In celebration of Pride Month, we are taking a look at the evolution of F1 and its contemporary role as a platform for social and environmental change
From its inception, Formula 1 has been about more than high-speed racing. Its continued existence comes from a strategic blend of business intelligence, technological innovation, and mirroring societal trends. Bringing together the best drivers and engineers in the world, this sport has become about more than racing, it is about sustaining a business model while responding to – and shaping – social change.
For the 2023 season, teams have a budget cap of $135 million to design, build and race their two Formula 1 racing cars. It is a capital-intensive sport, there is no question about that. The funding requirements and historic ‘boom or bust’ nature of teams mean that there is a constant quest for sponsorship. In the past, this has seen large tobacco companies, finance and banking firms, automotive OEMs, and energy drinks each looking to take advantage of Formula 1’s global reach and influence.
As society has evolved, so too has the sport, responding to the shifting attitudes of its global audience, the influence of the FIA, and the sensibilities of its funding sources. It's important to remember that these transitions have not always been without mishaps. Recent events, such as Mercedes F1's partnership with cryptocurrency exchange FTX, remind us that adaptation comes with inherent risks and challenges.
More broadly speaking, since the Liberty Media takeover, Formula 1 has become a cultural phenomenon and a platform for tackling some of the greatest challenges in our time – social justice and carbon neutrality. This is further boosted by pop culture hits like Netflix’s 'Drive to Survive' and the upcoming Brad Pitt Formula 1 film, both of which have injected the sport with newfound energy and wider appeal, attracting an audience beyond traditional racing enthusiasts.
In turn, this shift has helped solidify Formula 1's financial stability, appealing to a broader range of sponsors who value the visibility and connection to change. Indeed, prominent figures within the sport have played a critical role in leveraging the growing platform to champion social issues – something of particular note considering June is Pride Month.
The concerted efforts of Matt Bishop, a respected figure in the challenging arena of Formula 1 communications, to promote inclusion and diversity through his work with driver Sebastian Vettel, underscores the sport's potential to influence societal norms positively. In fact, Matt’s work with Vettel to bring awareness to social issues earned him The Race’s Most Inspiring Campaign award. Bishop and Vettel – and most importantly, their team – openly brandished the rainbow flag in protest of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and practices.
“If a frightened LGBTQ+ teenager in Jeddah [sees] their hero… doing a macho sport, racing for big brands saying, ‘I’ve got your back, it’s fine to be you’, that might just help.”
- Matt Bishop, Chief Communications Officer at Aston Martin F1 Team
It was part of their partnership with Racing Pride and succeeded in drawing attention to their cause. This involved Vettel’s iconic rainbow t-shirt emblazoned with “same love”, for which he was reprimanded.
“They can do whatever they want to me I don’t care, I would do it again.”
- Sebastian Vettel, four-time World Drivers’ Champion
While social injustice is one area of involvement, Formula 1 is also fully embracing the urgent global climate crisis. Through the rules of the sport, it is adapting to the expectations of fans, sponsors, and regulators through ambitious sustainability initiatives. This is nothing new for F1, considering its very early adoption and development of hybrid power and energy recovery systems. Now, though, it is all about carbon-neutral fuels, more sustainable consumables, and a greater commitment to pursuing Net Zero across the entire sport.
Taking all of this into consideration, it is interesting to then consider that amidst all this evolution, the core offering of Formula 1 remains the same: fast-paced, competitive racing with the world’s best drivers. It is this consistent delivery of thrilling entertainment, coupled with the sport's agility in adapting to change, that has ensured its longevity and relevance, whether evaluated over months, years, or decades. It is an ongoing case study of how industries can stay true to their core competencies while embracing shifting societal values, adapting to changing market conditions, and rising to global challenges.