Are the tifosi tuning out? F1’s fans survey reveals Ferrari’s popularity slide

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The author Mark Twain is credited with writing, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” This quotation came to mind while analysing F1’s latest fan survey, and while there are no suggestions that the numbers were fabricated, F1 needs to proceed carefully with the statistics obtained from the survey rather than massage the numbers to suit a particular agenda or wish list.

For example, in the latest survey 85% of respondents stated they wanted more than 13 grands prix per season, a preference rate that has hovered around 80-90% since 2005 save for the 2015 survey, when the number slumped to 60% in the wake of suggestions that F1 could grow calendars to 25 rounds.

Thus, distinctly different interpretations could be drawn from the results of the survey: that 85% of fans back an unlimited number of grands prix provided it exceeded 13 – a level not seen this millennium, and thus one wonders why the level was set so low in the first place – or that F1 should proceed cautiously before expanding its calendars. Let’s see in which direction F1 jumps.

Here the sport’s executives face a major conundrum: they plan to reduce the number of events (to 20) in order to boost exclusivity – thus increasing hosting fees and by extension ticket prices – yet fans responded anything under $100 for a three-day general admission (no grandstand) ticket was good value, whereas over $250 was ‘too expensive’.

Mick Schumacher, Haas, Monza, 2021
Covid and ticket prices were blamed for thin Monza crowd
Yet, at current average hosting fees of $30 million per race, a promoter would need to sell 120,000 three-day passes at $250 to recover that cost alone, let alone marketing and other expenses. Thus there is little headroom for exclusivity, suggesting F1 needs a rethink, particularly as fans cited ease of access and good vantage points as must-haves, and overwhelmingly rejected game zones and music concerts – yet promoters view these as silver bullets.

By the same token F1’s brand values are confusing, particularly where they relate to technology. In 2010 the sport had the ‘dumbest’ cars in a decade after teams agreed to dump its hybrid kinetic energy recovery system, yet F1’s tech rating was 48%; five years later this had slumped to 40% during the sport’s second season of using highly advanced hybrid engines.

Since then, F1’s ‘technological’ rating soared to 60% (2017) before dropping to 45% this year. Tellingly, on the ‘innovation’ front F1 scored just 22%, down from a ten-year high of 28% in 2017 – yet the tech hardly changed in eight years and, crucially, is due to be downgraded substantially (or frozen) with next year’s ‘new era’ cars.

Moreover, if F1 is to position itself as the technological cutting edge in future it should realise that over half the respondents did not list technology among the sport’s top five brand attributes.

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However, the headline shockers emanating from the survey are Lewis Hamilton’s popularity slump from first to third behind Max Verstappen and Lando Norris. Similarly, Ferrari has fallen to third behind McLaren and Red Bull, after dominating the top spot for two decades, and Mercedes dropped from second to fourth – despite the Italian team’s resurgence and the German-British team’s recent domination.

New fan favourite Verstappen had massive home support
While Verstappen’s swashbuckling style makes him a firm crowd favourite and Norris’ cheerful, youthful demeanour endears him to incoming fans, the slippage of Hamilton – who can never be discounted from victory – is baffling. Have his recent dabbles in politics and unconventional fashion sense cost him popularity amongst hard-core fans despite his enormous social media popularity? What other obvious explanation is there?

Could similar factors apply to Mercedes, too? Since the survey the team known as Mercedes shifted from its carefully-crafted Silver Arrows image, is now only one-third Mercedes-owned – down from the 60% of 2017 – and its three-pointed star badging could refer primarily to its engine supplier rather than the brand as a whole.

“Obviously you want your team to be number one everywhere,” said team principal Toto Wolff in Austin when asked about the slide, “but I think it’s the normal evolution that we expected. We’ve been very fortunate to win [the championship] seven times in a row, a tremendous streak of success.

Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Silverstone, 2021
McLaren have two of F1’s best-liked drivers
“It’s clear that in a nature you cheer more for teams that had more difficult times and [are] a little bit the underdogs.”

McLaren CEO Zak Brown attributed the team’s popularity to their drivers, both of which appear in the top four. “Like Zak said they are doing a super job with their drivers also,” said Wolff.

While he no doubt has a point, forget not that Ferrari remained top of the pile through thick and thin and was overwhelmingly popular during its 2000s hegemony – so could the team’s lower ranking be a combination of both factors?

