Is F1 still relevant?


7 myth-busting facts about Formula 1

Robin Meakin, Head of Insights

Formula 1 remains high on the sports news agenda in the face of stiff competition over the summer from the FIFA World Cup, Wimbledon and all the other sport and entertainment events that clamour for our attention. A competitive drivers’ championship, the rise and decline of some of the teams and the emergence of potential new superstars are all contributing towards an increasing sense of excitement around the sport.
However, one of F1’s biggest challenges is to break free from the misconceptions and stereotypes that surround it. While F1 is right to play on its rich and exciting history, the perception is that this doesn’t always play well with a younger crowd who are more interested in how the sport will evolve in the future. Brands who are considering investing in F1 sponsorship need to be reassured that it is fresh, current and relevant to their target audiences and not just a high-profile nostalgia trip for die-hard fans.
Drawing on data from our annual sports fan survey of 18,000 people aged 16+ from 18 different countries, here are seven myth busting facts about the sport that demonstrate F1’s enduring relevance in the modern world.

Myth #1: F1 fans are old
Wrong! In fact, according to our data, 40% of F1 fans are under 35 years old - a bigger proportion than football (38%). Look at newer fans of F1 and the picture is even more positive. Of those following F1 for less than 12 months, 46% are under 35 and 20% are 16-24. So, despite the common assumption that F1 remains the domain of an older crowd, the data reveals that F1 has a large and rapidly expanding young fan base.
Myth #2: F1 fans are men
Wrong again! We know that 45% of all those interested in F1 are female and that 53% of F1 fans following the sport for less than 12 months are women. In other words, the sport already has a very strong female fan base and women represent an increasing proportion of its fans. In light of that, the decision to replace ‘Grid Girls’ with ‘Grid Kids’ makes a lot of sense. Interestingly, there is a similar story in other sports: 43% of football fans are women while the figure is 39% for the UEFA Champions League and 41% for the FIFA World Cup. There is clearly a significant and relatively untapped opportunity for brands to target women using these and other sporting properties.

Myth #3: F1 fans are stuck in the past
Looking at the classic 5 stages of product adoption, our data show that, compared to non-fans, F1 fans are 4 times more likely to be innovators and more than twice as likely to be early adopters. This is hardly the hallmark of a fan base that prefers to look at life in the rear-view mirror. So, any brand launching new products and services on a regular basis need look no further than F1 for its customers, as they are very likely to be among the first to try and buy new products and services.
Myth #4: F1 fans are all petrol-heads
The origins of this myth are easy to understand given F1’s history. However, times have changed and F1 is swiftly moving away from its past when environmental issues were not on its radar. It is now at the forefront of engine technology whereby hybrid engines and energy recovery systems are helping to make F1 more environmentally friendly. The fans know this and many are socially and environmentally aware. Indeed, compared to the general population, they are 60% more likely to strongly agree that “concern for the environment strongly influences the way I live my life”. This is highly significant and gives the lie to the myth that F1 fans are oblivious to wider environmental concerns.
Myth #5: F1 fans are not into social media
Admittedly, F1 had a slow start with social media, hampered by a lack of understanding as to how fundamentally the media landscape was shifting to meet the needs of an increasingly digitalised world. That is now changing though, with the volume of F1-related activity on social media increasing rapidly and great content being created. Our data reveal that 47% of F1 fans now follow F1 on social media – a similar level to other major sports. We also know that users on F1’s official social platforms grew by 55% in 2017, suggesting that F1 supporters are readily embracing the social media age.
Myth #6: F1 isn’t that popular in Asia
The typical perception is that F1’s core audience is in Europe. Indeed, most of the teams and roughly half the races are based there. However, based on our survey, a glance into the future shows that F1’s biggest growth markets are China, India, Indonesia and Thailand, not to mention Vietnam where there is widely expected to be a new race in the coming years. Asia of course delivers scale because of the huge population and increasing economic potency. Consider this – there are more new F1 fans in China than in the whole of Europe combined. Where is future global economic growth going to come from? Asia. Where should F1 focus its attention for future races and activity? Asia.

Myth #7: Football is more popular than F1
Half true. Our research demonstrates that, as a generic sport, football is more popular than F1. 34% of the adult population are ‘very interested’ in football compared to 29% for F1. However, in the 18 countries included in our survey, no individual football property held on an annual basis is more popular than F1. The closest is the UEFA Champions’ League where 27% of the population are ‘very interested’. It’s true that the FIFA World Cup is the most popular sporting event in the world – 38% of those surveyed said they were ‘very interested’ in it, a figure that will almost undoubtedly increase given the success of Russia 2018. Yet, as everyone knows, it is a ‘quadrennial’ event taking place every four years. As a result, F1 can justifiably claim that, on a global level, it has the biggest fan base of any annual sporting event or series including football.
So, what can we take from all this? Contrary to popular opinion, the F1 fan base is an increasingly diverse and vibrant community, brought together by a passion for the sport. Rather than conforming to the stereotype, many F1 fans are young, a substantial amount of them are women and the biggest growth markets for the future are in Asia. So, F1 delivers not just reach but relevance and brands that associate with the sport in an authentic, imaginative way will be rewarded.
Get in touch if you want to know more about CSM’s data on F1 fans and how we can help you learn more about the sport.