Female fans will fuel Formula One in 2023

British Grand Prix
Formula One F1 - British Grand Prix - Silverstone Circuit, Silverstone, Britain - July 2, 2022 Jenner Racing's Jamie Chadwick celebrates after winning the W Series race REUTERS/Molly Darlington

HONG KONG, Dec 23 (Reuters Breakingviews) - Liberty Media (FWONA.O) will find new ways to shift Formula One 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 (NFLX.O) “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 One. 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.

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.

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(This is a Breakingviews prediction for 2023. To see more of our predictions, click here.)


Formula 1, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Liberty Media’s Formula One Group, said on Nov. 18 it will launch in 2023 the F1 Academy to help prepare young female drivers for higher levels of competition, including the all-female W Series, as well as the classic F3, F2 and F1 series. Formula 1 will pay 150,000 euros to subsidise the cost of each driver’s car.

Formula One Group’s operating income fell by 6% to $64 million in the quarter ending September 2022, compared with a year earlier, according to results released on Nov. 4. Revenue grew 7% to $715 million in the same period, up from $668 million a year earlier.

Netflix "Drive to Survive” docuseries tracking F1 drivers and teams was Netflix most-watched show in 33 countries when it debuted its fourth series in March, shortly before the start of the 2022 F1 season, according to Formula One filings released in April.

Liberty Media bought Formula One Group in 2017 for $8 billion including debt.

Editing by Lisa Jucca, Pranav Kiran and Streisand Neto

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Katrina Hamlin is global production editor, based in Hong Kong. She is also a columnist, writing on topics including environmental policy, cleantech and green finance, as well as the gambling industry in Macau and Asia. Before joining Reuters in 2012, Katrina was deputy managing editor of Shanghai Business Review magazine. She graduated from the University of Oxford with an MA in Classics, and earned a Masters of Journalism with distinction from the University of Hong Kong.