A SEXY BEAST OR A BANANA?: How F1 Testing & Car Launches Set Team Tone for the Coming Season

Image of Renault’s RS17 courtesy of @RenaultSportF1 (Link)

The Formula 1 season is now in full swing. Big events like the Monaco Grand Prix are taking place across the globe, with race weekends scheduled until the end of November. F1 is attracting conversation and this is a BIG audience to reach.

Having had a Brandwatch query running on motorsport since the beginning of the year, we decided to take a deeper look at the hottest topics of conversation among F1 fans. Events, teams and big names were popular, but what about the cars themselves?

 

CAR CONVERSATION

We noticed that car-related conversation was most popular among fans towards the beginning of the F1 season during the last week of February. This was car launch week, culminating in F1 Testing. Judging from the conversation we observed, this is crucial in ramping up the hype and excitement for the coming season.

 

The gender split of car related conversation is heavily male skewed. This represents an opportunity for Formula 1 teams and promoters to investigate how to best engage women further in F1 as a sport, particularly around the car testing phase.

As can be seen from the topic cloud, F1 Testing dominated the week’s conversation. This is supported by the number of positive, emotionally engaged words being used on socials, including ‘fun’, ‘can’t wait’, ‘hoping’, ‘amazing’ and ‘excited’, indicating palpable anticipation for the new season. This also shows the importance of the car launches in the F1 calendar as a whole – they are not just about the machines themselves, but are also an opportunity to stoke fans’ excitement and hopes surrounding the coming season.

Showing mentions over time during February for Greater London, with a steady climb over car launch week, peaking for F1 Testing.

 

MECHANICS VS BEAUTY

As seen in the topic cloud, the cars that attracted the most conversation were Renault’s RS17, Mercedes’ W08, McLaren’s MCL32 and Toro Rosso’s STR12.

Narrowing our focus down further on these cars enabled us to get a good picture of the way fans talk about F1 cars and the depth of emotional engagement that is focused on them.

There was some discussion relating to regulations and mechanics – shark fins attracted a lot of animosity – but this was totally overshadowed by the comments on how beautiful or ugly the cars were.

It is clear that, for most people, physical appearance is a more compelling topic for conversation than technicalities.

The appearance of Renault’s RS17 was praised (‘colours work well’, ‘best looking car ever’) and criticised (‘jarring colours’), showing that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. It was also taken as evidence of its future performance, that the car ‘looks very fast’ and is an indication that Renault is ‘on the way up’.

Mercedes’ W08 was also described as ‘great looking’, ‘lovely’ and a ‘thing of beauty’, while attracting criticism for the sound it makes, something which is important to F1 fans.

McLaren’s MCL32 was also described as sounding ‘rubbish’, and as ‘ugly’ and ‘manky’, although one commenter pointed out that ‘livery doesn’t denote speed’.

 

SEXY BEAST?

People love their cars, and Formula 1 fans are no exception. One of the most striking things to note is the use of language which relates to sex and attraction.

The Mercedes, McLaren and Toro Rosso were all described as sexy, which was taken further with Mercedes (‘sexy beast’) and Toro Rosso (‘absolute sex’). The Renault was described as ‘a looker’. Its reveal was described as ‘covers come off’, while the Mercedes was noted for its ‘extremely tight rear-end packaging’, phrases which are dripping with innuendo. One commenter expressed deeper emotion and was ‘falling in love’.

 

OR A BANANA?

As well as general praise for the attractiveness of specific cars, there was much more detailed conversation on their liveries. Fans’ discussion of this became extensive, resulting in strong associations being expressed between the car liveries and cultural reference points.

Although it was sometimes influenced by team campaigns related to the car launches, fans frequently went beyond this, associating the colours used by certain teams with other brands or elements of popular culture that may not have been considered by the teams themselves. This was particularly apparent with Renault and McLaren.

The Renault’s RS17 is yellow and black and therefore made people think of wasps, with Twitter users describing it as an ‘angry wasp’ and ‘waspy goodness’. Bananas also came up, with one commenter describing the team kit as looking like a ‘rotten banana’. Would these have been associations that occurred to Renault when developing the car?

Image of the McLaren MCL32, courtesy of @McLarenF1 (Link)

McLaren’s striking orange livery attracted the greatest amount of conversation, including references to brands and elements of popular culture. The hashtag #OrangeistheNewBlack appeared a few times, in reference to the popular Netflix show.

The car was also described by one Twitter user as looking like a character from Finding Nemo. It reminded others of Orange, the now defunct mobile phone brand, with various commenters quoting ‘The future’s bright’, a reference to the famous ‘The future’s bright, the future’s orange’ strapline. Inevitably, there was also a reference to the new US president and making McLaren great again.

 

CONCLUSIONS

This analysis of F1 car conversation shows the importance of the car launches for ramping up excitement before the beginning of the F1 season itself. Clearly, fans want the cars to look good, sound good and be ‘sexy beasts’.

However, the most fascinating insight from this analysis is the fact that fans are spontaneously discussing other cultural meanings associated with the car liveries. For example, the colour orange denotes McLaren, but it also connotes a mobile phone brand, a soft drink and a TV show, all of which were in the forefront of the minds of some fans responding to the launch.

No Formula 1 team can control the connotations associated with their liveries, but it is important to be aware of them, so as to construct the most culturally relevant and engaging campaigns around them as possible.

Harnessing the popular culture connotations immediately post-launch would allow teams to tap into the reactions in a manner that is both timely and identifiable for their fans and may elicit wider interest and therefore awareness and engagement, perhaps even with the more elusive female F1 fans out there?

Thanks for reading, we’ll be sharing more on our F1 research over the coming weeks. This blog was powered by the sexy beasts at Brandwatch.

© Disruptive Insight 2015.