The popularity of Formula 1 driven by a thrilling end of the season

An urban circuit, 27 cascading bends, mostly fast, a dusty track, thrills for a nighttime spectacle. It is the framework of the duel with the knife which will oppose Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, this Sunday, December 5 at the Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia, a first on the calendar of Formula 1.

The race can be decisive for the attribution of the title of world champion. Max Verstappen is on the right track, with an 8 point lead in the general classification. It can be sacred on Sunday. But his pursuer Lewis Hamilton is coming back very strong with his last two victories in Brazil and Qatar. If he wins just ahead of his Dutch rival, the two men will attack the last race, on December 12 in Abu Dhabi, tied on points. For a dantesque final.

Strong growth in audiences

This ideal scenario, the discipline dared not hope. The last suspenseful Grand Prix between two drivers from competing teams date back to 2012, and the fight between Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) and Fernando Alonso (Ferrari). But fans go back even further, referring instead to the fight between Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) and Fernando Alonso (Renault) in 2006.

“There was a generation opposition – 12 years separating the two men – which we find today with the same age difference between Hamilton and Verstappen, underlines the specialist and consultant Marc Limacher. Hamilton is looking to break Schumacher’s record with an eighth world title, and 24-year-old Verstappen is the youngster on the rise. “

Rivalry maintains the new flame of the public of Formula 1. Because after years of boredom and disinterest, the great automobile circus is experiencing a resurgence.

Broadcaster in France, Canal + is rubbing its hands: its audiences have jumped 42% in two years, reaching an average of 1.13 million viewers per race. The phenomenon is similar in many European countries and in the United States (+ 62% audience for retransmissions).

F1 President Stefano Domenicali recently praised the success of his F1 TV broadcast platform: “The number of unique users on our site and our app has increased this year by 56% compared to 2020.”

The “Millennials” seduced

A recent study carried out by the Nielsen group from an online questionnaire answered by more than 167,000 fans from 187 countries also reveals a rejuvenation (34% under 24) and feminization (18.3%) public. Out of a smaller panel in 2017, young people represented only 26% and women 10%.

“On the one hand, there has been a real Netflix phenomenon, with the broadcast since 2019 on the platform of the documentary series Drive to Survive which tells about the past season, explains Marc Limacher. Many young people have discovered F1 and suddenly now follow the Grand Prix. F1 has also taken to social networks. The teams, the champions, but also the organizers, since the takeover of F1 by the Liberty Media group in 2017, have started to produce content. And it works. Millennials subscribe, comment, and in turn ensure a presence of F1 on TikTok, Instagram, etc. “

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Stefano Domenicali has also just mentioned a reflection of F1 to push this advantage, by broadcasting Grand Prix on YouTube (an experience tried in 2020 for the German Grand Prix), and content on Twitch (at the image of the sprint race of the last Brazilian Grand Prix).

Nostalgia, sensitive cord

The casting is also particularly careful to satisfy the public. The return this year of Fernando Alonso has delighted Spain. The explosion of the young Briton Lando Norris, 22, excites young people, as the arrival of Mick Schumacher, 22 years old and son of, who rekindles the interest of Germany.

The confirmed arrival on November 16 of Chinese Guanyu Zhou (still 22) as second driver in 2022 at Alfa Romeo promises a certain effervescence in the Middle Kingdom, a crucial market for the development of F1.

When it is not on men, it is on machines that the promoters of the discipline are betting. Next season, changes in the aerodynamics of racing cars should limit the disturbances caused by the cars on the grip of their pursuers, and therefore facilitate overtaking, for ever more spectacle. All observers are hoping for a return to form for Ferrari and a rise in strength of Alpine to join in the Red Bull-Mercedes duel.

Paradoxically, the improvement of F1 comes when its universe is hardly in phase with the current eco-responsible atmosphere. F1 promises to adapt from 2026 with engines and zero carbon fuel, but dodges while waiting for the question, also summoning a certain nostalgia quite fashionable in the sports world, from cycling to football through the rugby.

“Like other disciplines, F1 benefits from a long history, and likes to recall its glorious hours, from the Fangio of the 1950s to the Prost-Senna duel of the late 1980s, concludes Marc Limacher. Young people also discover this aspect with curiosity, and the less young appreciate the madeleine. F1 also knows how to play on this rope. “


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