Hookit’s Motorsport Insight | F1’s mid-season sponsorship report

BlackBook's official data partner analyses the sports marketing and social media performance of Formula One, including its teams and drivers, during the first half of the 2021 campaign.

Halfway through the race calendar, Formula One has seen massive growth in 2021 compared to the Covid-impacted 2020 season.

With a global audience coming from every corner of the world, social media allows the series, teams and drivers to share highlights, challenges and behind-the-scenes moments directly with fans. The brands that partner with the sport have benefited greatly from social media sponsorship activation and are on track to receive over US$1 billion in sponsorship value AAV by the end of the season. Below, we dive into the social media presence of the series, teams and drivers, as well as the fan engagement, the brand promotion and noteworthy moments so far.

All below data is from the time period of 1st January 2021 to 15th August 2021. Year over year comparisons are from the same time period in 2020.

Social media impact 

Reach: 252 million social media fans/ followers (+33 per cent year over year)

Activity: 52,000 posts (+35 per cent year over year)

Engagement: 4.9 billion interactions and video views (+50 per cent year over year)

While the data shows significant growth in all areas compared to the same period in 2020, it must be noted that the Formula One season was delayed until July, so the 2020 period only contains data from five races compared to the 11 included in the 2021 date range. That likely accounts for the strong growth in activity and some of the fan engagement, but the follower growth figure is still excellent, with the average across sports in 2021 around +10 per cent.

The majority of this social media impact comes from the series owned accounts. Formula One series accounts have 41 million followers, more than any individual driver or team. Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton has the most followers among the drivers with 37 million. For comparison, no other Formula One driver has even ten million followers. Among the teams, Mercedes (23 million) and Red Bull Racing (22 million) are the only two teams with over 20 million followers, ahead of McLaren and Ferrari, both with around 16 million followers.

When it comes to fan engagement across the series on social media, the Formula One owned accounts generate 60 per cent of the interactions and video views, with teams generating 29 per cent and drivers just 11 per cent.

Among major pro sports leagues, Formula One has the seventh most followers on league-owned accounts, well behind the National Basketball Association's (NBA) 208 million but ahead of MotoGP’s 33 million (second most among motorsport series). Similarly, when it comes to fan engagement so far in 2021, Formula One has generated the fifth most among leagues (league owned accounts), and nearly triple that of MotoGP (2.9 billion interactions and video views compared to one billion), the second most engaging league in motorsports.

At first glance, it may seem that better performance on the track leads to more fan engagement on social media. The top four teams in the constructor standings have the most social media followers and total engagement so far this season. However, when looking at engagement rate, or how many fans engage with each post on average, AlphaTauri rises to the top while Mercedes and Ferrari are among the bottom three. This metric helps indicate how enthusiastic the fanbase is on social media.

Another important metric to look at is follower growth rate. Red Bull Racing Honda (3.2 million) and McLaren (2.7 million) have added the most total new followers, but Aston Martin Racing has grown its social media following by 47 per cent so far this season, well above the average among the other teams of 15 per cent.

Looking not just at the total volume of followers or engagement, but at the growth and engagement rate metrics can help a brand see below the surface of a team’s social media presence and prowess.

Lewis Hamilton is far and away the leader on social media when it comes to the drivers. He has four times more followers and generated nearly two times more fan engagement than any other driver so far this year. He has posted more than a majority of the drivers, but not nearly as often as Bottas or Verstappen who both are averaging over two posts per day. Nine drivers have gained over one million followers so far this year, including eight of the current top ten (excluding Bottas and Ocon).

Brands and sponsorships across Formula One

Branded posts: 35,000 (+36 per cent)

Total sponsorship value AAV: US$517 million (+79 per cent)

Average promotion quality: 21 per cent (even)

Among motorsports, Formula One is well ahead of other series in terms of fan engagement and sponsorship value generated for constructors and the sponsor brands. This year, from 1st January through 15th August, Formula One has rebounded strongly from a challenging 2020, nearly doubling the value generated for constructors and brands combined. Below, we have ranked the constructors and the sponsor brands by sponsorship value received. 

Within the constructors, there is a massive gap from number one Red Bull at nearly US$60 million in sponsorship value (AAV) to number nine Haas and number ten Alfa Romeo, both below ten per cent of Red Bull’s value. The average sponsorship value received by constructors so far this season has been US$22 million.

