F1’s new partnerships show the sport is dominant and poised to build ‘the drive to stay’ momentum

The impact of the two “Drive to Survive” documentaries on Netflix and Formula One is real. Keep in mind the following:

  • Formula 1 had 22 races last year, and one was in the United States.
  • Next year, three of the 24 races will be held in the United States.
  • At the 2017 US Grand Prix, the majority of ticket holders showed up on Saturday after qualifying because they just wanted to see Justin Timberlake’s concert.
  • In 2021, when 400,000 people attended the Circuit of the Americas, this was reversed when the vast majority of fans showed up for the various F1 courses (training, qualifying, etc).

And it’s not just the United States. When F1 returned to Melbourne, Australia, this year for the first time since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they recorded their biggest attendance ever (420,000). According to F1, 40% of ticket holders were women, and they believe the sharp increase is due to the “Drive to Survive” effect.

F1's new partnerships show the sport is dominant and poised to build 'the drive to stay' momentum
This year’s US Grand Prix in Austin drew a record 440,000 fans for the 3-day weekend. 
Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As the sport resonates with more fans and an ever more diverse audience, it is also attracting bigger and bigger partnerships.

One example of this is F1’s new deal with Lenovo, the China-based technology company that has a strong presence in the United States.

During the recent US Grand Prix, Insider spoke with Gerald Youngblood, Lenovo North America’s chief marketing officer, and Zarah Al-Kudcy, F1’s head of commercial partnerships.

In recent years, Lenovo has found a stronger presence in sports. In addition to their new contract with F1 this year which includes title sponsorship for two races (the British Grand Prix and the French Grand Prix), they have the Ducati Lenovo MotoGP team and a shirt sponsorship agreement with Italian football club Inter Milan.

And Lenovo’s presence in Formula 1 will increase – a source said they will be the main sponsor for three races in 2023.

F1's new partnerships show the sport is dominant and poised to build 'the drive to stay' momentum
Lenovo was the title sponsor for this year’s French Grand Prix. 
Robert Szaniszló/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We don’t know what race Lenovo will add in 2023 (Las Vegas!?), but they would like a stronger American at some point, citing the sport’s growing influence in North America and continued strength around the world.

“This is a unique partnership where we can from region to region make this impact [where our customers live and work],” Youngblood said. “I would like to have the opportunity, at some point, to get a show here in the States.”

F1 deal with Lenovo is a reflection of the sport and its fans

Lenovo’s deal with F1 is about more than just buying ad space on the tracks. It also supplies the chain with computer systems, servers and high performance computing. The reason for the partnership with F1 is strongly linked to the growing fan base and who those fans are.

“We found that F1 followers are more likely to be technology buyers and IT decision makers,” Youngblood said. “They are also more likely to share on social media about the technology they use.”

There is also a growing perception, especially in the US, that F1 is the pinnacle of innovation.

“What more unique sport should be followed than Formula 1 to align with the brand?” Youngblood said. “There are also very practical benefits in terms of aligning and highlighting our brand with other brands that share this drive for innovation and have an audience that can appreciate the story Lenovo tells.”

F1's new partnerships show the sport is dominant and poised to build 'the drive to stay' momentum
Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team W13 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 11, 2022 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. 
Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

This perception of F1 is not new to its fans, but it does exist in the corporate world. Five years ago, F1 had one technical partner. In addition to Lenovo, F1 has now partnered with several technology companies, including AWS, Zoom, TATA Communications and BWT.

“The growth we are enjoying in technology partnerships is huge,” Al Qudsi said. “I think it’s about us as a workforce also with our partner products. That’s something we’ve gotten better at historically. Our partnership [with Lenovo] definitely has an element of that. But it’s also about authentic storytelling, which you now see in Drive to Survive.”

Growing beyond ‘Drive to Survive’ will be about pushing the story forward

A subtle, but important, part of the comments above is the idea of ​​telling a “story”. Spend enough time promoting companies these days, and you know that “storytelling” is a huge part of getting messages to consumers, whether that’s people buying computers or choosing sports to play.

This is where Drive to Survive comes in.

With the Netflix series, F1 has tapped into a great way to tell the F1 story, and another sport is starting to copy. But like any television vehicle, interest in the show will wane or even dwindle at some point. The key to F1 is finding a way to maintain that momentum, which includes continuing to tell an exciting story for audiences old and new, whether on Netflix or through another medium.

F1's new partnerships show the sport is dominant and poised to build 'the drive to stay' momentum
Four seasons of “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” are now on Netflix. 

Unlike other major sports where networks or cable companies produce broadcasts, F1 produces its own races for television and other media. Lenovo helps with this in several ways.

“We are very cognizant of this: How do we take the ‘Drive to Survive’ story and highlight that in our own World Feed stream, YouTube, our Twitter content, or are we doing our own podcast?,” Al Kodsey said. That we are better storytellers in general but also bring this ‘Drive to Survive’ audience and keep them connected.”

Youngblood agreed, noting that he’s one of those addicted fans now out of just Netflix series.

“I think the audience is just beginning to have this progression into attachment,” Youngblood said. “Like me, I get up at ridiculous hours to watch the races and also see the impact of technology to make it more immersive and bring me closer to the experience so that not everyone has to be physically at the track, but they can really be a part of it.”

Reaching out to fans at home is key to maintaining ‘Drive to Survive’ momentum

Youngblood’s comment about fans not being at the track is important to F1. While attendance numbers at races around the world have risen, these people are a small part of the sport’s fan base.

F1 estimates it has 500 million fans worldwide. Of those, only 1% will actually attend the race, and Al Qudsi noted that technology like Lenovo is used by the sport to communicate with the other 99%.

F1's new partnerships show the sport is dominant and poised to build 'the drive to stay' momentum
Fans of Ferrari watch the Brazilian Grand Prix on television. 
Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

So, as Lenovo approaches the end of their first year with F1, what’s next, and how do they continue to move forward with the story and connect with fans at the races, and most importantly, at home?

According to F1 and Lenovo, this is likely to be augmented reality and VR systems, something that piqued my interest.

Watching the F1 race on TV is great. But after attending so many races, it’s clear that the standard TV experience doesn’t do the sports justice.

No matter what you think about the speed, sound, smell, power of the cars and the talent of the drivers who control the missiles on the wheels, it is impressive many times over. If AR and VR can bring this experience closer to fans who aren’t in the race, everyone wins.


Tricare west is a global news publication that tells the stories you want to know.

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