McLaren Formula One driver Lando Norris is noticing a rising number of female viewers at Formula One races, a sport that consists of an all-male driver line-up and previously known to be a boys club on and off the track.
The 24-year-old driver secured his seat on the McLaren team in 2019 at the age of 19. Now, in his fifth season on the team and the sport, Norris currently ranks fifth out of 20 in the 2023 F1 Drivers Championship, a title that has already been secured by Red Bull Racing driver and now three-time world champion Max Verstappen.
The 2023 Formula One season consists of a total of 23 races — or Grand Prix — all taking place in various countries and continents. It is made up of 20 drivers, two racing in each of the 10 teams, who commonly interact on and off the track. Following the Las Vegas Grand Prix on Nov. 16, one last race is scheduled to conclude the season in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 26.
The British driver has yet to win his first F1 race, but stood on seven podiums this season, and 13 podiums throughout his five-year-long career.
In an interview with TODAY.com, the driver reflects on his career in the sport and shares his thoughts about the increased female viewership and interest in Formula One.
“At times it feels like more girls than guys,” Norris says.
Females are fueling Formula One
In December 2022, Reuters reported that females make up around 40% of F1 fans, an 8% increase from 2017.
"There's a huge amount of girls who are into it, and I think that's a good thing, not only for the sport as a whole to increase the variety of people that are watching, but also for girls to get into racing," he says.
The last woman to race in Formula One was Italian driver Lella Lombardi from 1974–1976. Lombardo was the second woman to ever race in the sport and the only woman to ever score points. Italian driver Maria Teresa de Filippis was the first in 1958, racing for one year.
Norris notes the importance of attracting female viewers as a way to keep the future of F1 alive.
"Girls and women and guys, whoever it is, if you can get more of them at a young age to come into racing and be interested at a young age, then you’re more likely to have a girl racing driver at some point, which I think would be amazing," he says.
Fans are flocking to Formula One thanks to 'Drive to Survive'
One could say the increase in female viewership — and increase in fans in the U.S. — could be tied to Netflix’s docuseries “Formula 1: Drive to Survive.” The six-season series, which premiered in 2019, highlights the top moments throughout the F1 season, including a rundown of multiple races and behind the scenes footage of the drivers and teams.
The series’ success resulted in a rise of the sport’s popularity in the U.S, according to Variety. In a 2022 survey by Morning Consult, the poll showed 28% of U.S. adults as fans of the sport. Over half of the 28% claimed “Drive to Survive” was the reason behind their sparked interest.
“Drive to Survive” links to a nationwide sparked interest in the sport. According to Nielsen data, “more than 360,000 viewers who didn’t view F1 in the latter part of the 2021 season, watched F1 racing in 2022 after first watching ‘Drive to Survive.’”
Welcoming a younger generation of drivers
As he began racing for McLaren in his late teens, Norris spent the majority of his early 20s focusing solely on the sport.
“This has been my life since I was seven. I’ve been karting and racing and traveling the world,” Norris says. “I’ve also not experienced many other things outside of Formula One, and just outside of racing.”
With just five years of experience in F1, Norris is already seeing the sport change. As he joined the sport at a young age, many of the current drivers also began racing in F1 in their late teens.
Younger drivers are making a significant impact in F1, with a new generation of drivers emerging and performing well against experienced drivers. Verstappen, now three-time world champion, first joined the sport at the age of 17.
While some drivers are more experienced than others on the grid, Norris recognizes that the younger drivers have shown their potential when going up against more experienced drivers.
"With me going up against Daniel (Ricciardo) and George (Russell) going up against Lewis (Hamilton)," he says. "I think, George has proved he's a very, very capable driver and can beat Lewis on his day."
Norris, along with Mercedes driver Russell (25) and Williams Racing's Alexander Albon (27) made their F1 debuts in 2019.
“For George, Alex and myself to come in on the same year, it’s quite rare to have three new guys from Formula Two,” Norris says. “I think each one of them has proved to be an extremely good driver, and I think more teams are also willing to accept younger drivers.”
The emergence of young drivers is also a result of the new technology that is used for racing practice, Norris says.
"They’ve grew up doing more racing than what people used to do at times. They’ve also grown up with (driving) simulators," Norris says. "Therefore, it isn't a coincidence, in many ways, that you're seeing a bit more of a (younger) group come into Formula One."
Lando Norris coming into his own at 24
Norris celebrated his 24th birthday on Nov. 13.
“I’m scared,” he says. “I’m growing up.”
To celebrate the occasion, luggage brand Tumi threw him a birthday party. Norris, who is a Tumi ambassador, contributed to the designs of the McLaren x Tumi collaboration.
“I’ve always been very much into kind of design and creativity and all of this stuff," Norris says about his collaboration. "After meeting the guys and girls from Tumi, then we had a few talks and things lead on from there."
Tumi's McLaren Collection consists of a variety of travel luggage and backpacks. The collection's theme is based around McLaren Racing's iconic orange color, as the luggage colors majorly consist of black, gray and orange.
"We kind of try to mesh two worlds together in a way. At the same time, bring something back from my side and personal out of it, to then obviously give to everyone to be able to use when they travel," Norris says.
As the 2023 season comes to a close this month, Norris will return to the sport next year with McLaren. In the meantime, he wants "to travel and spend more with his friends.
The 2024 season, spanning from the end of February to the beginning of December, will consist of 24 races, the highest number of races to ever be scheduled in an F1 season. The first race of the season takes place in Bahrain.