlights the politics of F1 between the teams and the personal struggles of the drivers with their goals of becoming world champions. The show builds a deeper and more personal connection to the sport, which has ultimately built a loyal and diverse fanbase.

What About The “True Fans”?

Long-standing fans all over the world who have been following the sport enthusiastically, are disappointed by the surge of commercialised marketing that has brought in a different type of fanbase to F1.

TikToker @ChiaraKing has received a lot of controversial backlash on her recent F1 Monaco Grand Prix posts, as she flaunts the idolisation of the attractive drivers, with her VIP access, while not knowing much about the sport itself. Fans have voiced concerns stating, “I miss when we actually went for the sport” (TikTok:@graciee_waciee). There is clear frustration, where fans believe that some viewers are solely drawn to F1 because of the attractive drivers.

Specifically, female fans express their concerns about being typecast into a fanbase primarily interested in the attractiveness of the drivers, despite their genuine passion for the sport. Their attempts to challenge this stereotype are hindered by influencers who perpetuate it by posting content that they are “looking for a man in F1, Grand Prix, 5’8, Sexy”, further complicating their situation.

Gatekeeping in Sports

Historically, one of the most visible forms of gatekeeping in sports has been based on gender. Women and girls have faced long-standing barriers to participation and recognition in many sports.

Motorsports have traditionally been male-dominated, both in participation and fandom, causing a marginalisation of female fans having their enthusiasm questioned, based purely on gender-based stereotypes.

In the F1 fanbase, gatekeeping can revolve around the knowledge of the sport’s history and technical aspects. Veteran fans sometimes view themselves as more dedicated and authentic compared to newer fans, particularly those who may have been introduced to the sport through the series ‘Drive to Survive’. This can create a hostile environment for newcomers who are still learning about the sport.

For women, there is often scepticism about their knowledge with the assumption that they are less educated on the technical aspects of F1. It is often believed that women are only interested in the sport in a superficial manner or due to the attractiveness of the drivers. This can cause female fans to feel that they constantly need to prove their knowledge or passion, to be taken seriously in the sport.

Is F1 Marketing to Blame?

F1 teams and drivers have significantly increased their presence on social media platforms like Instagram, X (Twitter) and TikTok. Drivers frequently share glimpses of their personal lives, workouts, fashion and behind-the-scenes moments. This constant engagement keeps fans connected and invested in their favourite drivers’ lives, building a celebrity-like following based on attractiveness and lifestyle.

Collaborations with high-end fashion brands such as Vogue Italia’s shoot with current Ferrari drivers Charles LeClerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. enhance their status as style icons and appeal to fans who are attracted to the sport’s glamour. This has therefore drawn in a diverse audience that might not have been interested in the sport solely for its racing elements.

However, it has to be recognised that F1 has taken proactive steps to become more inclusive for women in the sport by, for example, launching the ‘F1 Academy’. A program that focuses on young female drivers progressing through the ranks of motorsport to reach F1.

Intending to bridge the gap between female and male participation in the sport, this initiative aims to increase the number of women competing at entry and mid-levels of single-seater racing.

While F1 might be using the popularity and focus of the drivers themselves to promote the sport, it is clear that both F1 and ‘Drive to Survive’ have played a role in paving the way for women in motorsport by attracting a more diverse audience.

Progressing Forward

Does it matter if fans go to watch the Grand Prix for the attractive drivers over the actual competitive sporting features? If F1 marketing has capitalised on the attractiveness of the drivers and their lifestyles, why should people still gatekeep the sport?

It is understandable that female fans who have worked hard in proving their knowledge for the sport itself, to break free from the stigma of women and sports, are frustrated at the different F1 fanbase. It can be noted that there should not be a generalised grouping of all female fans.

However, ultimately, the enjoyment of F1 can manifest through various avenues. While traditional fans may dislike the shift, there is merit in embracing the diverse interests that fuel the sport's continued growth. After all, in a sport driven by constant innovation and evolution, shouldn't its fanbase reflect these same principles?

 


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