When looking at the sponsor brands, tyre supplier Pirelli jumps out with more than double the number of branded posts as any other sponsor brand. This is no surprise as the Pirelli logo is visible on every tyre of every race car, giving the brand excellent visibility.

However, by the nature of the sport, those tyre logos are often blurry and rarely is the tyre brand promoted deliberately, reducing the promotion quality received by Pirelli. This explains how Pirelli only rose to second among all sponsor brands even with the high volume of branded posts.

Petronas, the number one sponsor brand by AAV, also received a high volume of promoted posts, but had over double the number of deliberate promoted posts that Pirelli received, most of which came from team partner Mercedes. In fact, Petronas received the most value from deliberate promotion among all sponsor brands, followed by PKN Orlen and Emirates.

When it comes to drivers, the top three sponsor brands deliberately promoted were Telcel (Sergio Perez), Mission Winnow (Charles Leclerc) and IWC Watches (Lewis Hamilton). These direct partnerships with drivers netted these three brands a combined US$1.5 million in sponsorship value AAV.

Top moments

Thus far this season, the average sponsorship value AAV generated on race day across Formula One has been just over US$10 million. The two leading races by sponsorship value have been Formula One’s most famous race in Monaco and the Grand Prix in Azerbaijan that ended with a series of unexpected events from Verstappen’s shocking tyre failure to Hamilton’s mistake that set up a podium of Perez, Vettel and Gasly.

On 6th June (Azerbaijan Grand Prix race day), Formula One drivers, teams and the series posted over 950 times across social media channels, generating 130 million interactions and video views. The top ten posts on that day from these Formula One entities combined to generate over US$6 million in sponsorship value. 

In contrast, the Grand Prix in Great Britain generated the season average value. The main difference was the fan engagement on posts from that day. Both races (GP6 and GP10) saw over 900 social media posts and an average promotion quality of 17 per cent to 18 per cent. However, GP10 only generated 90 million interactions and video views, 70 per cent of the total fan engagement on posts from GP6. Similarly, GP3 in Portugal saw reduced fan engagement, but also significantly fewer posts (only around 600). This combination led to the lowest total sponsorship value on race day of the season so far.

The main takeaway: incredible moments in the race, especially ones that change the outcome, can have a massive impact on fan engagement and sponsorship value on race day. However, teams posting branded race recap posts are able to capture the day of fan engagement and generate significant deliberate sponsorship value for team sponsors.

Social platform analysis

Platforms matter nearly as much as content when it comes to fan engagement. Across Formula One this season, 42 per cent of all posts from drivers, teams, and the series have been on Twitter. However, only six per cent of fan interactions and video views happened on those tweets. 

Instagram, where 23 per cent of the posts happened, had the most fan engagement, the most total sponsorship value AAV, and the highest average sponsorship value per post. Across most sports, Instagram is the leading platform in fan engagement and sponsorship value and Formula One is no different. However, more unique to Formula One is that video platforms YouTube and TikTok have the second and third highest value per post, respectively. This data highlights a major opportunity for more content on these platforms as posts in these channels only account for less than five per cent of all posts but over ten per cent of total sponsorship value AAV.

Key takeaways

Formula One drivers, teams and the series itself have seen significant growth in 2021, bouncing back from a delayed season in 2020. Across the series, total social followers are up 33 per cent from 15th August 2020 and fan engagement in 2021 is up 50 per cent over the same period in 2020. 

When it comes to sponsorship value, the series owned accounts are the major driver, generating nearly two thirds of all sponsorship value AAV. Five teams have generated more than US$10 million in AAV so far this season, including the four top ranked teams and Aston Martin. Among drivers, the top five drivers by sponsorship value are all ranked in the top seven in the driver standings as of 15th August.

For brands, Petronas’ Mercedes team partnership and Pirelli’s series tyre sponsorship pushes these two sponsors to the top of the sponsorship value rankings, followed by Rolex, Ineos and Mobil 1. Two-thirds of the value generated across the series came from incidental logo exposure, proving the effectiveness of logos on the cars and track, but also suggesting huge opportunities for more deliberate brand promotion, especially from the series accounts.

All data provided by Hookit – the pioneer in sponsorship technology. Contact Hookit at insights@hookit.com to get access to real-time sponsorship tracking that allows you to maximise sponsorship valuation during your season.