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Inside the Tension Between F1’s Miami GP and Content Creators

Joining the calendar as the second U.S. race in 2022, Miami couldn’t have had better timing. F1 was trendy: Chanel’s spring-summer collection included a $4,450 F1 t-shirt that took TikTok by storm, racing jackets became a staple, and the sport—still riding a high from the success of Netflix’s Drive to Survive—had inspired a thriving online fan community. The hype drew the largest live U.S. TV audience in F1’s history. Lifestyle influencers, with chronically online audiences reaching into the millions, made the perfect glitzy addition to the race’s guest list. But last year, few of the community of content creators who regularly post about F1 in accessible and entertaining ways made the cut.

“F1 Miami had more influencers than ever before and it made people angry. People who make F1 content daily weren’t invited, while others were,” Alex Martinez, a motorsport content creator and car builder, shared with his followers. “I was one of those people initially invited, then I got ghosted.”

Martinez, known as @alex.martini__ on social media, stepped into full-time content creation in 2022 and now has nearly half a million followers on TikTok alone. Last year’s Miami Grand Prix would have marked Martinez’s first F1 race with a brand.

Brands look for creators with specific niches that fit into whatever message they’re trying to get out into the world. Martinez understood “sometimes that’s just how it is. I’m less of an entertainer and less of a lifestyle creator, and I’m more of an automotive creator.”

He brushed it off, but some fans noticed that not all of the content creators who received invites to the track—either from brands or the race itself—seemed particularly invested in motorsports. (Like, say, the influencers pronouncing Alfa Romeo as “Alfa Ramiro.”) And some of the F1-focused creators that made the cut lamented the brands’ chaotic scheduling and rigid expectations.

In talking to a group of creators who have or will attend the Miami GP, several refused to go on the record, fearful that speaking out—even broadly—could cost them their access to future races or coverage opportunities. (The Miami GP’s press office did not respond to requests for comment.)

Martinez won’t find himself in the Miami Dolphins stadium that doubles as F1’s paddock this year. But Hannah Hall and Zoe Jewell, the voices behind Fan Behavior Pod, are partnering with the street circuit ahead of the 2024 Miami Grand Prix. Hall and Jewell have a vision of not making the sport “feel so elitist” while fostering space for collaboration between big-name stars and micro-motorsport creators. The two remind themselves that the majority of their followers will never see cars rush by in person.

“One of the things that we love to be able to do when we are at races is try and give the best glimpse as possible of what the race is like and what the experience is like because 99 percent of Formula 1 fans will never get to go to a race,” Hall says.

Hall and Jewell are the first to admit that they’re “fans, not experts.” But the two Kansas City-based content creators are part of a growing community of fans-turned-semi-professionals who’ve connected with an audience precisely because of their looser style. And that makes the brands hiring content creators for promotional content nervous.

“They’ll be like, ‘Yeah, you can come on behalf of this F1 sponsor, but please do not post any cars on track. Do not talk about any drivers.’” Jewell says. “What do you think people want to see?”

Partnering directly with race circuits—as opposed to a brand with a presence at a track—has prevented those limitations, the two say. “When the content is branded and we have to use the branding label, we can’t post any cars on track. But, when we do our own content that’s not affiliated with [a brand] when we’re at the race, we’re able to show whatever we want,” Jewell says. “There’s certain limitations, but overall our weekend is free to be as authentic as we normally would.”

The contrast between creator access for F1 versus, say Formula E or IndyCar is stark. Track Talk, a podcast about racing, has less than 30,000 followers on TikTok, yet hosts Hannah Picknicki and Emma Novak partnered with IndyCar at the Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge in March. Mikaela Kostaras, more commonly known as @shelovesformula1, films behind-the-scenes TikToks with IndyCar’s racers in their team motorhomes; and creator Toni Cowan-Brown dives into the tech behind Formula E’s all-electric innovation from trackside.

The tension seems to be a symptom of Formula 1’s sudden evolution. All the sponsors who pay millions to benefit from its global presence eagerly want these new audiences coming in from Netflix shows and social media. The Liberty-Media-owned series wields a tight fist over who’s allowed to cover races from inside the track and what they can record, often favoring broadcasters and journalists out of familiarity—but increasingly finds itself enamored with the reach and growth that comes from the comparatively Wild West world of creators. Figuring out who’s earned a coveted invite has proven tricky.

“We don’t really see a lot of people on the internet that are getting the opportunities with the teams,” she says. Some of that is because, as far as brands and the sport are concerned, size still matters. Jewell, with a content marketing day job, emphasized that lifestyle influencer Alix Earle reaches millions of followers without “DRS” in their vocabularies. With a third of American adults under the age of 30 heading to TikTok as their top information source (according to the Pew Research Center), using the platform as a promotional tool has become the norm.

A large following isn’t everything, Jewell insisted. It’s undoubtedly a deciding factor, though. The bigger the number, the better the chance, Martinez says.

“If you have a million followers combined across all your socials—compared to a makeup influencer who has six [million]—they’re probably going to pick the six, and think that the lifestyle of that six million followers is more impactful than the million that might be truly core to the automotive industry,” says Martinez.

A massive, non-racing-focused content creator like Alix Earle and her 6.7 million TikTok fans may have introduced new fans to the sport when she showed up last year. But creators, particularly female creators, are working to serve an audience hungry for F1 content that looks like they do, and talks how they talk about the sport. Creators want the opportunity to bring them closer to the action.

“At the end of the day, these [large-scale] influencers are going to talk about it, and they’re going to move on with their lives. But you also have to serve the people that are there for you all the time,” Jewell says. “Because if you don’t, you may lose them too. And then, ultimately, who do you have left?”

Top illustration: Ralph Hermens   Images: Charles Deluvio/Unsplash, Brando Makes Brands/Unsplash

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