F1 fangirls are entering the world of motorsport in large numbers, and their unique skills and knowledge might just be what the sport needs. But are double standards holding them back?
TikTok video edits with 100k views, the soundtrack ‘Lover’ by Taylor Swift playing, slow-motion edits showcasing WAG’s perfectly styled hair and make-up, strutting their stuff with their handsome racing driver boyfriend. Sound familiar? You might just be on F1 fangirl TikTok, talk about For You page.
It is no secret that Formula 1 has been incredibly popular for many years, with fans tuning in to watch races in the millions. But recently, the sport has welcomed a surge of female fans through the likes of social media platforms such as TikTok and Twitter. The rise of the female fan presence has seen the sport enter a new era of marketing and team promotion, that said fangirls have helped innovate.
In November 2022, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali stated that approximately 40% of F1 fans worldwide are female, which is a rise of 8% since 2017. Many of the sports new fans have come off the back of Netlfix’s popular TV series ‘Drive to Survive’ which shows fans the behind-the-scenes drama that goes on throughout the racing season.
Many on social media refer to the newer female fans as ‘DTS fans’ in a derogatory way, suggesting that they do not actually like the sport but are instead just fans due to the attractive drivers and driver-on-driver drama they are shown on screen.
Toni Cowan-Brown, F1 American content creator, explains further, “The negative reputation that comes with fangirls is purely down to society’s sexist double standards,”
“The reality, however, couldn’t be further from the truth, the female fandom is full of experts with deep knowledge and understanding of the topic. They might come at it differently, they will talk about it using different terms, their knowledge may be unique, but they absolutely know what they are talking about.”
Liberty Media, an American company, bought over Formula 1 in 2016 for $4.4 billion because the previous brand owner was struggling to bring the sport into the 21st century, refusing to target younger audiences. As a result, viewership dropped massively and it seemed all hope was lost, until Liberty Media stepped in.
While Liberty Media brought the sport to U.S audiences with ‘Drive to Survive’, F1 team’s shift in focus to online content benefitted the sport greatly. Many official F1 teams shifted their focus to growing their online audiences, in hopes it will translate to real-life – and it seems to be working.
Shannon Tobin, female racing driver, explained that, “I think to get someone into F1, you’re definitely looking at investing in the younger girls now.”
More female fans are watching entire F1 seasons, following the off-track highlights, and expanding their knowledge within their own communities. Female fans use of video editing and writing (fiction and non-fiction), is slowly becoming something F1 teams are using themselves.
With a quick scroll through Ferrari F1’s TikTok account, you’ll find the team themselves have resorted to the typical fan-style of editing – quick jump shots, driver slo-mo’s, and trending audios have all become a regular theme for them.
Toni Cowan-Brown speaks more on this, saying “I watched as most of the teams and the drivers copied the content first created by these young women, then celebrated by the same fans who ridiculed these women who first put out the content.”
“I watched as drivers craved the relevancy that Gen-Z and female fans had to offer but couldn’t quite muster the courage to respect this entire fanbase. Even Formula One team principles congratulated themselves for the rise of this new audience segment without actually calling them by their name – fangirls.”
It is clear that while, much like many other sport, older fans are not fond of newcomers, but official F1 team’s and principals failing to recognise the very fan segment that has revolutionised the sport and helped to bring it to the 21st century is a risky move.
Fangirls wield great power when it comes to F1 in terms of relevancy. The same ‘DTS fans’ that are ridiculed online and forgotten by officials, are the ones buying merchandise, Grand Prix tickets, and generating great word-of-mouth. They build communities and take up space both online and in real life, they are the ones holding drivers, teams, and officials accountable and urging them to have conversations that should have been discussed a long time ago – sexism, racism, LGBTQIA+, discrimination, sustainability, and so much more.
Take the controversy of Grid Girls for example, while F1 was in the midst of making its jump into the 21st century, many new female fans began to question the use of Grid Girls. Essentially, the women hired as Grid Girls were models that were used to promote brands and sponsorships. However, their ban divided many new and old fans. Many called the role demeaning and sexist, saying that using women as sex objects to make money is only promoting sexism in society. The use of Grid Girls was eventually banned at the beginning of the 2018 season.
While the subject still stirs up lots of controversy to this day, the topic would have never surfaced had it not been for fangirls.
It is clear that fangirls impact on the sport has been monumental but F1 must begin to recognise this and do more to help ease the double standards these women face. Not only do these women deserve our respect, but the world of Formula One would do well to pay close attention to them – because they are the ones spearheading the next era of the motorsport.