The Real Power of F1 ‘Fangirls’

Female fans could become the future of F1. They carry significant financial power and enable opportunities for progression. So how can motorsport foster momentum and engage with its female fans in meaningful ways?

Written by Ellie Bishop

July 30, 2021

In a recent Tiktok video titled ‘In Defense of the Fangirl,’ F1 content creator Toni Cowan-Brown (@f1toni) sets out the perfect argument for why female F1 fans should be taken seriously. As the video establishes, female F1 fans are all too often side-lined as ‘sad, hysterical and sexual predators,’ only interested in the physical appearance of the drivers and the glamour of the sport. Cowan-Brown also highlights the differences in the perceived sources of enjoyment; for men, they have a deep understanding and appreciation, culminating in respect, but that for women, they are ‘driven by craze and pure lust.’

 

Of course, it is absurd and misogynistic to suggest that knowledge or enthusiasm for a sport is restricted in any way to a specific gender. Cowan-Brown highlights that in reality, female fans hold a significant amount of power, both economically and in relevancy, and this is interesting to consider. It raises the question of just how much financial power female fans can exercise over the sport and if that will enable them to shape motorsport in their image. 

 

Currently, no research has been conducted into the gender breakdown of viewer statistics of the 2021 F1 season. So far, all we know is that the number of people watching races is increasing, with the Bahrain GP breaking Sky Sports viewership records. It can be assumed that at least some of that increased viewership comes from women.

Susie Wolff driving at Silverstone in 2012. Wolff became the first woman in 22 years to take part in a Formula One race weekend. (via SkySports.com)

This increase in viewership can safely be claimed to be in part due to the popularity of the Netflix docuseries ‘Drive to Survive’. The true benefit of this series comes in allowing an insight into the personalities of the drivers and significant team members. They are no longer the wealthy, mysterious, competitive athletes, previously kept at a distance from the general public. 

 

The pandemic accelerated this process with the rise of drivers streaming from their homes. The Veloce Esports ‘Not the GP’ series established many of the younger drivers as internet personalities beyond the world of F1. While in-person racing has returned, many drivers still maintain a direct line of contact with fans through applications such as Twitch and Discord. 

 

This has fundamentally allowed, for lack of a better word, “cults” of personality to develop. People, specifically younger viewers, care just as much about how a driver behaves off-track as how they perform during races. When the personal lives of any athlete, in any sport, becomes popularised or commoditized, that is where you find the root of misogynistic blame towards the way that women show their support. On the flip side, the importance of an athlete’s social media following can become a useful currency in securing brand deals and partnership opportunities. In other words, it pays for F1 teams to have popular drivers. This is something that female fans pay attention to and gives them the power of relevancy; teams would be advised to use them as social barometers. The positive traits of the female fan include loyalty and a desire to thoroughly understand someone before they support them. The younger drivers, specifically Lando Norris, have understood the power of that and established a group of supporters which includes and encourages female fans. 

 

Not only do female fans exercise power in relevancy, but women also have immense buying power in 2021, with control over $31.8 trillion in worldwide spending. In fact, a recent study found that 65% of all new cars are being bought by women. They are ready to make the investment into sports. In 2020 women made up 46% of official NFL merchandise purchases. It is now up to the FIA and F1 teams to capture this potential and engage with their female fans in significant ways. 

W Series drivers racing at Silverstone (Photo via @WSeriesRacing on Twitter)

Seeing women on track is a fantastic start. The W Series shows a real commitment to fostering the careers of women as drivers. Of course, the goal for many women is to see a successful female F1 driver, something which has not been undertaken in the modern era of the sport. Many teams are also working to build their fan experiences, developing tailored schemes which engage with male and female fans across different age groups. Furthermore, in January 2021, Motorsport UK’s Girls on Track partnered with Formula 1 and the FIA to deliver a series of talks about working in F1. 

 

It is clear that female fans are on the FIA’s radar. There is so much opportunity for progression in motorsport if they continue and further the development of viewing female fans in a serious light. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

One of Ellie’s earliest memories growing up is watching formula 1 on television with her Dad. She recently graduated the University of Manchester studying Latin and English Literature. Currently, she is interning full time for a major British news publication as a junior editor. Ellie is particularly interested in the marketing and management side of motorsports. She also spends her time singing in choirs and visiting the latest London art exhibitions! You can find her on twitter at @zephyrellie.

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