Throughout the history of F1 we have witnessed glorious eras with true legends of the sport. The days of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Gilles Villenueve have changed, and with them the world of sponsorship: there were no social media to manage and the media echo of the sport had profoundly different contours. The only way to get noticed and conquer the fans was to win, end up on television, become an idol, cool and damned (James Hunt teaches). If you think about it, even in Micheal Schumacher‘s time – and we are not talking about 50 years ago – there were no social media and if he is still recognised as an F1 icon today, it is mainly thanks to the superlative results he achieved. An incredible champion, a unique talent, in many ways still unrivalled today.
As we said, times have changed and the way of communicating and engaging fans even more so. Performance clearly still counts, but drivers are increasingly asked to be brand ambassadors and social media stars as well.
The importance of image for sports marketing
The industry and the market around Formula 1 (and not onl F1, as this also happens in many other sports) now requires its protagonists to adopt a no small self-branding operation, considering the traffic of visitors from all over the world. Whether a simple fan or a potential customer, it matters little: the image the rider builds in the eyes of the spectator is as valuable as the sporting results, in some cases even more so.
Their success and visibility are determined by many aspects of sports marketing; in fact, the work does not only begin and end on race weekends, quite the contrary. Among the activities required of an F1 driver today is, for example, managing, maintaining and developing his social media. Of course, the driver is not expected to take care of this directly, but there must be someone who does it on his behalf within the team or the driver’s management. Content creation, organisation and management of branding and sponsoring campaigns are necessary for the driver to also be a perfect brand ambassador, fulfilling the needs of sponsors and partners (both team and personal) in the various marketing activities and activations. Team engagements are not the only source of income for a driver, in addition to these are sponsorships with companies that seek high visibility and mirror the values of the driver in question.
What has changed
In all this, it is not just social media that has sparked all the recent interest in the circus of one of the world’s most popular sports. Since the arrival of the series ‘Drive to Survive‘ on the Netflix streaming platform, all the main characters in the paddock have become real actors in a story with a cinematic slant. It was the addition of ‘drama’ that made this product so appealing overseas: the arrival of Miami and Las Vegas (from 2023) among the season’s races was not only due to contractual agreements, but rather to the strong US interest created by the emotional involvement the series has aroused in the entire F1 world.
Well, who then are the most influential drivers that companies should invest in? Here’s our list, drawn up not only on the basis of results on the track, but also what happens off the track.
Son of former drivers Jos Verstappen and Sophie Kumpen: a family with four wheels in its blood. Not everyone knows that it was his mother who was the real talent at home. In fact, Sophie has a successful past driving karts at the professional level, where she gave most of the men a run for their money, going up against the likes of Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli and Jenson Button.
The Dutchman was the youngest driver to compete in F1 at the Australian Grand Prix in 2015 with the Toro Rosso team and then became the youngest driver to win a GP, in Spain in 2016 with RedBull. In 2021 he was crowned world champion after an epic battle with Lewis Hamilton that lasted until the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi, becoming the first Dutchman to triumph in motorsport’s top series.
The reigning champion has made himself famous for his old-fashioned style by not sparing himself at any time. His aggressiveness sets him apart, leading him to achieve previously unimaginable goals. The incident with Hamilton at the 2021 Monza Grand Prix was iconic.
Outside the track
He has 8.6M followers on Instagram, with the main focus on his sporting events and flashes of his private life. It’s enough to strike a chord with the Orange, the Dutch audience that follows him around the world during GPs. A big fan of video games, it is not uncommon to find him also competing in virtual driving competitions. His character is rather ‘Nordic’: cold blood and zero transparency of emotions. He has never hidden his frictions with rival teams and drivers, pointing out others’ mistakes in certain episodes during past seasons. On a media level, it is worth mentioning his relationship with Kelly Piquet, daughter of Nelson (3-time F1 world champion in the 1980s).
