Fashion: F1’s next sponsorship opportunity?

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Fashion and F1, are perhaps not the most obviously connected mediums. Formula 1 is often historically seen as a boys club while fashion is often displayed on the other end of the spectrum, as a female pursuit with a toxic environment, think of The Devil Wears Prada… 

However, the tide has undoubtedly begun to shift in Formula 1. The recent 2021 F1 global fan survey undertaken by the Motorsport Network, recorded the highest ever female participation at 18.3% an 8.3% rise in four years, with the highest youth audience to date. 

The impact of this dramatically shifting audience can be seen across the business side of F1. Teams such as McLaren (the most popular team in the 2021 survey) have implemented clever social strategies to engage and retain their new, passionate, young fanbase. The team’s strategy coincided almost perfectly with the brand of third favourite 2021 survey driver Lando Norris, the founder of Quadrant whose passion for gaming has undoubtedly brought in new fans and raised the profile for F1 Esports. 

Other elements implemented by Formula 1 themselves also display the shift to the young social audience, such as, questions from children in press conferences, the increase in Esports coverage, and Fan Meet Driver Zoom sessions, which were also a byproduct of the pandemic and the need to re-think fan engagement during restrictions. Such elements have transferred perfectly into the COVID-19 transitional era. With varying restrictions globally, they continue to increase access to all fans and provide more enriching and genuine fan-driver engagement opportunities which, can be transformed into social and digital media content to continue to engage the audience they attract. 

The recent 2021 F1 global fan survey undertaken by the Motorsport Network recorded the highest female participation ever

Young people are also heavily engaged in fashion, as seen through the popularity of fashion videos and influencers on social media sites such as Tik Tok and the rise of the sustainable fashion movement which can be linked to the rise of apps like Depop, which is often labelled ‘Gen Z’s favourite shopping app’. 

In 2019 the company reported that one in three U.K 15-to-24-year-olds were registered on the platform and a revenue of $70 million in 2020, with their gross merchandise sales growth at an annual rate of nearly 80% from 2017 to 2020.

On top of fashion’s deep engagement and profitability with young audiences the mode can be used to create powerful statements. Something which has undoubtedly been noted across last season. Examples include – Sebastian Vettel’s rainbow Converse and One Love t-shirt at the Hungarian Grand Prix. The items worn by Vettel exploded in popularity and earned worldwide coverage across the race weekend, both on social media and in more traditional forms. The shoes sold out after the link was shared online. Displaying the power fashion can have in making a statement and driving sales. 

Lewis Hamilton’s T-shirts are also a similar example, collaborating with black artists in order to draw attention to the Black Lives Matter movement and Formula 1’s #WeRaceAsOne campaign, creating a poem with connecting messages across his clothing. Proving fashion has never just been clothes and it never will be. The mode is strong, powerful, undernoted, and utilised. 

Fashion has strong connections with Formula 1 which include, Alpha Tauri, Ferrari Style, Mercedes’ Tommy Hilfiger partnership (and the Lewis x Tommy collection), Charles Leclerc’s partnership with Giorgio Armani, and McLaren’s collaboration with RHUDE to name just a few (or even the Benetton team historically).

Fashion is clearly an attractive sponsorship prospect for teams and with the fashion industry worth £26 billion to the UK economy alone, these links are perhaps unsurprising. But, in the modern era it can be expanded. 

On top of fashion’s deep engagement and profitability with young audiences the mode can be used to make powerful statements

Fashion’s presence directly in the paddock is rarely seen outside of the fashion branded team Alpha Tauri and the seven-time-world-champion, Lewis Hamilton, who is styled by one of fashion’s most notable names, Law Roach (most famously known for styling the actress Zendaya).

Hamilton is continually photographed on his entry to the paddock, his clothing identified by many a outlet and Instagram account, with pages dedicated to the closets of drivers and those in their lives.

Additionally, with another fashion lover Guanyu Zhou, the Alfa Romeo driver, entering the paddock in 2022, with recent posts alluding to a potential partnership with Italian luxury fashion giant Prada, the possibilities are endless and the attention will only increase. 

With such growing attention now being paid to fashion within the paddock, the question becomes – why not utilise this expanding attention? Although not every driver will draw as much attention as Hamilton, they are all photographed each weekend, and their closets are followed by the new, growing, youth audience which does not show signs of slowing. Leaving fashion an underutilised sponsorship opportunity for Formula 1 teams.

Whilst the FIA have rules upon clothing and media day in 2022 has been scrapped, paddock arrival last season was open to fashion, as seen through Hamilton’s statement outfits, and could be reworked into Friday’s media morning, paddock arrivals or certain duties to fit within regulations. 

The idea of brands sponsoring teams to have their apparel worn by the heavily photographed drivers for even just an hour, or a day, has to be an appealing one, which we already see in team kit sponsors.

Fashion has strong connections with Formula 1

Other teams who share McLaren and Formula 1’s clever social audience engagement strategy such as Alpha Tauri, have picked up on this increased attention to fashion and underutilised opportunity for sponsorship attention. The team are seen frequently sending their drivers Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda to track in clothing from their namesake brand, which draws attention to their clothing and most likely raises sales and profits as well as, brand identity and recognition. McLaren and Norris have also followed suit on a few occasions, Daniel Riccardo seen arriving in RHUDE clothing and Norris in pieces from his Quadrant merchandise line. 

In the same sense for teams unaffiliated with fashion brands implementing such strategy could bring merchandise sales. With similar strategies already seen in teams like Mercedes and the sale of special edition caps for different races across the calendar. The team gave said caps to their drivers to wear across the weekend in order to increase publisisation. Demonstrating how the move can indeed increase sales and attention. Such a move could also attract more fashion sponsorships to the sport and help smaller teams. 

With such attention being paid to fashion, especially amongst Formula 1’s fastest growing audiences and the UK fashion industries economic value of £26 billion a year alone (Formula 1 visiting 20+ countries ordinarily with their own valuable fashion industries) the question becomes, why not utilise and expand this opportunity – make fashion F1’s next biggest sponsorship opportunity.

Image: Automotive Rhythms via Flickr

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