Formula 1 went through periods of extreme popularity over the years, but it has also had some eras where the sport has not been quite so popular. This can leave fans and non-fans of the sport alike wondering if F1 is dying, or if it will ever fully die out.
F1 is not dying, although it had seen a decline in viewership between 2008 and 2017. However, since 2018 viewership has spiked again, and this coincides with Liberty Media’s takeover of F1. The 2021 season also saw viewership increases, and these are likely to keep rising in the years to come.
Formula 1 is maintaining its popularity due to its ability to adapt to new situations and rebuild the fanbase despite all the controversy and difficulties that it has faced in recent years. Below, we go through F1’s popularity in more detail, to understand what the future of the sport might hold.
Is F1 Losing Popularity?
F1 is no longer losing popularity, with viewership of the 2021 season up on that from 2020. Formula 1 viewership had been in a steep decline ever since 2008, when 600 million viewers tuned in worldwide. This declined until 2017 when viewership was at its lowest in the past decade at 352 million.
However, in 2018 we saw a spike in the viewership ratings as the season saw 490 million viewers worldwide. Why did this happen though? Well, this spike in viewership coincides with the Liberty Media takeover of the sport, and later on we’ll discuss just how much this has impacted F1’s popularity.
From there, global viewership of Formula 1 has remained over 400 million worldwide. It’s hard to get specific figures for the recently completed 2021 season, but with the drama we experienced throughout the season we can expect it to be another huge spike, especially towards the end of the season. Early reports suggest there was an increase in viewership of 13%.
Why The Decline?
It’s unclear why there was such a big decline in the global viewership surrounding Formula 1 from 2008 onwards. However, there are some rumors and theories as to exactly why this has happened.
The first is that the rule changes had a massive impact on the cars. The first decline we can see is in 2009, and this is when the big aerodynamic rule changes took place, and many fans did not like the look of the cars.
On top of this, we saw Red Bull dominating the sport between 2010 and 2013, leading to many fans becoming bored of the sport. From 2014 up until 2020, Mercedes dominated the sport, and once again many fans began to lose interest in the sport, leading to a decline in viewership ratings.
What About Grand Prix Attendance?
Formula 1 race attendance is just as important as TV viewership. We see the same trend with the attendance to races in Formula 1, with a decline starting from the 2009 season. The 2014 season saw a steep decline, which could be due to the new engine regulations. Many fans did not like the new engine sound, and stated that it took away the life of the sport.
However, in 2017 there was a sudden spike in the attendance of Formula 1 races, with 4 million people attending races for the first time in nearly a decade. The upward trend continued into 2018 and 2019, with both years producing over 4 million attendees for the season.
However, in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to this, and Formula 1 had no attendees at the races. In 2021 fans were allowed to return to racetracks, and we saw some record breaking attendances once again. The most notable example was the 2021 US Grand Prix in Austin, when 400,000 fans visited COTA over three days.
The 2021 F1 Season
Aside from some attendance records, arguably the most important factor in any increase in viewership during the 2021 F1 season was the rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. The Mercedes dominance since 2014 has starved Formula 1 fans of a great championship battle, and being able to witness it again was what every fan wanted.
The drama from the 2021 Formula 1 season spilled over to news networks and other forms of media too, which drew in more fans. This, paired with 2022’s rule changes, should mean F1 sees even more of an increase in viewership in the coming years.
Has Liberty Media Improved F1’s Popularity?
In 2017, US company Liberty Media took over F1 from the ownership of various private equity firms. Many Formula 1 fans around the world were concerned about this, believing that their beloved traditional sport would be converted into a commercialized money making machine.
In a way, this has happened, but it’s happened for the good of the sport. In the past, Formula 1 was notoriously slow to adapt. If it wasn’t for Liberty Media, F1 would probably still be an “elitist” sport that’s against sharing on social media and bringing new fans to the sport.
Liberty Media have made the sport much more accessible, and as such have brought in a lot of new fans. It has done this largely through its massive focus on social media marketing, and its creation of the Netflix “Drive to Survive” streaming series.
Changing the logo and the overall branding of Formula 1 was controversial to say the least. However, eventually Formula 1 fans began to accept the change and many of them now believe that it was the correct decision to make.
Why Was The Liberty Media Takeover Such A Success?
Liberty Media have made the sport much more accessible and easier to understand for many fans. Fans who tried to get into the sport in the past may have been left confused, with limited explanations of what’s happening and why, without having to do their own extensive research or have someone explain it to them.
Modern Formula 1 remedies this by posting regular content on social media channels and YouTube, and the teams and drivers have been quick to follow suit, which has helped the sport to gain a massive younger following in recent years.
One major success on YouTube alone has been showing content from races in the past, adding context for new fans that aren’t sure who people are and why certain things are the way they are. We now also get unprecedented access to driver and team radios, which F1 regularly uses for entertainment purposes through social media, drawing in yet more fans.
In addition, Liberty Media brought in Netflix and gave them behind the scenes access that no Formula 1 fan would ever have seen in the past. Much of the Netflix content is new for many fans, even for those who have been watching the sport for 20 years or more. This extra access allows fans to feel more involved in the sport, driving up viewership as well.
Will F1 Ever Die Out?
Before the Liberty Media takeover, it seemed that Formula 1 was destined for failure based on the falling race attendances and TV viewership numbers. There was a steady decline in the popularity of the sport, which was partly due to one or two teams dominating the sport and winning every race.
However, since Liberty Media took over things began to change, even if Mercedes were still dominating. 2021 saw Formula 1 dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic once again, but it also saw the most exciting championship fight for years, and this undoubtedly led to a lot more attention for the sport.
It’s hard to tell what the future holds as Formula 1 will need steady growth in popularity to keep up with other global sports such as NFL, NBA and soccer. However, the 2021 season is sure to play a key part in bringing some new fans into the sport, and even bringing back older fans who have lost interest.
F1 is not dying and likely won’t die out any time soon. F1 is in one of its most successful eras in terms of popularity. The sport has grown in its fanbase significantly over recent years, partly due to the rebrand brought in by Liberty Media and the introduction of Netflix’s Drive to Survive.
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