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Formula 1 reverses social media gains amid lack of title fight

Formula 1 has witnessed a dramatic drop in social media mentions, new followers and reach off the back of Red Bull’s total domination, a new research study has revealed.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, the rest of the field at the start

Analysis by Buzz Radar, a social intelligence company of social media patterns, has highlighted how the 2023 campaign has triggered a dramatic U-turn in F1’s impressive growth in recent years.

In a case study that it published on Thursday, titled Have we reached Peak F1?, Buzz Radar’s analysis suggested that the boom of 2022 – boosted by the dramatic 2021 title fight and new car rules – may well mark a high-point of interest in F1 for a while.

Having used a combination of human analysis and AI data to look at F1 on social media over the past decade, which included analysis of 70 million fan posts, it found that the championship had suffered its first decline of interest in a while.

Its data suggests that social media mentions of F1 were down 70.2% in the first five months of this year compared to the same period in 2022, with new followers down 46.29% and social reach down 64.10%.

The figures for January to May for the past three years are:

  2021 2022 2023
Mentions 3.19m 6.14m 1.83m
New Followers 624.27k 911.15k 489.37k
Social Reach 35.63bn 61.73bn 22.16bn

In the report, Buzz Radar concluded: “The data comparison between 2022 and 2023 revealed significant drops in the overall mentions of F1, along with dismal numbers in the growth of new followers of high-profile accounts.

“The reach of F1-related content across various social platforms has also receded, in stark contrast to the steady progress observed yearly before. But, the declining numbers are only one part of the story.

Top three qualifiers Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, pole man Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, in Parc Ferme

Top three qualifiers Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, pole man Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

“The social data from 2023 also offered insight into a fundamental shift in conversation about F1: a noticeable upswing in the use of negative adjectives associated with the sport.

“Words like 'boring' and 'annoying' are now becoming high-frequency descriptors, replacing erstwhile positive words like 'interesting' and 'exciting'.”

The Buzz Radar report states the cause of such a drop off is simply single-team domination, with Red Bull having won all but two races over the past 12 months.

It believes that there is a direct correlation between the closeness of an F1 title fight and how much that entices fans to get engaged – as F1 last had such a drop-off in 2018 when Lewis Hamilton roared to the title.

“2016 was the most talked about season, until 2021, despite all the contributory factors of the Liberty takeover, Drive to Survive, and lockdown, because [Nico] Rosberg and Hamilton were battling closely,” it noted.

“The season was decided by only five points. Conversation stagnated between 2018-2020 while Hamilton dominated, and grew significantly again during the 2021 season; the closest championship since 2016.

“Both 2016 and 2021 seasons were decided at the last race. 2022 continued to ride the wave of the close competition at the end of 2021, but now we are seeing the result of one driver dominance once again. 2023 is now on course to continue losing conversation, and this pattern will continue until the racing becomes closer again.”

But while the social media figures for 2023 are far from ideal, the Buzz Radar report does acknowledge that F1 has been hugely impressive in the way it has grown its audience figures over the past decade.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, leaves the podium with his trophy

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, leaves the podium with his trophy

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Compared to other leading sports, it is amongst the best – and that is despite there being just 23 events per year.

“Between 2016 and 2022, F1 grew its conversation levels by 80%, which was only bettered by the Indian Premier League (208% increase) and the UEFA Champions League (up 112%),” added the whitepaper.

“Remarkably, F1 managed this despite hosting the fewest events of the top five, with 2022 conversation coming from just 22 race weekends compared to 285 NFL matches, including the Super Bowl which, year on year, is one of the most talked about sporting events in the world.

“The only year that growth slowed was in 2018, and the biggest growth was in 2021, when they gained around 14 million new cross-channel followers. This makes them the fastest-growing social channels of any major sport in the time period.”

While the Buzz Radar research suggests that social media numbers for F1 as a whole are down, the championship’s own channels have not followed that trend.

For 2023 so far, FOM says growth for its official channels is around eight times higher than the near-500,000 figure mentioned by Buzz Radar for January to May.

In the second quarter of this season, F1’s channels ranked second globally (behind La Liga) for followers’ growth rate among all major sports.

FOM also states that active engagements (such as likes, comments and shares) are up 4% so far this year compared to 2022, and are on course to surpass 1.5bn by the end of the season.

The full report can be read here.

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