If you’ve been watching the Miami Grand Prix weekend so far you might have noticed something different about the Red Bulls.
It’s not a new front wing or updated bodywork, but a unique livery designed by one of the team’s fans. It’s the first of three events this year when the Red Bull team will make some sort of departure from its usual 2023 color scheme, and that’s a major step when you consider it has only done so on six previous occasions in its history.
The driving force behind it? America — a huge area of focus for all Formula 1 teams, but one in which Red Bull feels it has another edge over its rivals.
“I think (it’s absolutely) helping the sport as a whole,” Red Bull Racing’s director of brand Kelly Brittain told RACER of how F1 is evolving in the United States. “The more entertaining it can be, the more fan-focused it can be, that’s only ever going to benefit all of us.
“But I think why we are so fortunate…we’re obviously owned by Red Bull, we’re part of Red Bull, and Red Bull have a voice in youth culture and popular culture that no other team in this paddock has got. We are known for doing the stuff that we do; we’re known for doing crazy s***. We’re loud, we’re the noisy neighbors, and we love that and we build on that. That drives us.
“I think, in terms of what goes on in the paddock, we don’t really look at that, actually. When you look at what massive entertainment brands are doing, what sport as a whole is doing, that’s kind of more where we see ourselves.
“You’ve got to see that the precursor to any success that F1 has had (in the U.S.) has been around IndyCar — massively entertaining, it’s hugely inclusive, and the more that we can look to be inclusive and fan-focused, the better. So whatever the teams can do to drive that I think is going to be a good thing. But I don’t think they’ll ever emulate Red Bull.”
The livery competition runs on Red Bull’s free loyalty program “The Paddock,” powered by title sponsor Oracle’s technology. And while the winner was from Argentina, the tie-in is one that shows why teams are so focused on America at the moment — there’s sponsor dollars as well as growing fan interest.
“The growth of F1 globally has made us a really attractive proposition to big tech organizations that want to showcase their technological capability,” Brittain explained. “And a lot of those tech companies are based in the U.S. So it’s the growth of fans, and then the growth of commercial interest in F1, and that’s kind of created this upward spiral.
“I think fandom here, our growth trajectory in terms of audiences, and people on our own channels and platforms (are) just skyrocketing. The U.S. fans are brilliant. They’re less polarized in terms of who they support; they’re very embracing, so they’ll often support up to three teams. They’re very vocal, very positive, and they just get stuck in.
“It’s brilliant, and I think that’s only going to increase. But it’s not just about what ‘Drive to Survive’ has done, it’s about what each of the teams are doing. They’re creating more behind-the-scenes content, more (merchandise) collaborations, just more stuff for people to be able to access F1, and that’s gone down particularly well in the U.S.”
Miami might face a challenge in maintaining the hype it enjoyed a year ago when it debuted on the F1 calendar, but it doesn’t make the race weekend any less busy for the teams. And it also doesn’t mean fan interest is waning from the constructors’ championship point of view, with Brittain believing things translate to other teams based on Red Bull’s analysis of how U.S. supporters are invested in the sport.
“It’s absolutely showing no signs of slowing down. You’ve got to remember, it’s not just about the U.S., it’s about the Americas as a whole. Mexico is obviously massive for us but Brazil is in huge growth. It’s much more balanced from a gender perspective, particularly in Brazil — there’s a sort of a 50/50 balance in terms of male and female fandom there.
“We’re still growing across Europe, amazingly, because it’s the younger generation that are coming through. Gone are the days that F1 was about curling up on the sofa after a roast on a Sunday having a doze.
“All of those different entry points into it — the social channels, the content, behind-the-scenes, merch collaborations, the amount of data and information… And that’s just from the teams, but also the drivers themselves are kind of creating a lot of this stuff.
“So there are these pockets of interest for all of these different types of fans, more than there ever has been before. That’s only seeing increases — we’re not seeing any market that’s flat currently, and that’s after being around for many years. It’s a new age of F1, and I think we’re really embracing that.”
When focusing on the United States specifically, though, much has been made of the sport expanding to the point of having three races in one country. Ahead of the competitions in Austin and Las Vegas, Brittain says the next phase of engagement with American fans is to ensure that each event is targeted specifically to that city, rather than the U.S. as a whole.
“We work with the various U.S. markets as well, so the various local teams, we work in partnership with those guys. They’ve got their plans, and we’re relatively long-term in our planning but we are also quite fleet of foot. So if I told you that the plans for Vegas were 100 percent buttoned down, I’d be lying, because actually we were using the learnings from each one of these to kind of build and to shape.
“The competition opens for Austin’s (livery design) in a couple of weeks. I think because after that point they will have seen all the coverage of Martina (Andriano, the designer of Red Bull’s Miami livery) and her winning. They will have seen the car actually out on the track and how one young woman has managed to design this livery, and it’s racing around an F1 track with other competitors. That’s phenomenal.
“We’ll be using that as leverage to really drive the next stage, so I think it will only increase and only get better. The challenge for us is, ‘What are we going to do next year?’ We are our own best competition.”
Clearly it’s not just on the track that teams are looking to innovate and lead the way. America is feeling the effects at the same time changes are fostered to benefit the global fan base.