Drive to Survive: Red Bull generates best value from fifth season

In Summary

  • Netflix’s hugely successful Formula 1 series Drive to Survive has launched its fifth season ahead of the 2023 World Championship.
  • The show presents sponsors with an opportunity to gain visibility and value beyond live race broadcasts and highlights packages.
  • To understand the opportunity in more detail, we’ve analysed all ten episodes of the series and applied our proprietary methodology to identify brand visibility and the value it’s generating.
  • Our analysis shows that Oracle Red Bull Racing generated most value for its sponsors, while the sport’s global partners also performed well.
  • The Nordic regions haven’t hosted a Grand Prix since 1978, but our insights show there’s ample opportunity for growth in the region.

It only debuted in 2019, but the launch of a new series of Netflix’s Drive to Survive has become as important to Formula 1 fans as the start of a new season or a race in their home country.

The fly-on-the-wall documentary series is now onto its fifth instalment and gives viewers an access-all-areas glimpse into the previous year’s World Championship. A huge global hit, its significance has been particularly felt in the United States, where the motorsports scene was previously dominated by NASCAR and IndyCar, but which now boasts three grand prix: in Miami, Austin and Las Vegas.

The series’ success shows the benefits available when governing bodies expand their sport’s content offering beyond live broadcasts, highlights packages, and social media clips, but other growth opportunities are available as well. 

Using our proprietary methodology, we’ve analysed series 5 of Drive to Survive to understand the kind of exposure sponsors are getting and the dollars and cents value (expressed as an expected media value or ‘xMV’) this exposure is generating. 

Here’s what we found.

Red Bull gives its sponsors wings

Few brands have brought as much to or benefited from Formula 1 as Red Bull, and with Max Verstappen powering the newly-renamed Oracle Red Bull Racing to a Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship double in 2022, it’s no surprise that they dominate the new season of ‘Drive To Survive’. 

We tracked the team’s 29 sponsors across each of the ten episodes and placed its total expected media value (xMV) at $19.4m. This is almost double that of their nearest competitors Ferrari ($11.3m) and Mercedes ($10.6m). 

One of Drive to Survives key benefits is its ability to tell a more balanced narrative that isn’t strictly dictated by on-track performance. However, while the show can shine a light on teams at the back end of the grid, it can’t deliver commercial equality.

Indeed, just as there was a big drop-off between third-place Mercedes and fourth-place Alpine in the Constructors’ Standings, so too is there a significant gap between the top three and the chasing pack in Drive to Survive.

According to our calculations, no other team passed more than $6m xMV, with the best performing being Alpine on $5.5m. McLaren and Haas follow with $4.1m and $3.3m respectively.

View the topline team data in the visualisation below. Hover over an area to see our valuations and drill down into individual sponsor valuations by clicking each team’s bubble.

Creative is king

Oracle Red Bull Racing’s on-track success and prominence in the show aren’t the only reasons for their strong Drive to Survive performance though; the cars’ liveries are too. With navy blue as its base colour, the design of the Oracle Red Bull car offers a perfect base for their title sponsors’ high contrast reds, yellows (in the case of Red Bull) and silvery white (Oracle) to stand out. 

The sheer size and smart placements of these creatives helps too. Oracle takes pride of place down the side, Red Bull dominates both front and back wings, and both appear just beyond the cockpit, in prime position for the onboard camera. 

Ferrari’s iconic red offers no less opportunity for contrast, but logos are less smartly worked into the car’s overall design. Whereas the Red Bull creative folds into the wider look and feel as if it’s a natural part of it, sponsor creative on the Ferrari is simply applied to the base red. 

Not only that, but creative tends to be smaller on the Ferrari than the Oracle Red Bull. Their two best-performing commercial partners (Shell and Santander; $2.2m and $1.3m xMV respectively) have four small-to-mid size placements across the car in strategic positions.

View the team and sponsor data in the visualisation below. Hover over an area to see our valuations and drill down into individual sponsor valuations by clicking each team’s segment.

Global partners score big too

Taking sponsors out of their team segments and bringing in brands who partner with the F1’s governing body, the FIA, gives an even clearer view of who’s getting most out of Drive to Survive

From the visualisation below, you can see that – again – Red Bull is the clear winner, but most of the FIA’s six global sponsors performed strongly too: Rolex ($4.1m), Aramco ($3.9m), Pirelli ($2.4m), DHL ($2.3m), and Heineken ($1m). Only Emirates ($397k) underwhelmed and that may go some way to explaining why the airline brought a ten-year partnership with the sport to an end in November 2022. 

These brands aren’t on the cars or driver’s uniforms, but can be seen around the track itself, so team performance doesn’t impact their visibility. What’s more, their creative is often striking in its simplicity, larger than those of team partners, and dominant in the frame of the TV cameras, making it easier to see and make an impact on the viewer.

View sponsor data in the visualisation below and hover over each brand name to see its valuation.

Red Bull secure biggest episode-by-episode peaks

To ensure some measure of equality across the teams, the FIA and Netflix shift the narrative’s focus from episode to episode. This means that while Mercedes can dominate the second episode (‘Bounce Back’, focusing on the team’s early-season struggles) and drive an xMV of $5.5m, a smaller team like AlphaTauri can generate $1.7m from their starring role in episode 8, ‘Alpha Male’. 

Oracle Red Bull’s on-track success means they overperformed with four significant peaks (in episodes 1, 3, 7 and 9). The biggest peak is episode 9, ‘Over the Limit’, in which they edge closer to double championship victories as accusations of spending cap violations emerge.

View the episode-by-episode data in the visualisations below. Hover over each chart to see valuations for specific episodes and use the filter in the second visualisation to isolate data for each team.

Scandinavian surprise

The final piece of the puzzle is geography. As we’ve said, Drive to Survive has been credited with boosting the sport’s popularity in the United States, and our data certainly backs that up: we estimate that some 2.8m US accounts (0.85% of the population) viewed the series. 

South American F1 heartlands Brazil and Argentina also fare well, as do Australia and Germany. In fact, most countries which host a Grand Prix (or have one very close by) perform strongly. There is one intriguing anomaly though: Scandinavia. 

No Nordic country has hosted a race since Sweden in 1978, but the region has a proud history in the sport, producing the likes of Ronnie Peterson, Gunnar Nilsson, and world champions Keke Rosberg and Mika Häkkinen. Like that duo, current star Valtteri Bottas is also from Finland.  

With other motorsports like rally car popular in the region, and Sweden being home to Polestar, Scania and Volvo, there’s a clear passion in Scandinavia that’s currently going untapped. As Drive to Survive goes from strength-to-strength its success in the Nordics may provide F1 with its next major growth area. 

View the geographic data in the visualisations below. Hover over your country of choice or use the search function to see the data expressed as a raw number or percentage of the population. 

Methodology: To arrive at our xMV (expected media value) we use our object detection computer vision AI to identify when, where, and how sponsor logos are exposed within media content. We first identify the unadjusted 100% Media Value, using the estimated audience size, impressions, time on screen, and a benchmark equivalent cost to aquire that screentime. A ‘Prominence Score’ is then applied to this figure, allowing us to take the sponsor logo’s size, clarity and centrality into account and give a clear understanding of the impact the appearance would have made on the viewer. These metrics are combined to give guidance on the estimated value derived through exposure of the logos across the entire series five of Drive to Survive.

To learn more about this data or find out how DataPOWA can help you understand commercial performance, get in touch with us at [email protected].