Liberty Media will find new ways to shift Formula 1 up a gear. If more female fans tune in, they will help Chief Executive Stefano Domenicali fuel revenue at his motor-racing division. Forget Lewis Hamilton. In 2023, he’ll find himself chasing a Louise Hamilton.
The $29-Billion media goliath bought Formula One Group, which holds commercial rights to the F1 Championship, for a racy $8-Billion in 2017. While sales for 2021 hit $2.1 billion, just 5.6% above pre-pandemic levels, operating income was modest at $40 million, and earnings fell 6% year-on-year in the quarter ending September 2022.
Domenicali can take two roads to speed growth. Scheduling more races would boost sales from sponsorship, tickets and broadcasts. But F1’s race calendar for 2023 is saturated.
Luring more spectators to stands and screens, especially female ones, is a better approach. Netflix’s “Drive to Survive”, a docuseries tracking F1 teams, topped the streaming company’s viewing rankings in 33 countries when it was released at the beginning of the 2022 season, according to Formula 1. The company says it has been “vital” for reaching new fans, including women. Around 40% of F1 fans are now female, up 8% from 2017, and more women are attending races too, Domenicali said in November.
Female F1 Drivers
One way to accelerate the trend could be featuring female drivers. Audiences for women’s sports are “going nowhere but up” according to media consultancy Nielsen. Sponsorship for top-level female soccer and rugby rose 146% in 2021 from a year ago, says Nielsen. Yet, F1 hasn’t welcomed a lady to the grid since Maria Grazia “Lella” Lombardi, who raced in the 1970s. The all-women “F1 Academy”, starting in 2023, is a mere feeder for lower-level races. Domenicali predicts women won’t drive F1 in the next five years.
However, there is a contender. Britain’s Jamie Chadwick, 24, won every edition of the W Series, an independent women’s championship that became a supporting event for F1. She also boasts a fanbase of over half a million social media followers – more than the W Series itself. Unfortunately for Formula One, when financial pressures ended W Series 2022 early, she absconded to Andretti Autosport’s team for the U.S. IndyCar NXT races.
Even so, Chadwick still dreams of racing a Grand Prix. Given the financial benefits, finding ways to attract more women on and off the track will keep Domenicali busy in 2023. (Reporting by Katrina Hamlin)