"A lot of people criticize Formula 1 as an unnecessary risk. But what would life be like if we only did the necessary?"
- Niki Lauda
When people think of Formula 1, they think about fast cars and people who are just crazy enough to live between life and death constantly. But what is life without a little risk? After all, people pay n amounts of money just to observe those 2 hours of pure adrenaline. Even if you are not the one driving, you are just as involved in it.
But for some reason, it did not quite make it into the homes of the masses. Since its inception, it has been a sport that is highly dependent on money. Quite contrary to the popular Michael Scott quote, "Mo Money, Mo Problems," in F1 it is, "Mo Money, No Problems." Even for the viewers, and the audience to watch the sport, the tickets cost a lot of money and so did watching it on TV.
Since the mid-2000s, F1 has been steadily moving away from Free-to-Air television, with ratings subsequently falling to 400 million in 2018, from 600 million in 2008. This switch to pay-TV has led to the loss of viewers and brought the sport away from the general public, many of whom may not wish to subscribe for Pay-TV just to watch 21 races on a calendar. In addition to this, ticket prices have been skyrocketing in the past decade, which you can see in this article in Forbes. This high price to enter can put off those who are new to F1, as they may not wish to fork out the exorbitant amounts required.
This lack of ability for the audience to connect with the sport is a huge issue for F1, as its audience numbers continue to plummet, while its electric sibling championship, the FIA Formula E Championship continues to gain popularity among the people, and drawing in new fans to motorsport, with its zero cost of introduction to the sport (FTA Broadcasts on Youtube, Facebook), and the heavy amount of interaction with its fans through social media.
Apart from this in the years before 2021, F1 was freaking boring. The top 3 (Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari) of the 10 teams kept getting richer, and the others fell behind. It was a race where they were huffing and puffing to catch up. Quite literally. But even then, there was little to no competition to Mercedes for 6 straight years. Everybody knew the outcome of the races even before they began. Which made this sport quite dull.
It was so one-sided that, Mercedes won 75% of the races from 2014 to 2020. Winning the Driver Championships and the Constructor Championships. This is what caused the popularity of F1 to drop by a huge margin. The audience was bored to death because the exciting uncertainty and the fun were completely gone.
But it all changed for the better in 2021. A young boy by the name of Max Verstappen took it upon his shoulders to make a dent in the long-reigning supremacy of the Mercedes team. Putting in fantastic performances in 15 out of the 22 races this season, he has brought back the thrill in the sport. The crashes, the duels, the team politics, the fights that happened in the first half of this season have taken the world by storm. So much so that, Formula 1 saw an increase of 30% in their viewership this year alone.
Another reason for the growth in popularity of Formula 1 in recent years is the Netflix documentary series "Formula 1: Drive to Survive." Drive to Survive is a documentary-style show that follows Formula One and its teams throughout a season. The nature of the series allows fans to get a never-before-seen glimpse into the paddock and the inner workings of the championship. Rivalries, friendships, and characters emerge that viewers might not see on track from following the traditional broadcast format.
The creation and success of Drive to Survive are symptomatic of series owner Liberty Media’s implementation of a robust digital strategy as part of its attempts to engage with younger audiences. Sitting alongside other projects such as Formula One’s ‘We Race as One’ initiative and last year’s Virtual Grand Prix esports series, Drive to Survive has driven audience engagement and ushered in a whole new group of potential fans. A recent study published by Nielsen even cited the docuseries as a key reason for the sport’s increasing popularity among those aged between 16 and 35, who accounted for 77% of Formula One’s audience growth in 2020.
The interest in the show also appears to be rubbing off on the racing itself. During the first event of the 2021 Formula One season in Bahrain, UK pay-TV broadcaster Sky Sports recorded its highest-ever viewing figures for a Grand Prix aired on its channels, reaching a high of 2.23 million. Whether or not a portion of those viewership increases can be attributed to Drive to Survive remains to be seen, but it is clear that Formula One is reaching more fans than ever before, something which is important for the growth of the series.
This continuously expanding growth in viewership is sure to only increase from here on out. With the new regulations coming in next season, the playing fields will be somewhat even. This means the intensity of the sport is going to be higher than ever. Until then, all we can hope for is more action drama on the race track from the twenty racers who have put on quite a show this year. The drama is going to be "Simply Simply Lovely!"'