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CM – Drive to Survive has changed the way America watches F1

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Drive to Survive is a Netflix mega hit in itself. It also has a real effect on F1.

From the 1970s to the 2010s, Formula 1 had been scraping at every possible angle to find its way into the US market. It tried three races at a time here, including a temporary race in the parking lot of a casino. None of this worked, and the events that were held here regularly fell apart over the course of a decade. Today’s United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas is the ninth race on the same track. That was traditionally the point where a USGP loses its importance, but the race at COTA today is sold out. Next year, F1 will add a second event in the US, not in the desperate hope of generating local interest, but to fill additional inventory teams and fans that have been challenged. Formula 1 has finally arrived in the US, and the reason for this is no secret.

Before the Netflix documentary series Drive to Survive debuted in 2019, it could have been dismissed as a blatant attempt by the F1 parent company Liberty Media, which to use the massive platform of the streaming giant to draw attention to their series by all means necessary. This may or may not be true, but the show itself immediately made that point irrelevant. The first season of the show, in which there were no major competitors at Mercedes and Ferrari, was a revelation, a docudrama that actually captured the humanity of a series that can so easily be reduced to machines and how they are supposed to work.

It was an instant hit. Season two, launched in March 2020 in a world preparing for the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, was an even bigger hit. The third was stratospheric.

Netflix is ​​known to keep its internal performance data close to its chest. That makes it hard to gauge just how big the hit Drive to Survive actually is, but anecdotal evidence shows the shadows of its audience. F1’s arcane, direct-reported viewership for the races themselves didn’t change significantly in 2019 or 2020, but the impact on social media increased massively in 2020. That number was most reflected in total social engagement, a number that nearly doubled in just one year.

Much of this growth comes in the US, where viewership increased 50% over the past year. While part of this reflects a general growth trend from a slow 2020 for all sports in America, the numbers actually achieved on the ESPN networks also represent a serious increase in recent years. This point is underpinned by Google Trends data for the US showing that American interest in the sport at its peak this year was 29% higher than it was in 2020 or 2019. That number is also more consistent; F1 has attracted more digital interest in 13 separate weeks this season than it has ever seen before 2021.

While not all of that growth can be put directly on Drive to Survive’s shoulders without a more robust dataset, the correlation seems to be to be significant between the audience for this series and the audience for F1 itself from the numbers available outside of the F1 and Netflix systems. That paid more attention to the series in the F1 paddock, where the drivers and team leaders who act as protagonists of the show are increasingly aware of their role in the program.

That wasn’t exactly good for Max Verstappen. The championship leader told the Associated Press earlier this week that he is no longer participating in interviews for the show. In his view, the series has taken his quotes about unrelated situations out of context and « faked a few rivalries that don’t really exist ».

While Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi agrees with Verstappen’s general view that the series can overdramatize, he sees this as a necessary element in telling the more human stories in the cold, complicated and difficult world of Formula 1.

« You can’t have everything, » said Rossi. « They’re bringing more people into F1, more audiences, more sponsors and more money. They did it because they did something very well, showing the human side of the sport, showing the managers and drivers in midfield and in the back of the field to have. » under a lot of stress. They could lose their jobs, they could disappear from the fame of F1 into more obscure categories of racing. That’s cool, they know it’s not just fame, glamor, not just champagne. I think the Netflix duty is not to break the toy, but I find it exciting. It shows another side of the sport. « 

Aston Martin Racing’s managing director Otmar Szafnauer has been an American F1 fan since the early 1980s, at a time when F1 fanfare was much less common in the United States In his view, a core strength of Drive to Survive is the ability to bring fans who may not see racing as a sport closer to the elements that make it so attractive.

« I think [Drive to Survive] has attracted a much wider and more diverse audience [to F1] than just motorsport fans, I think our product is so entertaining and enticing once you understand and understand it, I think the audience for Formula 1 in the States can I have had the experience that when a household likes Formula 1, the kids like it, and it grows geometrically. Many, many of my friends who are now in their 50s like me have started watching Formula 1 because her parents put it in enjoyed the 70s. If we get that momentum, I think we can grow very quickly. ”

Not everyone in the paddock even watches the series. Kimi Raikkonen, for example, told Road & Track that he hadn’t seen an episode. Laurent Rossi, however, put on it as a show and is already looking forward to a big moment for his team next season.

« Even I’ll watch it. I was very worried at the beginning when my friends, the Not F1 fans said, ‘You should see it’, I said, ‘I’m watching the events.’ But I looked at it and said, « Well done guys! It’s entertaining. « I don’t know how they’ll turn [Esteban Ocon’s] win, but I’ll watch it as a spectator and hopefully not flinch too much. »


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