F1 Rounding Out 5-Year International Boom

formula 1
As F1 drivers and constructors enjoy their offseason, fans are instead focused on the season start on March 5 with the Bahrain Grand Prix. Here's why there's never been a better time to follow.

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As F1 drivers and constructors enjoy their offseason, fans are instead focused on the season start on March 5 with the Bahrain Grand Prix. Coming off his second win as a driver and Red Bull’s second constructor win, Max Verstappen has inserted himself as the racing series’ top talent to watch—even with Lewis Hamilton and Charles LeClerc waiting in the wings with Mercedes and Ferrari, respectively.

For fans, there’s never been a better time to follow the series. It’s engaging, includes high stakes, and has a growing audience worldwide. Despite the influx of new fans, one group in particular has seen a huge influx of attention: Red Bull Racing. The constructor is no stranger to success in F1—however, Verstappen’s recent toppling of the Mercedes-Hamilton regime has seen a wave of new fans and even sponsors.

But how did the racing series see such a huge rise in fandom over the last five years? And what has that changed for the sport?

The Docuseries that Started it All

Back in 2019, executives at Netflix decided to add a new documentary series to their growing repertoire of sports docs. The series, Drive to Survive, introduced millions of sports fans worldwide to the racing series. Notably, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes decided to sit that first season out.

At the time, Max Verstappen was still solidifying his place as Red Bull’s primary talent. In other words, the docuseries was positioned at one of F1’s most important shifts: passing the buck from Hamilton to Verstappen in what would be an absolute scrap. This highlights why that docuseries succeeded: Formula One racing is inherently dramatic and interesting (more on this below).

And audiences are incredibly interested in these types of detail-oriented competitions. Even poker, for example, is now a global pastime due to a pop culture boom. Thanks to a come-up in popularity during the late 1990s and early 2000s, and plenty of coverage on networks like ESPN, almost everyone has heard of variants like Texas Hold’em. Today, many watch it live on various broadcasts, delving into different pros, their strategies, style, and their competition. 

But not even poker fans have a Netflix doc to glom onto. And it can’t be understated how successful Drive to Survive was in introducing the sport, its stakes, interpersonal drama, and just how much legacy is up for grabs in a sport that started back in 1950. The show was such a huge hit that Hamilton and Mercedes immediately signed on for season two… even if Verstappen took a step back after being portrayed as the ‘bad guy’.

 

Expansion in Saudi Arabia & the US

Netflix’s Drive to Survive is the primary reason F1 has enjoyed a revival. However, it’s not the only reason—after all, series executives had to know how to leverage that boom. Since the release of the docuseries, F1 has expanded its annual number of events.

Back in 2019, F1 racers competed in 21 Grand Prix events. However, by 2021, the racing series had expanded to include a total of 22 events thanks to the first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Not to be outdone, the US rallied for an expanded number of US-based events. In 2022, the first-ever Miami Grand Prix was added. This year, a third US event will be added in Las Vegas, totaling 23 annual events that drivers now race in.

The addition of these races has helped onboard thousands of new fans, while also providing key locations for viewers to watch live races at. In other words, F1 isn’t just enjoying an expanding fanbase, but also providing ways for them to keep developing their interest in the series.

Innate Drama

There are two clear reasons why F1 has boomed in the last five years: Netflix and the addition of three exciting Grand Prix events. However, it’s still worth pointing out just how innately entertaining F1 is. That’s because there are only ten constructors and twenty drivers who can compete in a single season. 

The pool is low, which means the stakes are high. And now that Hamilton’s reign with Mercedes has come to an end, Verstappen has to defend his crown. But behind the scenes, team leaders are also vying for influence and control. And just as many viewers are glued to what happens to Christian Horner, head of Red Bull Racing, as they are to Verstappen.

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