Why invest in Max Verstappen
Currently, he represents excellence in terms of performance, victories and competitiveness. His team is in the top 3, he is a phenomenon, so we are at the highest level of prestige and visibility for any brand interested in F1.
He makes his F1 debut in 2018 with Sauber, a Ferrari satellite team. He becomes the second youngest pole-man in the history of the competition in 2019 in Bahrain and in the same year he gets his first career victory, in the Belgian Grand Prix. He is presented with the first Ferrari drive after Sebastian Vettel’s departure, with a promise to climb to the highest roof of the standings one day and achieve it with the Prancing Horse emblem printed on his chest.
The Monegasque has already distinguished himself at an early age for his ability to adapt to track situations and push the vehicle at his disposal to the maximum. Numbers in hand, he has all the credentials to enter the history books of the sport and confirm his nickname of ‘predestined’.
Outside the track
With his 7.5M followers on Instagram, he is one of the best-loved characters in the paddock on all fronts: Ferrari fans, Formula 1 fans, and insiders. Even among drivers, although it is common knowledge that ‘there are no friends on the track’, there is great respect for him. Even from Max Verstappen, a declared rival since his karting days, several compliments have arrived. his activity does not only stop on social media but also spans other entertainment platforms such as Twitch, where in times of pandemic he has opened a channel to interact with fans, further improving his image and increasing his reach.
Why invest in Charles Leclerc
As with Max, we are talking about one of the most influential personalities in all of world sports. Investing on a sponsorship with his image allows you to transfer his values to any brand, with the possibility of building marketing and communication campaigns of any kind. A case in point is Richard Mille, a leading company in the luxury watch sector that has believed in the Monegasque’s talent since his days in kart racing. Today it enjoys confidential sponsorship agreements with the driver and a dedicated section on its website.
After winning the Formula 2 championship in 2018, he joined Williams the following year, where he took his first steps in the top series, making his debut at the Australian Grand Prix. He achieved his first podium two years later at the Belgian GP and became Lewis Hamilton’s teammate in Mercedes in 2022.
He proved his talent even before he took up the German team’s cause. He has no reverential fears towards the more emblazoned Hamilton, who, on the contrary, puts points on the line by finishing the first 7 races in the top 5. The defence displayed in Barcelona against Verstappen is just one of the many specialities of the Briton, demonstrating on that occasion that to be strong you must also know how to ‘suffer’.
Outside the track
If he had not been a driver, we would probably have known him as a famous English lord. His simple elegance, never over the top, gives him a regal and classical air, despite the fact that he is involved in one of the most risky and adrenalin-pumping sports on the globe. With his 3.4M followers, he is keen to keep his status as a racer at a high level while also showing moments of fun in his off-track life.
Why invest in George Russell
As with the two pilots previously mentioned, we remain in an elite circle. Having the opportunity to work with a front-man of such impact can only be the right choice for a brand that aims at refinement, class and performance.
Staying on British soil, Norris began his apprenticeship in the minor four-wheel championships with excellent results, leading him to become an official tester for McLaren. Impressed by his talent, the team offered him his first professional contract for a place alongside Carlos Sainz in 2019. He achieved a series of important podiums in the following seasons, securing him a renewal that will bind him to the Woking-based team until 2025.
At the helm
For the series ‘space for the young’, he also falls into the class of ’97-’98’-’99 prodigy, capable of playing his cards even against much more established drivers. He sinks the pedal when necessary and takes the risk of his choices with personality, even going against team orders if necessary (as happened in the 2021 Russian Grand Prix regarding the tyre change before a predicted bad weather that cost him dearly).
Outside the track
His infectious smile and ‘good boy’ attitude are irrespective of the results on the track. His positive influence makes him forgiving of everything. Over 5 million followers appreciate him for the spontaneity of a 23-year-old who still has everything to prove, but who has already won in the hearts of his fans. This is demonstrated by research compiled by Nielsen regarding fans’ appreciation of drivers, where the McLaren front-runner ranks second (behind only Max Verstappen).
