These women set the stage for a new era in F1, one that—despite an abundance of pushback from change-fearing fans and a significant lack of representation—is, in many ways, dominated by women. But rather than a racing car, the women currently making their mark on the sport work from behind screens, on platforms like Instagram, Twitch, and, most significantly, TikTok. Even without a seat or, in many cases, any official credentials, it hasn’t taken long for their impacts to be felt across the internet and inside the moving walls of the F1 paddock.
“Female F1 content creators have ushered in new terminologies, new ways of approaching and consuming the sport, new ways of talking about the sport, and new content styles, all of which were mocked at first by fans, teams, and the sport itself and then replicated and finally celebrated,” Toni Cowan-Brown, 37, says. Cowan-Brown is a longtime fan of F1, but it wasn’t until 2020 that she made the transition from fan to content creator after publishing her first F1 video on TikTok. Since then, Cowan-Brown has amassed more than 84,000 followers on her F1 TikTok page, @F1Toni, where she shares both educational and entertaining content surrounding the media and culture of F1. One of the major methods she’s used to shift the way audiences think about and consume the sport is through her simple and easy-to-grasp Guide to F1, which she first developed for her friends who weren’t ready to watch hundreds of races in order to learn about F1. Realizing that her original guide was too long for even her friends to read through, Cowan-Brown decided to divide it into bite-size pieces for content, putting them on the taking-off TikTok platform. “I realized that people enjoyed going on this research and discovery journey with me and that the gap I was filling was this desire for knowledge and learning,” she says.
Those who weren’t raised on the sport but who grew into fandom thanks to its increased representation in popular culture (a result of Netflix’s wildly successful docuseries Drive to Survive, Lewis Hamilton’s presence in music and fashion, and the rise of F1 content creators) could be easily turned off from the sport due to information overload, especially given its existing fan base’s reputation of being harsh on newcomers—particularly female newcomers. Cowan-Brown’s Guide to F1 and the videos associated with it make it easy for new fans to get acquainted with F1 in a judgment-free zone. “I’m hoping to break down some of the stereotypes in this space and the toxic traits we are seeing with certain fans who think the sport belongs to them because they can name every race Michael Schumacher won,” she says. “There is no one way to be a fan—that’s the beauty of fandoms.”