Who’s hot, who’s not? Reviewing 2020’s social media metrics

Each race weekend, teams, drivers and riders battle for points and prizes, with the aim of reaching the top of the mountain in their respective series.

Underpinning each entity is a social media team. For the likes of Formula 1 or MotoGP, the social media team may be a genuine business unit. For smaller championships, it may be a single person running the show.

The objective in all cases remains the same: to drive engagement on their social media channels, turning casual fans into passionate fans which, hopefully for the entity in question, turns into a profit further down the line when the fan begins to purchase their products.

Motorsport Broadcasting is an independent website without big backers, and therefore relies on trackable information already in the public domain, such as the number of followers across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Whilst this may not show who has engaged with individual posts, what it does help to show is who is attracting a newer, fresher fanbase to their platform, therefore becoming more marketable to their team or stakeholders around them or, alternatively, who is struggling to hit the mark.

A note of caution on Facebook: the platform is removing the ability to ‘like’ pages, instead only allowing users to ‘follow’ pages. Facebook notes that the update will “simplify the way people connect with their favourite Pages.”

“Unlike Likes, Followers of a Page represent the people who can receive updates from Pages, which helps give public figures a stronger indication of their fan base,” Facebook adds. This does mean some figures in this piece have increased slightly more than previously.

Championships

Motorsport Broadcasting compares social media data from 15 different championships, from Formula 1 to the new W Series. 2020 was disruptive for those hoping to grow their following, with most series inactive from March to July.

Some ventured down the Esports route to keep fans engaged during last year’s lockdown before the action restarted. Two championships suffered the most because of COVID: the electric Formula E series and the W Series.

Formula E hosted their final 6 races across 9 days in August, whilst W Series cancelled their second season owing to the pandemic.

Nevertheless, the W Series increased its following from 110,000 fans to 154,000 fans, the series no doubt hoping to capitalise on their presence during F1 weekends in 2021. Meanwhile, Formula E’s portfolio grew from 2.44 million fans to 2.63 million fans across 2020, an increase of just 7.7%.

After a period in 2018 where Formula E’s following was rising sharply, the electric series has seen its growth stall in comparison to other series. Whilst COVID has halted any momentum the series had; the reality is that Formula E’s social media platforms have been struggling since early 2019.

In April 2019, 2.19 million fans hooked onto their platforms, meaning that Formula E has only gained half a million fans on social media across the past 22 months.

Whilst Formula E’s slowdown is somewhat explainable, IndyCar’s stagnation cannot. The American series grew its following by just 20,000 fans during 2020, despite holding an Esports series which garnered worldwide attention, followed by a successful 14 race calendar.

Formula 2 continued its social media rise during 2020, doubling its reach from 536,000 followers to an excellent 1.12 million followers.

With Mick Schumacher and Callum Ilott both moving on, however, it is difficult to envisage Formula 2 continuing such strong growth during 2021.

Something that, in my view, will likely play against Formula 2 this season is the new championship structure, as the feeder series alternates its slot on the F1 calendar with Formula 3.

If Formula 2 continues to grow strongly during 2021, then it is possible F2 could overtake IndyCar in the social media pecking order later this year.

Out in front, F1 and MotoGP continued to surge unaffected by COVID during 2020, both quickly heading towards 30 million followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram combined.

F1 teams

1st on track, and 1st in the socials. 2020 was a success on and off track for Mercedes, as they continued to increase their lead over Red Bull in the social media stakes.

Mercedes’ advantage on social media is reflective of their openness across their social media platforms.

Despite Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas being their main players on-track, it is technical director James Allison who plays a key role in Mercedes’ digital output. Allison explains in clear detail the design decisions that his team make during each Grand Prix season, helping put Mercedes a step ahead of the rest both on and off-track.

Whilst Red Bull’s portfolio is still growing strong, arguably the Milton Keynes outfit has slipped back in recent times – a slip that we can trace back to Daniel Ricciardo’s departure at the end of 2018.

Statistics compiled by Motorsport Broadcasting show that Red Bull consistently recorded the strongest growth of any F1 team between 2015 and 2018, but has now not only slipped behind Mercedes, but also Ferrari and McLaren.

And, despite Ricciardo not being in a race winning car at Renault / Alpine, his growth on social media during 2020 was still bigger than his former team-mate Max Verstappen (see the chart below), showing how popular he is amongst the motor sport fan base.

Has Red Bull’s revolving second seat turned potential new fans off the team? Of course, we should note that Red Bull still has a combined 18 million followers across the three major social media platforms, an excellent number and only behind the black cars.

Red Bull’s figures will be one to watch this season as Sergio Perez brings his Mexican contingent with him from Racing Point, now rebranded as Aston Martin.

Fuelled by Perez’s shock win in Bahrain, Aston Martin ended up best of the rest on social media in 2020, meaning that they are highly likely to overtake both AlphaTauri and Williams in total followers as 2021 gets underway.

Both Ferrari and McLaren maintained strong growth despite their on-track misfortune in recent years (although the latter is now firmly on the road to recovery), showing how important it is to have a strong brand name behind you during tough times.

F1 drivers

If social media was a championship, then Hamilton, Ricciardo and McLaren’s Lando Norris were 2020’s winners.

The gulf between Hamilton and the rest of the F1 continues to get larger and larger, as Hamilton’s activism off the circuit cuts through to a wider audience that transcends the sporting world.

Hamilton’s combined social media following of 33 million fans is over 4 times the next best in F1, with Ricciardo in 2nd on a combined 7.56 million followers. On Instagram alone, Hamilton has 21.6 million followers, the highest for any motor sport driver by some margin.

Behind Hamilton and Ricciardo, 2020 was the year of the Twitchers, with Norris, Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, and George Russell all reaping the rewards, building a strong following during the first lockdown in spring.

Norris attracted further attention during the lockdown by participating in IndyCar’s iRacing Challenge, even if it did not necessarily help the latter in the social media standings.

Russell’s growth was one of the strongest during 2020. Helped by his Mercedes drive in Sakhir, his following surged from 551,000 fans at the end of 2019 to 2.55 million fans across the three main social platforms, a rise of 362% in 14 months!

To put that into context, current Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas grew his following by just 841,000 fans, considerably lower than his Twitch counterparts, including Alex Albon. If this was a qualifying session, both Bottas and Albon would be out in Q2.

The figures show how important the UK territory is to Formula 1, with 3 of the top 6 ‘growers’ during 2020 consisting of the British contingent.

In addition to the Grand Prix field, Motorsport Broadcasting also tracked Mick Schumacher’s following through his second season in Formula 2.

Schumacher’s growth across the year is remarkable for a driver who was, at that point, in the feeder series, reflecting the name and the weight that he carries on his shoulders with him into F1.

The 2021 season, for both MotoGP and F1, begins on Sunday 28th March, with live coverage of F1 testing beginning of Friday 12th March.

Coverage of testing for UK viewers airs live on Sky Sports F1, with coverage also available via F1 TV Pro for those territories with access to the series.

All the figures above compare the number of followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram between November 29th, 2019 and January 30th, 2021, therefore encompassing the whole of the 2020 motor racing season.

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