The speed of the growth that Formula 1 has experienced, particularly in North America, since the latter few years of the prior decade has been unprecedented. Owner Liberty Media's investment in social media—always overlooked during the Bernie Ecclestone era—coupled with engaging, fresh new personalities with the rising next generation of drivers and, of course, the reach of Netflix's Formula 1: Drive to Survive, have charged the so-called pinnacle of motorsport to break through to new audiences. However, F1 may have reached the ceiling of that expansion, for now. And it's only natural to lay the blame on the guy who's been taking home all the hardware as of late.
New data courtesy of Buzz Radar, reaching us by way of Motorsport.com, suggests that F1's pool of social followers is shrinking, not expanding. The firm compared the January-to-May mentions, new followers, and social reach figures across the last three years. It found that while 2022 delivered a massive boost on all fronts, 2023 has seen growth slow to a pace below that of two years ago.
Last year, for example, Buzz Radar reports that F1 enjoyed 6.14 million mentions on social media; 911,150 new followers; and had a social reach of 61.73 billion people. In 2023, those values shrunk to 1.83 million mentions; 489,370 new followers; and a 22.16 billion-user social reach. That works out to a 70% decrease in mentions, for example—certainly not the development Liberty would hope for, particularly as it elongates the calendar to 23 races, with three of those hosted in the United States.
Why is this happening? Common sense would point to Max Verstappen's dominance, having sealed a record 10 victories in a row this year and already locked up the constructors' title for Red Bull, even with six rounds left to go.
"The social data from 2023 also offered insight into a fundamental shift in conversation about F1: a noticeable upswing in the use of negative adjectives associated with the sport," Buzz Radar's report read. "Words like 'boring' and 'annoying' are now becoming high-frequency descriptors, replacing erstwhile positive words like 'interesting' and 'exciting'."
Of course, more data would probably help nail Verstappen's and Red Bull's ongoing success as causation, rather than correlation. Longtime F1 fans know that dynastic phases of dominance are nothing new, though the current one is perhaps the most lopsided since Liberty started running the show in 2017, even more so than Lewis Hamilton's and Mercedes' string of victories. It's brought a unique challenge for the management group, whose only attempts at solutions thus far seem to be developing increasingly convoluted qualifying structures, new points-earning methods, and cramming ever more events into the campaign. Perhaps one will eventually stick, but if none do, it's like they always say: What goes up, must come down, including F1's social reach.
Update Sept., 28, 2023, 5:45 p.m. ET: After this story's publication, Formula 1 management reached out to The Drive to state that "growth for our official channels are around eight times higher than the 500,000 figure mentioned by Buzz Radar for January to May." Buzz Radar stated that it had been "tracking F1's social channels" for that data, which would indicate differences in the data sets sampled by the two parties.
F1 also added that "In the second half of this season, F1's channels ranked second globally (behind La Liga) for followers' growth rate among all major sports," and that "Active engagements (such as likes, comments and shares) are up 4% so far this year compared to 2022, and are on course to surpass 1.5 billion by the end of the season." Buzz Radar's sampling of mentions, new followers, and social reach did not appear to include what F1 considers "active engagement."