Whilst this site tends to focus on the efforts of Channel 4 and Sky Sports where Formula 1 is concerned, it is important to comment on what Formula One Management (FOM) has done so far during 2016. With that, we also turn to social media where there have been several shining lights.
Formula 1 is constantly trying to break into new territories, so when a racer from a new territory comes along, it is little surprise to see their follower counts skyrocket. Enter Rio Haryanto. At the half way stage of the 2016 season, Haryanto has amassed a combined reach of 1.66 million accounts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A video posted by FOM on YouTube of his car rolling out the garage in pre-season testing has been watched over half a million times. These are massive numbers by F1’s standards, even with Haryanto’s Formula 1 exploits ending for the moment. Whether Formula 1’s popularity (beyond Haryanto) has increased in Indonesia though is unknown.
Max Verstappen has had a similar effect in the Netherlands, and his shock switch from Toro Rosso to Red Bull has helped the latter in the social media stakes. From a combined reach of 6.36 million accounts in December 2015 to a reach of 8.08 million accounts currently, this represents an increase of 1.72 million (or 27.0 percent), the largest for any team across the first half of 2016. Mercedes, McLaren, Ferrari and Renault all recorded gains of around 950,000 followers. Behind the leading five, Haas did not disgrace themselves, moving from a combined reach of 146,000 in December to 480,000 currently.
Mercedes again had the lowest percentage increase, but with their reach increasing by one million from 12.6 million to 13.6 million followers across the big three social media websites, they cannot complain. Force India and Sauber had a relatively poor first half of 2016, both teams only increasing their reach by less than 200,000 followers.
Verstappen on the march
The surge that started in 2015 has continued into 2016. In July 2015, Verstappen’s accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram reached 247,000 followers. Now, that number has quintupled to a reach of 1.28 million followers. That’s an amazing turn of form. What we don’t know, is where those followers are distributed. I suspect, unlike Haryanto, Verstappen’s followers are distributed more widely to the rest of Europe given the impact that he is likely to have on Formula 1 in the years ahead. Viewers watching this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix weekend will have noticed a large Dutch contingent out in force.
Behind Verstappen and Haryanto in the impressive stakes is Nico Rosberg, who jumped from reaching 2.71 million accounts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at the end of 2015 to reaching 4.36 million accounts half way through 2016. It is likely that Rosberg will become the second biggest social media star in F1 by the end of 2016, surpassing Fernando Alonso. That is surprising in one sense given their respective personalities, but Rosberg’s strong form in the early races will have played its part in the growth numbers. Germany’s television viewing figures have bounced back slightly this year, so Rosberg is getting more support from home than previously.
Whilst ten drivers possess a reach of over one million followers, only half show significant growth (if we discard Haryanto): Hamilton and Rosberg lead by some margin, followed by Verstappen, Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez. Jenson Button, Felipe Massa and to a smaller degree Alonso have a stagnated follower base as Button and Massa start to ebb towards the end of their respective careers.
Instagram continues to grow at a faster rate than both Facebook and Twitter, jumping from a cumulative total of 8.57 million at the end of 2015 to 15.90 million currently. Their market share has increased from 12.8 percent to 18.1 percent as a result. Twitter’s slow down continues, but nevertheless increased from a cumulative total of 22.3 million to a healthy 27.5 million. Overall, the metrics are all up from the same time last year, and increasing at a faster rate which is good news for the sport moving forward.
Formula One Management… getting better?
Normally, I use the rule that if I’m complaining about things less, then chances are that it is actually getting better. I think that is the case with FOM’s television coverage! With tweaks to on-board camera angles and overall a greater sense of speed through different trackside cameras, things do appear to be moving in the right direction. Of course, the coverage has been let down by the outlandish team radio rules…
Team radio was first introduced to Formula 1’s television feed as part of the F1 Digital+ service. The service was introduced in 1996, coming to the United Kingdom in 2002 before closing at the end of that season. Broadcast to a niche audience, it quickly became clear how team radio would revolutionise Formula 1 viewing if rolled out to the globalised free-to-air feed.
“Let Michael past for the championship, Rubens” was one such snippet that aired on the F1 Digital+ feed at the 2001 Austrian Grand Prix. Victory celebrations were also commonly broadcast on the F1 Digital+ feed, notably at the 2000 German and Japanese rounds of the championship, again both featuring Ferrari drivers.
Team radio became more widespread through the 2000s, with it being common place until the radio rules of late last year. I’m happy to see the ruling reversed, simply because the team radio offered a different opinion on the track action, a ‘third wheel’ shall we say. However, even after the reversal, it still feels like there is less team radio than in previous seasons. Have drivers been trained to talk less in the car, or are the fans hearing an extremely filtered version?
Staying with TV, FOM’s GP2 commentary line up of Alex Jacques and Davide Valsecchi has been a revelation this season. Jacques has come on leaps and bounds since we heard him at the start of 2015. Plucked out of nowhere, his style alongside Valsecchi’s strong enthusiasm means that fans are in for a treat whenever GP2 is live on-air.
Elsewhere in the FOM spectrum, their social media efforts have improved compared with 2015. Helped by an influx of new faces such as ex BBC F1 video editor Tom Bowker, their social media platforms, including Facebook which launched in March, have played host to a lot more unseen archive footage than previously. Finally, it looks like the public is able to scratch at the surface of FOM’s video archive.
With 2.6 million ‘likes’ on Facebook, 2.2 million on Twitter and 220,000 on YouTube, F1 is building its digital fan base. Their Facebook page, which was launched in March, has been successful so far thanks in part to the migration of the 1.8 million people who already liked F1 related pages! FOM have not done anything though to go viral yet, in the same way that Formula E and the Ricciardo/Massa go-karting fun did. In fact, I do not think FOM have done anything in recent memory to go viral, whether they choose to do so to try and boost their profile, we shall see.
In the meantine, MotoGP remains four times as popular as Formula 1 on both Facebook and YouTube. The series recently hit 1 million subscribers on YouTube, rewarding fans with a full race copy of the 2015 Australian Grand Prix… for free! Of course, the nature of television deals mean that FOM may not be able to do that, but it shows what can be achieved. As always with F1, there is a long way to go to getting fans the level of access that MotoGP does with their fans.