‘Bro-y and hyper-masculine’: How Formula 1 found a new fanbase despite male dominance

By their own admission, Scout Boxall is not your typical Formula 1 fan.

“I think I’ve carefully cultivated this persona of being a lactose-intolerant leftie that can’t drive,” Boxall said.

The Melbourne comedian never thought they would become so consumed by fast cars that the sport would feature in their stand-up routine.

“So I am politically diametrically opposed to it but when the cars go that fast,” they grinned to the audience at the Sydney Comedy Festival late last year.

“They go 320 kilometres an hour … and every time they go that fast I’m overwhelmed by this latent toxic male urge to punch through some drywall, then scoop out the little dry bits and eat ’em.”

Their show featured a rap about Max Verstappen that is far too rude to describe here. Let’s just say Scout isn’t Verstappen’s number-one supporter.

“I thought it was a very, like, inaccessible sport to me. It seemed very ‘bro-y’, like hyper-masculine,” they told ABC Sport.

But during lockdown, their perception of the sport turned on its head.

Like many, Scout binged Drive to Survive, a high-octane documentary series that has brought the human drama of the sport to screen, converting new audiences to fans.

“It’s cracked my whole world open. I love it so much. I’m so obsessed with it,” Boxall said.

“I have Formula 1 merchandise. I know words like understeer and lock-up and tyre marbling.”

Columnist Kate Halfpenny has spent much of her media career writing about celebrities and was drawn into the world of F1 through the stories of the drivers.

“To have found F1 this late in my life, it’s safe to say I’ve been blindsided by my obsession with it,” said Halfpenny, the founder of Bad Mother Media.

Kate Halfpenny is the founder of Bad Mother Media and said she was “blindsided” by her new F1 fandom. (Scott Jewell)

Halfpenny admitted to being a sports nut but always found F1 “noisy and a little bit pointless” until a friend recommended the documentary.

“This is a sport which is very much about the fastest cars in the world and how to make them,” she said.

“It’s super technical. We know that it’s about a lot of money, and it’s about gas-guzzling machines.

“But at the heart of it, it’s actually about these extraordinary athletes — and there are only 20 every year — and it’s about these men who go to work every week and are prepared to die.”

No more ‘ladies day’ as women crave cars

The face of the sport is changing.

Between the 2019 and 2022 Grands Prix in Melbourne, the proportion of female attendees grew from 24 to 38 per cent, according to the Australian Grand Prix Corporation.

That proportion was even greater for women aged between 18 and 34. That trend is expected to continue this weekend.

“We saw more women and girls turning up and we can’t deny Netflix had a big effect on that,” said the corporation’s brand manager, Lani Evans.

“I think Netflix really helped really showcase the personalities behind the sport and now everyone has their favourite driver.

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Drive to Survive team on the rise of the sports doc

“So it’s our job to then encourage our event.”

This year, Mercedes canned Ladies Day because women didn’t want to head to the track unless there were F1 cars (they don’t feature on Thursday when the lunch was traditionally held).

“It’s nice that Mercedes have actually seen the stats on the growth of females and their interest in F1,” Evans said.

“They are now offering a product that is equal to everyone.”

As the shift continues, organisers are considering how to cater for their new fanbase.

“Before we probably had to do a lot more outside of the sport itself to entice females to come to the event,” said Evans.

“But now I think with those personalities shining through in our content, as well as Drive to Survive, they have that emotional connection.

“So that’s definitely changed … how we target the event.”

Halfpenny believed it would be a bad PR move if the Grand Prix Corporation failed to take advantage of its burgeoning new following.

“I remember when my kids were little it was very much the dads who were taking the sons along to F1,” Halfpenny said.

“And you don’t see that anymore. If you rock up to the Formula 1 grand prix in Melbourne, you’ll see stacks of women, you’ll see little girls.

“It’s a new captive audience and certainly from a branding perspective, there’s money to be made.”

A new era for female drivers

Men dominate Drive to Survive, which makes the interest from an audience other than men even more compelling.

Women spoke for only about 6 minutes in season five, which ran for more than 6.5 hours in total, according to research by advocacy group Females in Motorsport.

“There’s key people within the Formula 1 industry and landscape who are women, but there’s just so few in comparison to all the men around,” said Boxall.

“At the end of the day, you’re watching men drive cars but you’re mostly just watching people that you’ve become very invested in.

“I just really wish there was some women on the grid.”

While the series might not be representative in that sense, the sport is experiencing a shift.

The F1 Academy is set to launch next month, offering a new all-female, junior-level racing class designed to give the world’s best female drivers the chance to reach the top of the sport.

Remarkably, a woman hasn’t competed in a Formula 1 grand prix since 1976.

Boxall hoped the sport embraces its new followers.

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