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My Fascination With Formula 1 — the New Obsession for Women

The rise of popular Netflix show ‘Drive to Survive’ has ignited a new audience of race car enthusiasts


spinner image a formula one car spins on the track
Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix
Chelsea Tischler/Gallery Stock

Personally,  I know little about cars beyond the fact that when the gauge hits “E,” it’s time to fill up at the gas station. I am a slow, cautious driver who has been honked at many times for driving under the speed limit.

But even I can appreciate the excitement of a Formula 1 race. My husband and I had the good fortune to attend our first F1 race last October at the Aramco United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. The adrenaline steaming from the track and the stands was palpable.

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I found myself drawn into the action, even though I knew nothing about car racing and the intricacies of the sport. Something about seeing the races up close and conversing with true fans, many of them female, made me want to learn more. ​

I was also fascinated by the fans themselves who were so varied.  Some came dressed in full racing attire, there to support their favorite team. Others seemed more invested in attending the spectacle itself and being a part of this live event. 

After a few hours, my husband thought I might want to head back to the hotel. But instead, it was me who said I wasn’t ready to leave just yet. My enthusiasm surprised my husband since I have never shown an interest in cars before.

I am not the first woman to feel it.

Carol Cassara, 71, grew up when hot rods were everywhere on the road.

“I grew up during the time of Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys,” she said. “They were all driving around in sports cars.”

Cassara bought her first sports car while in her 40s.

“It was a Mustang and that car had some engine! It went very fast without me even trying. I only owned it briefly before I got three moving violations and realized I needed to sell the car,” she said.

spinner image a blue formula one car is in focus with a woman in the foreground on a track in miami
A female fan at the 2022 Miami Grand Prix .
Fredrik Broden

“During the pandemic, I started watching (the Netflix series) Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” she said. “I watched it (virtually) with a lifelong friend who is on the East Coast. He knows a lot about cars and the sport of car racing. He was able to explain it to me, and now I love it.” 

Formula 1 is sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA). It is the highest class of international racing for open-cockpit, open-wheel, single-seater front- and rear-wing race cars.

Now in its fifth season, Drive to Survive gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at Formula 1, including racing footage, backstories and interviews with drivers, managers, and team owners.

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The popularity of the show has been credited with increased interest in Formula 1 racing in the United States. According to Sports Media Watch, the 2021 season was the most-watched ever in the U.S., with an average of 934,000 viewers across ESPN, ABC and ESPN2, up 54 percent from the prior year. Starting this year, the United States will host three Formula 1 races — in Miami, Austin and Las Vegas.

As Brandon Snow, managing director of commercial at F1, said on a panel at the premiere of Drive to Survive in New York earlier this year, “The U.S. market has become our No. 1 market for social engagement across all of our platforms, (and for) all of our teams and all of our drivers.”

And more women are attending races. Around 40 percent of F1 fans are female, up from 8 percent in 2017, a shift that has the racing circuit taking notice.

“There is a lot more to car racing than just driving fast,” Cassara said. “It’s complicated and intellectual. It is not just muscle; it is strategy and a host of variables to consider. The car’s engineering, the drivers’ competence, the owners’ decisions and the differences in the individual racetracks all play a role. This is why it’s such an interesting sport.”

The last F1 female celebrity driver was Lella Lombardi back in 1976, but with the increase in the female fan base, expectations are that more women will move from spectator to participant. In fact, Formula 1 announced the formation of a new all-women series, which began in April.  

The F1 Academy docuseries features 15 female drivers participating in 21 races, the final just before October’s U.S. Grand Prix. The show has brought on some heavy female talent with actor Reese Witherspoon executive producing.

Cassara, a self-described “car guy” and performance car owner once more, said she’s on board with the shift.

“Even though I always liked sports cars, back when I was growing up, watching car races or going to a car race wasn’t something that young suburban girls like me did,” Cassara said. “Luckily, today the world is bigger. My husband has no interest at all, but I love the sport. I never miss a televised race, even if it’s halfway around the world and I must wake up early to watch.”

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