Why invest in Lando Norris
When you can position your name so well, the sporting result is a plus. Investing in a sports sponsorship with Norris means success regardless of the unpredictable (defeats, retirements, etc.). His team’s historic brand never loses appeal in the eyes of a potential customer, making brand marketing easier to manage.
After various experiences in cadet leagues, in 2011 he arrived first as a test driver and then as an official driver at Toro Rosso for the next 2 years. He signed with Red Bull in 2014, where he achieved good results until 2018, moving to Renault for the following 2 seasons. From 2021 he is under contract with McLaren alongside Norris.
Despite not having achieved everything that a career like his promised, he has carved out his space in a paddock that is becoming increasingly competitive. Certainly he will be remembered in those parts for winning the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 2021, where the Australian grabbed a triumph that had been missing for McLaren for nine years.
Outside the track
At McLaren, they know how to keep a healthy environment despite the lack of success on the track. Daniel Ricciardo stands out for his strong personality. Sunny, friendly and witty are just some of the adjectives that can be attributed to him. With almost 7M followers on Instagram and 180k on LinkedIn (the only driver to have an active profile on this platform), his personal branding is one of the best within the sporting landscape.
Why invest in Daniel Ricciardo
His racing career will certainly not last forever, but for the class of ’89 it is just the beginning of a life in the spotlight. Smiling, positive, helpful, goliardic, always cheerful: his attitude lends itself perfectly to a variety of international brands of all levels and targets.
He made his Formula 1 debut with Toro Rosso in 2017, before moving to Red Bull in 2019 alongside Max Verstappen. Unfortunately, he encountered several difficulties with the Austrian single-seater and returned the same year to his previous team, later renamed AlphaTauri, where he scored his first career victory during the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 2020.
On more than one occasion he proved to be a formidable opponent who could give even the drivers in the front rows a run for their money, thanks to his strong race management skills. He is also part of the generation of ‘golden boys’ waiting for a more prestigious seat and, as in his case, more fortunate than in the past.
Outside the track
Cool, young, respectful, correct and… Super digital: the frenchman is in fact busy selling NFTs under his own name, available on a dedicated website. One example is the helmet made for the 2022 Miami Grand Prix. This makes him a character in step with the times and with a considerable audience, being at 3M followers.
Why invest in Pierre Gasly
For a brand at the forefront of economics/technology, it could be a good choice to have a testimonial with these characteristics.
Leading driver in terms of number of poles, podiums and victories in the history of the sport. Seven times world champion like Micheal Schumacher. After a 6-year stint at McLaren where he won his first world title (the youngest in history to do so), he moved to Mercedes and began his climb to the Olympus of the most important Formula 1 drivers ever.
From a young age he showed that he was able to give very precise indications to his engineers regarding the desired set-up for his single-seater. Strategy, obsessive attention to detail and cheekiness on the track marked him out over the years when he decided to leave nothing to his rivals.
Outside the track
He does a lot of environmental and social work to improve the living conditions of the less well-off. After realising the importance of social influence, he switched from a rather direct and private communication to a more professional one, managed by a team of experts. With his 28.3M followers on Instagram, he is unmatched by his peers in terms of numbers.
Why invest in Lewis Hamilton
Unique. His image enjoys its own light, having shattered records in the sport that seemed destined to remain in the showcases of previous holders. It would be a sporting sponsorship with one of the most influential figures globally, and therefore one with a certain media impact. If a brand is considering it, it must be aware of his great passion for fashion and trends: his presence is so influential that he can be considered a trend-setter in this sector and beyond.
Sponsoring Formula 1 drivers: how to do it
Those listed above are just a few of the drivers we recommend to our customers, but there are many more in the motorsport scene with whom you can implement a variety of effective sports sponsorship strategies that will benefit your company. For more than 25 years, RTR Sports Marketing has been building sponsorship programmes for companies and brands that want to use Formula 1 and motorsport to communicate effectively with their customers.
Want to know more? Contact us now for a consultation according to your personal needs.