Revving my engines: Can women find F1 drivers sexy and simultaneously enjoy the sport?

By Fleurine Tideman

Published Mar 29, 2024 at 08:50 AM

Reading time: 7 minutes

Two things I never knew about Formula One, commonly known as Formula 1 or F1: how much the drivers sweat during it, and how much I’d enjoy looking at them all sweaty as they emerge from their cars. I’m just kidding; there is a lot more I never knew about F1. I am a girlie—a Stanley Cup sipping, Eras Tour attending, gua sha face rolling girlie, and yet I am carving time out of my packed bed rotting schedule to watch F1. Make it make sense. And no, it’s not because I’m Dutch, and Max Verstappen consistently kicks everyone’s ass, as that’s no fun and far too predictable for my liking.

It’s because F1 is sexy. Formula One drivers are categorically hotter than football players, dare I say it. That isn’t to undermine their talent or work ethic but to state a simple fact. And I’m not the only one who thinks so, as there has been an influx of female supporters to F1.

@f1forthegirls

Why I’m trying to create a space for us 🤍 #foryou #f1 #formula1 #womeninf1 #womeninstem #wseries

♬ The Man - Taylor Swift

In 2017, just 8 per cent of F1 fans were female, and in 2023, that has risen to 40 per cent. As you can tell by my occupation, I’m not a woman in STEM, but even I know that is an absurd amount. Women are an untapped market for spending capital, and we like to spend it.

Tonna Obaze, CEO of Tonna&Co, an impact advisory firm providing management consulting and strategic services to purpose-driven organisations summed it up perfectly: “Women taking an interest in anything is good for business and the bottom line—just look at how Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour and Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour boosted global economies, disrupted streamers and movie theatres, and brought change to ticketing platforms.”

So why are guys getting their man buns in a knot about women suddenly showing an interest in the sport? And why are female fans turning on other fellow female fans?

@fastboysloudnoise

We’re F1 girls 🏎️❤️‍🔥 IB @Madeleine Byrne #weregirls #f1girls #f1fangirl #formulauno #f1creators #formula1

♬ original sound - KRISTEN FOSTER

Girls like boys who like F1

The feminist in me (yes, she’s in there) doesn’t want to mention one of the top reasons I was given when asking women why they started watching F1, at least in the first place. You’re not going to like this, but many of the F1 girlies I interviewed started watching because of men. Yep, those beholders of the patriarchy.

Luna, a chalet host, said that her boyfriend would always put on the race on Sundays. So when they moved in together, it was on her TV too. What was she meant to do, not watch TV on a Sunday?

Grace, a data specialist, started watching it for her boyfriend, who had been a hardcore fan since he was young. It’s like that classic fable: while little boys grow up to be fans of F1, little girls grow up to be fans of the Real Housewives franchise, and they all lived happily ever after. 

Daphne, a growth consultant, also started watching for her boyfriend. She went all in, listening to Formula One podcasts, reading all the background information, and binge-watching Netflix’s hit series Drive to Survive. He just wanted to watch some cars zoom around on a Sunday, you know.

But it isn’t just romantic partners that usher girlies into the era of Formula 1. Erin, a financial advisor, was living with three guys in a very New Girl-inspired flatshare. The boys all bonded watching F1, so naturally, she had to join in the name of feminism. She told SCREENSHOT: “Synchronised viewing made it much easier for me to grasp the intricacies of the sport, as I gained background knowledge on each driver and team.” This makes me think that it isn’t men who are responsible per se, but rather that community-based effort and the fact that men are simply the likeliest candidates to already be watching.

And let’s not forget about the OG men: dads. Many participants recalled their fathers watching F1 and encouraging them to join. It became a bonding experience of sorts, just like football or rugby might be for others. Kind of the way everyone crowds the TV for ten minutes at the start of the Olympics and then returns for the sexy sports like shot put or the one where they run super fast in a circle.

Monique, a research assistant, fondly recalled: “My father would say, ‘As soon as she came out the womb, she was supporting Ferrari’.”

Even after this initial interest in F1 has been established, this community aspect continues to drive their love of the sport—pun very much intended. Monique ended up studying abroad and would stay on the phone with her dad during races. Pause for a collective “aw.”

Emily, a writer, discovered F1 during COVID, like many others, according to the 20 per cent rise in profits post-pandemic. “F1 became a way for me to focus on looking forward to something which occurred every couple of weeks, during what felt like a never-ending lockdown,” she said. “My mum also loves the sport; she’s more into it than I am! So it’s fun to share this hobby with her,” Emily continued.

Did Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive’ start people’s engines?

Let’s get the elephant off the race track and discuss Formula 1: Drive to Survive already. In case you live in a carbon emission-free zone, Drive to Survive is a Netflix docuseries that first aired in 2019 and gives viewers an exclusive look into the lives of the drivers, managers, and team owners in F1. There are currently six seasons out, and before embarking on this written quest, I assumed most fans had discovered their love of F1 through it. I was, however, wrong. Feel free to tell my ex that I can admit when I’m wrong, by the way.

Except, plot twist, I’m not totally wrong. Yes, many people glimpse the world of F1 through loved ones, but it could be argued that Drive to Survive solidified the enjoyment for a lot of people.