Tellingly, the largest group of respondents in the 2005 survey, the 25-34-year-olds with a 35% share, now constitute the minority at 18%, a 50% drop – suggesting the same trends apply to youthful perceptions of Mercedes performance brand AMG, whose products are known for raucous noise and, according to a 2015 study by DeVry University in the USA, are aimed at the affluent 30-plus group, who value luxury and status.

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Ferrari have gone two years without a win
Which brings us to Ferrari. F1’s most famous team headed the poll for the last four years out of five, and was only a narrow second to McLaren in 2008. In 2017, 32% of fans – nearly one in three – described themselves as Ferrari supporters, while the best of their rivals struggled to muster more than 15%.

According to F1’s survey Ferrari has suffered a massive drop in popularity since. It now lies third, its support having almost halved to 18%, behind McLaren and Red Bull.

Has the Ferrari brand become an anachronism amongst 16-24-year-old fans – who constitute the biggest group at 35% of F1’s following, up from 24% 16 years ago – as their generation chases sustainability and electric vehicles rather than brute noise and excess?

Is it a coincidence that Ferrari listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2015, after the last survey, and is thus likely perceived as profit- rather than passion-driven by a generation of fans who are increasingly turned off by excess of whatever type? At a recent performance product launch I was chatting to automotive engineers and talk turned to noise and how contemporary cars – particularly EVs – are whisper-quiet.

“Noisy cars are the new smoking,” said one. “Where 15 years ago one accepted smoking one now looks at smokers with disdain. So it is becoming with noisy cars.”

The key word throughout this analysis has been ‘perceptions’ and it seems these moulded the survey, rather than hard facts. As the Athenian philosopher Plato said: “Good decisions are based on knowledge, not numbers.” That is key to implementing its findings.

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21 comments on “Are the tifosi tuning out? F1’s fans survey reveals Ferrari’s popularity slide”

  1. “Ferrari’s popularity slide” – well of course it has, they’re not winning reliably anymore and people that like to support the winner will move to whoever is currently successful. You get that with Football, I imagine it happens in any sport really. If Ferrari begin winning again I’m sure their fans will return.

    1. @rocketpanda Add to that the now pretty obvious cheating they engaged in throughout 2019, the team getting rid of popular former champions Räikkönen and Vettel (as well as Maurizio Arrivabene), and of course they now have a team principal in Binotto who has done little aside from overseeing some of Ferrari’s least competitive seasons in modern F1 history. I’d definitely still class myself as a Ferrari fan, but there’s very little in the current team to get excited about. I’ll be pleased to be proven wrong about their team next season.

  2. John (@barbsandwich)
    24th October 2021, 17:23

    For all the talk of passion at Ferrari, they don’t have a leader who exudes passion as much as his predecessor did. Arrivabene wasn’t really a technical guy but he could rally the team and keep the energy up. Sure they didn’t win the championships under him but they sure made us believe they could.
    Mattia, for all his technical brilliance is the opposite. Add to this the engine controversy and their propensity to shoot themselves on the foot, supporting Ferrari has never been more unpopular than now.
    Contrast this to McLaren where solid leadership and a consistent performing team give hope that they can rise to the top once again.

  3. I think with McLaren and Norris most popular, it follows the trend where people are fed up with polarisation, fakery, PC messaging and just want good guys free from all that.

    Call it the ‘Joe Rogan’ -syndrome, where truth, integrity and no BS is valued most of all and he is the one getting 200M downloads a month without even advertising, a viewership none of the major media outlets is even close to no matter how hard they try, or how successful and establshed they are.

    1. I’m surprised you associate Lando with “no polarisation”. Among the younger fans on Twitter and Tumblr, he is (inexplicably in my view) the most polarising driver of the lot.

  4. What other obvious explanation is there? (For Lewis being 3rd most popular)
    Well, maybe people are just tired of seeing the same person win the WDC every year?

    And what’s so bad in being the third most popular driver? Only one can be the most popular and only one can be the second most popular. If Verstappen and Norris become more popular it’s logical Hamilton becomes a little less popular.
    Is that so bad? It’s just a popularity contest, doesn’t mean much in my opinion. Doesn’t mean his wins and titles have less value and he’s all of a sudden a worse driver now.

  5. In 2010 the sport had the ‘dumbest’ cars in a decade after teams agreed to dump its hybrid kinetic energy recovery system, yet F1’s tech rating was 48%; five years later this had slumped to 40% during the sport’s second season of using highly advanced hybrid engines.

    I think that this can easily be explained by the fans favoring ‘big’ innovation over gradually refining the same thing. Introducing a blown diffuser or an aerodynamic side mirror is simply not perceived the same way as optimizing the materials and design of a piston head so the same basic design is 1% better.

