LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Formula One has been popular for more than five decades, with millions of fans tuning in around the world.
But recently, there’s a spike in the number of women watching and attending.
Las Vegas becomes just the third U.S. city to host F1. The launch party at the heart of the Strip attracted thousands of fans like Sandra Bilberry and her family. They have been watching it on TV for years.
“I think F1, it really is the pinnacle of driving,” Bilberry said.
“The glitz and glamour is definitely a big part of it,” said Manvi Mittal, a racing podcaster and trackside reporter.
There’s a growing number of women flocking to the sport. It’s estimated nearly 40% of the fandom are women. That’s a huge jump — up from just 8% in 2017.
“Whether it’s the fashion, whether its the stardom of the mega drivers, the fan culture itself, there’s just so many ways that you can engage with the sport,” Mittal said.
Engagement for sure, but how do you explain the explosive growth?
The hugely popular Netflix series “Drive to Survive” brought the drama, danger, strategy and sex appeal right into living rooms all over the world. The docu-series topped the streaming companies’ rankings in more than 30 countries.
And that exposure was vital to luring new fans — including women.
Mittal calls it the first domino. Word of mouth was the second.
Mandy Stuart, vice president of marketing for F1 Experiences, said, “So it’s likely that many new female fans had a friend or a partner who was a fan and now they’re interested.”
F1 Experiences sells travel packages to the races all over the world, catering to a wide range of customers.
“Whether you want to be out there feeling the rubber bounce off your face when the cars come by or if you want to be sitting up a little bit and enjoying a glass of champagne and really just seeing it from a premium perspective you can do that,” Stuart said.
The new army of female fans might hold a cocktail in one hand, but they’re armed with real, growing knowledge of the sport. They’re watching the entire race season and following off-track developments.
“They can get the strategy right, they can get it totally wrong. You know the tires, the pressure, the heat, the cold … especially new tracks like Vegas,” Bilberry said.
The sport can be relatable — yet exclusive.
“There are only 20 drivers in the world that drive an F1 car every year,” Mittal said.
“It’s prestigious. Athletes are gentlemen. It’s fun to watch, so it truly has a little bit of everything for everybody,” Stuard added.
The energy and opportunities that female fans create is closely related to the financial growth of the sport.
The power of the teen girl dollar creates massive wealth and crucial cultural relevance. Remember what Taylor and Barbie did for the economy this summer?
“That same thing is happening with F1 bottom line. Their revenue is increasing year over year,” Mittal said.
As a sport that is relatively new to America, to see so many women embracing it is important and valuable.
“The atmosphere is going to be great,” Bilberry said. “It’s going to be great.”
There might not be any female drivers … yet. But an academy for young women who want to become aspiring racers just wrapped up its inaugural season in Austin. That day may come in the next five years. After all, the cars don’t know if the driver is a man or a woman.