Maria, a flight attendant, discovered F1 in the best way: through Charles Leclerc thirst traps on TikTok. Best believe I immediately looked these up after speaking to her, and recommend you do as well. But, even though the TikTok multiverse brought her there, Drive to Survive was the thing that got her off TikTok and onto the TV. “When I was just learning about the sport, it helped me better understand the lingo and terminology needed to discuss F1,” Maria explained.

@sebvettelsv5

𝐏𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐜𝐞 𝐎𝐟 𝐅𝐞𝐫𝐫𝐚𝐫𝐢. @amx1790 #charlesleclerc #ferrari #formula1 #formulaone #foryou #foryoupage #fypシ #fyp #f1tiktok #f1edit

♬ origineel geluid - SebVettel - SebVettel

Despite Erin having her own Winston, Nick, and Schmidt in-house experts, the Netflix show was also her primary tutor when it came to all things F1. “It shows the drama and politics behind the scenes, which adds a whole new level of excitement. Plus, it helped me understand and appreciate the sport better, especially by humanising the drivers.”

Meanwhile, Grace did note that the increase in fans of the sport who were brought over because of Drive to Survive has “a downside,” namely in regard to a divide among fans. “I suppose a downside to this are the gatekeepers who don’t think F1 converts who watched the show are true fans,” she shared.

Indeed, while several women I spoke to cited the Netflix show as introducing them to F1 or helping to cement that interest, others were extremely critical of the series. They didn’t approve of the over-editing, altered timelines, and needless drama. Some even felt the need to differentiate themselves as someone who was a fan before Drive to Survive aired. Almost like how Swifties proudly boast about being around since Fearless or never surrendering to Snakegate—iykyk.

Now, let’s hear from the experts. Dr Georgia Carroll is a Fandom and Fan Engagement Expert, and I couldn’t wait to talk to her about F1.

“There’s often backlash to what people call ‘Drive to Survive fans’, with the assumption being these newer fans are fans for the ‘wrong’ reasons (i.e. because they think the drivers are hot). This is not unique to F1 fandom as we see it in every single sport where female fandom either increases or becomes more visible through social media,” Carroll explained.

I suppose you could compare this to when everyone got mad when Swifties started watching American football.

Carroll is in favour of Drive to Survive, and claims it is “increasing the accessibility of the sport.” It helps to break things down and explain technical concepts that don’t come naturally. Unfortunately, due to gender conventions, men were raised around shows like Top Gear, while we girlies never felt welcome in that space. So, it would make sense that we needed a little booster course before we could enjoy F1.

Critics aren’t wrong to call out the sneaky editing in the Netflix show, which is present in basically every reality TV series these days (sorry to break your Love Is Blind hearts). They’re making a show about races that happened months ago, and you need a big dose of spice to make it worth watching and earn those media billionaires more money.

But, these kinds of shows don’t have to be the only place for girlies to get an introduction to fast cars, and it’s fellow women who ensure that this is the case. Deni, a Social Media Manager, got into F1 before it was trendy and had no one to discuss it with. So she started an anonymous X (formerly Twitter) account to share this passion with like-minded people. @fiagirly now has over 80,000 followers.

These impressive stats aren’t all she’s gained. The creator explained: “I have made lifelong friendships through my F1 platform, but most importantly, I have created and continue to curate an environment where people are up to date, confident in the source of news they are reading, comfortable in asking questions and always learning.”

Jess and Sammy started a podcast called Drive Like a Girl, which is aimed at both newcomers and long-term fans. These F1 fanatics just want a place to talk cars in a down-to-earth way without fear of male judgment. I’m personally obsessed with them.

Can F1 be sexy and more?

F1 drivers post thirst traps of themselves in ice baths, and somehow we’re the absurd ones for finding them attractive? But the thing is, more than whether or not you find Lewis Hamilton attractive, is the question of why does it f*cking matter?

@erlott101

How can you not love @Oscar Piastri 🥹😂 We need to protect him at all costs. #F1 #fyp #fypf1 #f1tiktok #f1tiktoks #georgerussell #lewishamilton #charlesleclerc #carlossainz #landonorris #kevinmagnussen #nicohulkenberg #pierregasly #oscarpiastri #singaporegp #singaporegrandprix #singaporegrandprix2023 #singaporegp2023 #icebath #formulauno #formulaone #formula1

♬ original sound - slowedandreverb

You can find someone hot and talented—it’s 2024 people. Women can enjoy that mental image in the shower and admire the technical aspects of a race. Men just often don’t understand this concept because they have a societal and historical tendency to stop seeing individuals as more than their appearance.

We need more girlies interested in F1 and we need to stop dividing ourselves further over a Netflix show. Another expert I spoke to, Vanessa Castro, the co-host of podcast The VF1 Show believes that “women are really trying to drive home accountability and transparency” in the sport. But it’s not just up to inspirations like former racing driver Suzie Wolff and her work with the F1 Academy, it’s also up to the women who choose to watch the sport, support diversity within the sport, and call out behaviour like the Christian Homer scandal.

As Obaze pointed out, “if female professionals working in F1—or any sports league—don’t feel safe and supported, why would female fans feel any differently?”

Carroll believes that “growing the female fan base can only help in creating a push for fundamental change to the sport,” and I really hope she’s right. Because this might just be the only sport where we don’t have to divide by gender and can instead make the entire thing non-binary. So, what’s the holdup? Girlies who can drive, I’m looking at you. Me, on the other hand, I can’t even parallel park.

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