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Formula 1

Young People Behind Huge Boom in F1 Popularity

A new generation of fans enthused by younger drivers and the Netflix series Drive to Survive has reinvigorated the sport.

Lando Norris meets fans at the Australian Grand Prix.
Lando Norris meets fans at the Australian Grand Prix. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Formula One once considered attracting young fans irrelevant, but now the sport has finally realized that the younger generation is vital.

Formula One has experienced a remarkable surge in popularity in recent years, a scenario unimaginable a decade ago. Fueled by the sport’s young drivers, this boom has captivated a new generation and revitalized the sport.

This resurgence is most evident in the renewed interest in F1 within the USA, a market it had long sought to capture. The upcoming US Grand Prix is anticipated to be a sellout, with 440,000 attendees over three days, a 10% increase from 2021. Next season, the US will host three races: at the Circuit of the Americas, in Miami, and a new event in Las Vegas. Expectations in Austin are that this trend will only continue to grow.

“We have already comfortably exceeded last year’s sales. We sold out our first round of tickets in April within 48 hours, which led to us adding several more grandstands,” says COTA chairman Bobby Epstein. “The demand in the US right now is incredible and will absolutely support three races and could support many more.”

Harrison Callaway, an 18-year-old from Westchester, New York, who attended his first race this year at Silverstone, is part of this shift in F1’s popularity. “Maybe two or three years ago, I don’t think people would have even known Lewis Hamilton,” he said. “At school, they would have no clue, but now everybody knows Lewis Hamilton even if they don’t watch F1.”

Callaway is typical of many new fans. He discovered the sport during lockdown, was captivated by last season’s epic battle between Hamilton and Max Verstappen, and his enthusiasm was further fueled by the Netflix series Drive to Survive. While he admires Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo, he also highlights the impact of younger drivers.

“I like George Russell and Lando Norris as well,” he said. “Lando is not much older than me; it feels like they are approachable. They seem funny and cool like you could hang out with them for a day, like someone you could be friends with.”

Esteban Ocon takes a selfie with fans.
Esteban Ocon takes a selfie with fans. (Photo: Shutterstock)

In 2014, with declining TV audiences, F1’s former CEO Bernie Ecclestone famously dismissed the idea of appealing to a younger audience or embracing social media. “Young kids will see the Rolex brand, but are they going to go and buy one?” he remarked. This short-sighted approach characterized a period when the sport was merely a cash cow for its then-owners, CVC Capital.

F1’s new owners have proven Ecclestone fundamentally wrong, securing the sport’s long-term future by actively courting a new audience. Earlier this year in Miami, this strategy was validated as the audience was predominantly young and willing to spend on expensive tickets. They were thrilled to engage with a sport they felt they could be part of. Many fans cited Drive to Survive as their initial draw, but the real competition on track kept them hooked.

Jennifer Davis, attending her first race at the Miami GP, said, “Once I started following F1, I was drawn in by the drivers. The young ones are relatable; they’re changing things up. Max, Charles [Leclerc], George, Lando—they are my generation. They are on social media, TikTok; you feel like you know them and that through them you know the sport.”

In Miami, this sentiment was common. While team allegiances existed, many fans were more influenced by personality than by national or historical ties. “I really like Alex Albon,” said Josh Wilson, a 27-year-old from Orlando, attending his first GP in Miami. “I know his car’s not great, but he’s fighting with a smile on his face, having fun, and he’s got real character. Drive to Survive is a drama, but nothing beats the real competition on track, and Alex’s generation are the ones me and my friends are here to follow.”

The benefits from this new audience have been substantial. F1 measures its global viewing figures across its 23 major markets worldwide, and this season, almost every race has seen over a 10% increase from 2021. Silverstone saw a 41% rise, Hungary and France 15%. The Miami race attracted the largest US live race audience, with 2.2 million viewers. After the first seven rounds, the average audience per GP was 22.9 million, up 11% from 2021.

The growth is global, but US demographics reflect the trackside fan feedback that F1’s expansion is hitting a specific target. The Miami race was on the same afternoon as the Nascar Cup Series race at Darlington, which drew 2.6 million viewers, but only 517,000 were under 50. In contrast, ESPN’s F1 coverage had 735,000 viewers in the 18-49 age range, crucial for the sport’s future.

Critics argue that these new fans might not have the commitment to stick with the sport long-term. However, as Harrison said,

“The Australian GP was at one in the morning, and I had school the next day. But I still woke up and watched it. It made it more exciting in a way. Now I know the drivers and what it’s about, it’s engaged me more and more. I am more enthused than ever.”

Clearly, many fans intend to remain loyal to F1.

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Chief Motorsport & Formula 1 Correspondent

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