- During the US Grand Prix, Insider spoke with Lenovo and F1 about the growth and future of the sport.
- The new world of partnerships often moves beyond just advertising dollars and benefits both sides.
- F1 needs to maintain the momentum of the Netflix series “Drive to Survive,” and tech will play a big role.
The impact of the Netflix and Formula One docuseries “Drive to Survive” is real. Consider the following:
- F1 had 22 races last year, and one was in the United States.
- Next year, three of the 24 races will be in the US.
- At the 2017 US Grand Prix, the majority of ticket holders on Saturday showed up after qualifying because they just wanted to see the Justin Timberlake concert.
- In 2021, when 400,000 people showed up to the Circuit of the Americas, that flipped as the vast majority of fans showed up for the various F1 sessions (practice, qualifying, etc.).
And it is just not the US. When F1 returned to Melbourne, Australia, this year for the first time since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they recorded their largest attendance ever (420,000). According to F1, 40% of those ticket holders were women, a sharp increase they believe was due to the impact of “Drive to Survive.”
As the sport resonates with more fans and a more diverse audience than ever, it is also attracting more and bigger partnerships.
One such example is F1’s new deal with Lenovo, the China-based technology company with a strong presence in the US.
During the recent US Grand Prix, Insider spoke with Gerald Youngblood, the chief marketing officer for Lenovo North America, and Zarah Al-Kudcy, F1’s head of commercial partnerships.
In recent years, Lenovo has found a stronger presence in sports. In addition to their new deal with F1 this year that includes title sponsorship for two races (British Grand Prix and French Grand Prix), they have the Ducati Lenovo team in MotoGP and a shirt-sponsorship deal with Italian football club Inter Milan.
And Lenovo’s presence in F1 will grow — a source told Insider they’ll be the title sponsor for three races in 2023.
We don’t know which race Lenovo will be adding in 2023 (Las Vegas!?), but they would like a stronger presence in the US at some point, noting the growing impact of the sport in North America and the continued strength around the world.
“This is a unique partnership where from one region to another we can have that impact [where our customers live and work],” Youngblood told Insider. “I love the opportunity of, at some point, having a showcase here in the US.”
F1’s deal with Lenovo is a reflection of the sport and their fans
Lenovo’s deal with F1 is more than just buying ad space at the tracks. They’re also providing the series with PC systems, servers, and high-performance computing. The reason for partnering with F1 is strongly linked to the growing fan base and to who those fans are.
“We found that the followers of Formula One are more likely to be tech purchasers and IT decision-makers,” Youngblood said. “They’re more likely to also share on social media about the technology that they’re using.”
There is also the growing perception, especially in the US, that F1 is the pinnacle of innovation.
“What could be the more premium sport than Formula One to really align around the brand?” Youngblood said. “There are also very practical benefits in terms of aligning and visibility of our brand with other brands that share that drive for innovation and have an audience that can appreciate the story that Lenovo is telling.”
That perception of F1 is not new to their hardcore fan, but is in the corporate world. Five years ago, F1 had a single technology partner. In addition to Lenovo, F1 now has partnered with several tech companies, including AWS, Zoom, TATA Communications, and BWT.
“The growth that we have in tech partnerships is huge,” Al-Kudcy said. “I think it’s about us as a workforce also working with our partner products. That’s the thing we’ve got much better at historically. Our partnership [with Lenovo] definitely has an element of that. But it is also about authentic storytelling, which you now see in ‘Drive to Survive.'”
Growing beyond ‘Drive to Survive’ will be about moving the story forward
One subtle, but important, part of the comments above is the idea of telling a “story.” Spend enough time around corporate promotion these days, and you know that “storytelling” is a huge part of getting messages to consumers, whether that’s people buying PCs or picking sports to follow.
That’s where “Drive to Survive” comes in.
With the Netflix series, F1 has tapped into an incredible way to tell F1’s story, one other sports are starting to copy. But like any TV vehicle, interest in the show will taper or even wane at some point. The key for F1 is finding a way to maintain that momentum, which includes continuing to tell an interesting story to old and new fans, whether on Netflix or through another medium.
Unlike other major sports where networks or cable companies produce the broadcasts, F1 produces its own races for television and other media. Lenovo is assisting in that in numerous ways.
“We are very mindful of: How do we take the storytelling of ‘Drive to Survive’ and bring that out in our own transmission of the world feed, or our YouTube, our Twitter content, or that we do our podcasts?,” Al-Kudcy said. “It’s about making sure that we’re just generally better storytellers but also bringing that ‘Drive to Survive’ audience in and keeping them hooked.”
Youngblood agreed, noting that he is one of those fans now hooked beyond just the Netflix series.
“I think it’s just more that the audience has just started on that progress to getting hooked,” Youngblood said. “Like me waking up at ridiculous hours to watch races and also seeing the impact of technology to make it even more immersive and bring me even closer to the experience so that not everybody has to physically be at the track, but they can really be part of it.”
Reaching the at-home fan is key to maintaining the ‘Drive to Survive’ momentum
Youngblood’s comment about fans not being at the track is important to F1. While attendance figures at races around the world have skyrocketed, those people represent a tiny part of the sport’s fanbase.
F1 estimates that they have 500 million fans worldwide. Of those, only 1% will ever actually attend a race, and Al-Kudcy noted that technology like Lenovo’s is being used by the sport to connect with the other 99%.
So as Lenovo nears the end of its first year with F1, what’s next, and how do they keep moving the story forward and connecting with fans at races and, more importantly, at home?
According to F1 and Lenovo, that is probably augmented reality and virtual reality systems, something for which I am stoked.
Watching an F1 race on television is great. But having attended many races, it is clear that the standard TV experience doesn’t do the sport justice.
Whatever you think about the speed, the sound, the smell, the power of the cars, and the talent of the drivers controlling the rockets on wheels, it is many times more impressive in person. If AR and VR can bring that experience closer to the fans not at the race, everybody will win.