Whenever someone asks me “Molly, how did you get into F1?”, I immediately sigh and wonder how to reply. Telling them I became an F1 fan through ‘Drive to Survive’, the recent Netflix documentary going behind the scenes of an F1 championship season, means people doubt my status as a genuine fan.

I love F1 (why wouldn’t I?) and my bank account would certainly agree, but I am constantly having to prove it. Other fans, particularly men, write me off as uneducated. As I came to the sport through ‘Drive to Survive’, they assume I know nothing about the sport itself and that I’m only interested in the drama between the drivers and the driver’s physical appearance. Being a Lando Norris fan also increases suspicion, as being a young woman means I ‘must fancy him’. Never mind the fact that he grew up only 40 minutes away from where I’ve lived my entire life, and is 2 days younger than my older sister.

However, this reasoning isn’t acceptable to some people, and they constantly question it. I want to feel comfortable with my own passion for F1 around all male fans. Women can love F1 for the sport, and we deserve not to be excluded or insulted because of these sexist stereotypes.

This is especially as ‘Drive to Survive’ was purposely designed to create new F1 fans, and was hugely successful in doing so. Liberty Media boss Greg Maffei commented how season 4 “was the number one show in 33 countries around the world”. There was a resulting 29% increase in the number of viewers at the final race of the season in 2021 compared to the same race in 2019. The show is succeeding in its aim to give people an access point to a very complex and intricate sport. It is ridiculous that this is becoming a way to question female fans when the literal purpose of the show was to introduce them to the sport in the first place. Plenty of long-standing fans also sit down once a year to binge the 10 episodes! Once I finished watching the series, I began watching numerous YouTube videos the teams, drivers and F1 content creators have made about the past season and started watching all the qualifying and races (sometimes more anxiously than others). ‘Drive to Survive’ planted the interest in the sport, I cultivated this and allowed it to grow. I realise there is a lot of false storytelling and made-up rivalries in the programme, but this most definitely does not give permission for people to belittle me and any others who got into F1 that way. I love that ‘Drive to Survive’ is still making new fans: at the end of the day, it’s ever more people who I can discuss with about Ferrari’s terrible strategy of using hard compound tyres for Leclerc at the 2022 Hungarian GP.  

These assumptions don’t only affect me, but the wider female fanbase as a whole. Toni Cowan-Brown (@F1Toni) shows the female experience of having to prove their dedication, knowledge and understanding to show her love for the sport. She exposes the assumption that female fans are  “driven by craze and pure lust”, while male fans have a “deep, thoughtful understanding of the art”. F1 content creator Lydia (@live.laugh.lyds) listed all the comments she receives as a young female F1 content creator, with my favourites being; “typical Lando fangirl”, “this is why women shouldn’t be allowed to like sports” and “I bet she doesn’t know what DRS means”. Lydia clearly knows that DRS stands for ‘drag reduction system’, not that she should have to prove it. This is the problem, the same sexist stereotypes seen across a range of sports constantly reappear, and sadly this is just a fraction of the hate we experience.

At the most recent Austrian GP, Formula One posted a statement on Twitter before the race about how they “have been made aware of reports that some fans have been subject to completely unacceptable comments by others.” This included sexist, racist, and homophobic verbal and physical harassment. Many drivers spoke up about it, such as Lewis Hamilton who wrote “We cannot sit back and allow this continue”. One fan came to twitter to help people understand the intensity of this sexism by sharing her story. She clearly states, “Not even 1.5 hours after I arrived at our camping early in the morning, I got a misogynistic comment, and afterwards it went downhill with inappropriate touching and many more misogynistic comments”. In an attempt to make women more comfortable at Grand Prix races, there is a new campaign called ‘Race it out’. However, with the toxic fan culture against female fans, the question is how seriously is it being taken, and how long will it take to change? 

Seeing women working in and supporting F1 is essential to change. Hannah Schmitz, Red Bull’s Principal Strategy Engineer was one of the main people who helped Max Verstappen recover from 10th to 1st at the Hungarian GP. Another one of my personal favourite women in the paddock is Lewis Hamilton’s physiotherapy coach, Angela Cullen. There is an increasing number of female racing drivers, especially with the new W series that allows for an all-female driver line up in identical cars, removing the financial barriers associated with moving up the ladder in motorsport. Female F1 content creators have made communities of fans, connecting us and making us feel welcome, and I cannot thank them enough. The more women in and around F1 there are, the more girls will get involved in karting, rising through the ranks to F1 level, changing the community with it.

So, stop asking any fan, regardless of their gender, whether they are ‘real’ or not, and definitely stop asking if it is because they fancy their favourite driver. Even if they did, it wouldn’t change their love for the sport, the ups and downs, amazing strategy and beautiful engineering. My existence as a F1 fan does not threaten your own status as a fan. Just let me wear my McLaren hat and polo shirt in peace!