    1. @aapje But doesn’t your argument say the exact opposite of what the survey suggests? The big change you say fans like resulted in a drop in the tech rating, but a year dominated by minor aero changes like outboard mirrors and trick diffusers resulted in an increase in the tech rating.

      1. @geemac

        Yet we can’t see the engine. What is there to admire about it, when it is hidden away?

    2. @aapje They also favour innovation that appears to have a purpose. F1 has gone down a cul-de-sac in terms of relevance to younger fans.

  6. Hi Dieter,

    I think the survey suffers from “sample bias”. The Ferrari fans tend to older. As a result, they are less likely to have completed the survey in the first place. Having said that, the survey results are probably acknowledging that Ferrari’s share of fans is going down and is going to shrink going forward. The Survey is probably a forward-looking indicator.

    1. @zecrunch87 Also, some of the younger ones deliberately boycotted the survey due to a combination of bad pricing for Monza and Liberty making it clear that it doesn’t really care what fans think of sprint race segments.

  7. I wouldn’t be too worried about Ferrari’s drop, that’s just attributable to them not winning, plus the nasty fallout they had with Vettel.

    Hamilton is curious, though I think Verstappens talent+personality has taken the sport by storm, I’m still surprised Norris is more popular.

    I think this survey makes it clear that F1 needs to market itself better in terms of technological appeal. Disregarding any upcoming tech/engine freeze (which likely wouldn’t manifest on this survey so early), F1 cars are ludicrously complex, with technology and systems far beyond any other series. Only the hardcore fans are in any way aware of this, as the more casual fan base have been pulled in via the current excellent season, plus Drive to Survive’s popularity.

    There’s a lot to be said for keeping these new fans engaged via opening up the sport’s opaque tech innovations. The Youtube channel has an excellent new video on engine cylinders, I wish they’d do more of that!

    1. The problem is that a lot of the tech young people care about has no place in F1 and won’t for some years. Look at the tech in road car ads: all-electric, cost-reducing tech, sophisticated GPS, rudimentary AI, parking assists, USB cupholders… Some of those shouldn’t be anywhere near a serious 100%-human-controlled racing car, some have no obvious relevance – but F1 has none of these things, nor any other feature that could be seen as cutting-edge on the adverts (hybrid doesn’t count, these days internal-combustion-engine cars without hybrid don’t get advertised, and all hybrid instead of internal-combustion-enging does is get F1 labelled as “not retro”).

  8. Maybe Ferrari’s decline in popularity is related to the secret arrangement with the FIA the led to significant engine performance drop? The secrecy insinuates they got away with some kind of cheat and no one likes a cheat.
    Did McLaren’s popularity drop after Spy Gate?

  9. 167k peoplen8n the survey, it’s such a small sample as to render it meaningless rubbish.

  10. All the survey proves is that the fans have no idea what they want.

    @dieterrencken @keithcollantine I’d be interested to see where the teams and drivers rank based on the information RaceFans subscriber’s put in their profiles (if such information is available of course).

    1. @geemac Fans do have a reasonable idea of what they want – as individuals. The problem is that those desires aren’t necessarily compatible with one another.

  11. The survey has no merit as it does not give any data information. It’s just a political survey by f1’s new owner.

  12. I saw multiple tifosi-frequented internet sites request a boycott of this survey. The last straws being the ridiculous pricing of Monza tickets and sprint races being presented as a fait accompli despite Liberty claiming to take fan views into account. (I agreed with the latter – and also resented the initial compulsory (illegal) marketing email list – so elected not to participate in the survey this time either).

    While Ferrari fans occupy many, many more spaces than I know about (let alone look at), if that pattern was repeated across the tifosi, then that’s a significant swathe of the F1 fandom who won’t be visible in this survey. The only thing this survey tells us about the tifosi is that they’re fed up of token gestures that pretend to listen to them.

    Of course, Ferrari not being a victory candidate or being stuck in the occasional scandal doesn’t help either, but without a more meaningful fan inclusion policy from Liberty, we’ll never know how much it didn’t help.

  13. Could we not have a more incisive phrase than Lewis’s “dabble in politics”? He has taken a strong position on pertinent issues that effect global issues, not run for mayor in a local by-election. If you don’t like Lewis because of what he advocates for, just say it straight out. Dabbling in politics is a phrase void of meaning. Every conversation is political. Those that say nothing are also engaging in politics, just those of reinforcing the status quo.

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