Formula 1 is experiencing a boom. Checo Pérez had just won his first race last place, but only on “Drive to Survive” could the moments afterwards be experienced, connected to his children via cell phone.
There was Toto Wolff throwing darts at Christian Horner’s Machiavellianism in a personalized interview. At the same time, the Briton asked him not to consider it personal to claim the DAS system from the FIA in another scene.
Carlos Sainz showed his discomfort with McLaren’s strategy in Austria after his team asked him to let Lando Norris pass.
The internal reaction at Ferrari to the announcement of Sebastian Vettel’s signing for Aston Martin or Grosjean’s interview with his wife Marion after the accident that almost cost him his life are also highlighted in the series.
Netflix has released its third season, a fourth is underway, and a fifth is signed. All three editions offer behind-the-scenes scenes that any fan would want to see because they are far from the public eye and dramatizations that alter reality for theatricality and audience.
However, the saga has cast its nets with spectacular success in different fishing grounds, such as those of young audiences or an audience outside Formula 1.
It has had a particularly strong impact in the United States, attracting new American sponsors and other countries, markets, and sectors. Who would have thought that one day the retail giant Walmart would agree with Red Bull?
Like ‘Top Gun’ for Formula 1
The Bahrain Grand Prix achieved record viewing figures on numerous television channels. Sky Sports, the British pay channel, reached 2.23 million viewers. ESPN 2, in the United States, almost 1 million. According to FOM, numerous channels also raised their audiences in 2021.
Since Liberty’s arrival, Formula 1 has developed an aggressive strategy to expand its youth and female audience. “Since 2017, we have reached 41 percent of the fan base under 35,” FOM marketing manager Ellie Nelson explained to BlackBook Motorsport, thanks to social media initiatives and the “We Race as One” campaign.
But the impact of Netflix has boosted audience growth, “Drive to Survive’ has been fantastic for Formula 1 because it has been trending in at least 25 countries. Its primary objective is to entertain and bring new viewers to Formula 1,” explained Ross Brawn.
In fact, in Great Britain, the third saga was number one for the first three weeks. After decades of restrictive content policies under Bernie Ecclestone, Liberty and FOM have radically changed the tanker’s course.
Ferrari and Mercedes were reluctant initially, now they can’t get enough of Netflix
They are beginning to reap the rewards, as the audiences are confirming. So much so that Ferrari and Mercedes joined forces for the second season of ‘Drive to Survive’ after they refused to participate in the first.
Many Formula 1 protagonists acknowledge publicly and privately that reality is distorted for the final product delivered to the general public.
“Of course, all of us who live the sport know that Carlos and Lando had a great relationship, and not the kind of tension that was portrayed (in the series), but every time you’re on a TV show, they’re going to create a certain entertainment that everyone in the paddock knows is not the case,” explained Zak Brown regarding the episode dedicated to his two drivers in this latest edition.
“It reaches a new and completely different audience. The way it’s edited and cut it’s different. But it’s catching the market. Remember, it’s more of a TV show than an in-depth look at the sport. So, we support Netflix in what they want to achieve, even if they take a few licenses here and there.
Brown would even go so far as to compare the series to the famous movie Top Gun, which created a huge attraction to air combat pilots, even if much of the movie was substantially removed from their day-to-day reality.
Drive to Survive has been incredible for the sport
Zak Brown’s pragmatism seems to be taken for granted in Formula 1 as a minor quid pro quo for the great benefits the series delivers in its three seasons.
“It’s been one of the most powerful marketing tools, it’s been incredible for the sport,” acknowledges Ellie Norman, head of marketing at FOM. “The last time I was at the Austin Grand Prix in 2019, I learned that a lot of people in the Austin environment had traveled specifically for the grand prix for Drive to Survive.”
According to Ross Brawn, already after the first season, “some of the promoters were saying that they’ve measured the increased interest in Formula by the Netflix series, and while for us it hasn’t brought us a lot of benefit, in terms of giving Formula 1 more coverage it’s been fantastic.
These are the kind of initiatives we are undertaking to raise the profile of Formula 1.” The success is already measurable, not just in terms of audience extension but in terms of what they derive from it.
The arrival of new sponsors in recent times, pandemic included, is related to the impact of the series and the additional return on sponsorship investment.
For example, now there is an expanding range of sponsors, which reaches even companies that produce metals or write my essay companies. Sponsors are coming in because they are capturing the increased popularity in layers of the market that Formula 1 did not reach before.
The case of Formula 1 and the United States
A review of the main teams confirms the arrival of new sponsors. The case of the American market is particularly noteworthy. Red Bull has captured some of these new major companies with Netflix in the background.
“Formula 1 is one of the growing sports in the United States,” explains Nick Stocker, commercial director of Red Bull, referring to the ‘ball’ of the partnership with Walmart, the big American chain. Drive to Survive has had a fantastic impact on the sport, especially in the United States, and a huge commercial impact on investment. I don’t think we haven’t signed a deal with any CEO who hasn’t seen the series.
The real value is with peripheral fans, sports fans in general, and a female audience, and indirectly it’s attracting new investment for brands that want to connect with new audiences.
“I think the first season of ‘Drive to Survive’ was amazing,” explained Daniel Ricciardo in a recent interview for ‘Square Mile magazine, “I spent time in the U.S. and noticed it from season to season. It was the first time I started to get recognized, and people referred to the TV series. So, it’s done wonders for us, and the media on social media went through the roof. It’s done a lot for us and the sport.”
Along the same lines is another of the new American sponsors, Oracle, which also joins the Austrian team in the face of Netflix’s impact on the arrival of U.S. companies.
“I’ve personally seen the huge increase around Formula 1 in the United States, so, naturally, American technology companies want to be more heavily involved,” Oracle marketing director Ariel Kelman acknowledges in the British publication Autosport.
“It’s a combination of it (Formula 1) being a great platform to promote sophisticated technology use cases in what was already a huge fan base around the world, but is now becoming a big growth sport in the U.S. for some reasons, not least the success of Netflix and Drive to Survive.”
“I think we’re going to see more tech companies looking at this as a very important part of their strategy,” added Kelman.”
But watch out Netflix. Amazon is already starting to show its shadow over the horizon. There’s a reason for that.