Aston Martin recently made history by allowing Jessica Hawkins to test at the Hungaroring last 21 September. The 28-year-old Briton drove 26 laps of the Hungarian circuit in the AMR21, the team’s 2021 race car. JH is the first female Formula 1 test driver in over five years.
Although this event marks a milestone for women in motorsport, Formula 1 has arguably done much more in recent years, making great strides in cultivating a new passionate fanbase: young female supporters. After years of small but significant changes, F1 is seeing teenage girls and women falling back in love with the fastest sport in the world. This shift towards a more diverse female audience could be one of Formula 1’s most important marketing achievements in recent times.
The F1 Scenario
For decades, Formula 1 was considered a predominantly male sport. Historically, racing fans and the paddock itself were mainly populated by men. However, recent years have seen a concentrated effort by the F1 management to shake up this status quo. The hiring of more female staff in the teams, the creation of the F1 Academy in 2023, a women’s league that aims to prepare young drivers for a higher level of competition, led by Susie Wolff, and the stance on diversity issues have signalled a commitment to welcoming women. But the most visible impact has been to engage the next generation of female fans.
According to data from the Global F1 Fan Survey, the percentage of new female fans has grown from 10% in 2017 to 45% in 2021. Much of this push has come from the teenage demographic, with a 60% growth in the female audience between the ages of 16 and 24 by 2020. Social media buzz, merchandise sales and attendance numbers at live events also reflect this surge. Formula 1 races have gone from a predominantly male audience to a vibrant and enthusiastic contingent of young women filling the stands.
How did F1 achieve this momentous change? There was a perfect storm of factors, but the key was the docuseries Drive to Survive. The Netflix behind-the-scenes show, which aired for the first time in 2019, offered fans an inside look at the drivers and teams. Other sports had already attempted similar projects, but Drive to Survive’s cinematic style and focus on interpersonal drama caught on. It made F1 compelling even for those who had no previous interest.
In particular, this formula resonated strongly with female audiences. The show presented protagonists to root for and storylines to invest in. Drive to Survive transformed F1 racers from distant superstars to relatable characters. Netflix’s reach exposed the series to demographic groups such as young women who would not normally tune into motor sports. Their emotional connection to the show’s characters has turned them into passionate new fans.
But Drive to Survive was only one part of a wider change. The acquisition of F1 Group by Liberty Media in 2017 brought major changes in philosophy and marketing. Under the previous leadership, Formula 1 had remained stubbornly tied to its roots, losing ground to other sports. The new leadership recognised the need to diversify, modernise and think digitally. They embraced celebrity and pop culture crossover, creating partnerships with brands like Puma and PlayStation. Liberty Media developed video games, launched F1 TV Pro streaming and expanded social media initiatives.
Updating the dated brand image has made F1 attractive again, especially among younger viewers who are used to digital engagement. The presence on platforms such as TikTok, previously absent, has enabled viral user-generated content. Hashtags such as #F1Rewind capitalised on nostalgia while showcasing diversity. And, crucially, F1 stopped avoiding its male-dominated reputation. Campaigns like #WeRaceAsOne directly addressed the need for inclusion, as did the now-closed W Series partnership. A genuine commitment to equity, and not just lip service, resonated with female fans.
The results speak for themselves. 70% of F1 followers on Instagram are under 35 years old. Race weekends see 40 million interactions, many driven by this cohort of young women on social media. Their buying power is also immense: products such as Lando Norris caps have seen stratospheric sales. This new passionate fanbase has a real influence on sponsors. Brands want in on the action, as evidenced by deals with Channel 4, Crypto.com and ESPN.
A stroke of marketing genius to exploit a gold mine
When a sport as impressive and historic as Formula 1 undergoes such a transformation, it is not just about changing perceptions; it is also about tapping into a previously untapped market segment. From a marketing perspective, this may be Formula 1’s most ingenious move in the recent past.
Formula 1 has also amplified female voices, both on the broadcast level with pundits like Naomi Schiff, and on the field with reporters Natalie Pinkham and Rachel Brookes and fan bloggers. In addition to these positions, senior roles in teams, such as that of Hannah Schmitz, senior race strategist at Red Bull for the past 10 years or Spain’s Margarita Torres Díez, track engineer for Mercedes’ Power Unit, to name but a few, are inspiring more women to pursue careers in the paddock.
And role models on the track such as Jamie Chadwick, who after winning the W series three times in 2019, 2021 and 2022, has signed with Andretti Autosport to compete in the INDY NXT Championship in 2023 proving that racing is not just a man’s game.
Michael Andretti, CEO and President of Andretti Autosport, said: “Andretti Autosport is proud to support Jamie along with DHL for the 2023 INDY NXT season. Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but the INDY NXT series offers Jamie the opportunity to continue his development in a new type of racing. DHL is a long-standing partner of the team and we are delighted to welcome them to the INDY NXT series and welcome Jamie to the team. We have produced five INDY NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.
Obviously the benefits go both ways. Exposure to the high-tech world of F1 stimulates interest in STEM fields. It is also helping to erase the persistent sexism that cars and racing are a male domain – young female fans are reclaiming that space. Ultimately, the sport wins through increased revenue, brand partnerships, talent and fan support.
But are these gains enough to constitute Formula One’s greatest success? Competition from electric racing threatens its future. Some argue that F1 should go further in its sustainability and safety efforts. Others call for more support for driver diversity programmes or reserve series.
However, female fandom represents immense untapped potential. New audiences support sports that remain relevant, while traditional ones fade away. Formula One has found a way to ignite a passion for engineering excellence in a previously neglected demographic. If it continues to cultivate inclusion, the commercial benefits will be enormous. But it is equally important that an expanded, young female fanbase ensures that Formula One remains loved, not just now, but for generations to come. For a traditional sport, this is an unprecedented achievement.
The road ahead: A bright horizon
The journey has only just begun. If the sport continues to welcome more women, both on and off the track, it promises to become richer, more diverse and, without a doubt, more exciting. the horizon looks not only promising, but also exciting for Formula One.