Music and sports have had a longstanding relationship on the global stage, from the world-famous Super Bowl half-time show to the FIFA World Cup anthems. But there’s one sport that has grown its fandom exponentially this past year, and at the same time, has become a bigger inspiration for music: Formula 1.
A sport that saw its first world championship in 1950 and was mostly catered to the old rich men has now become a Millenial and Gen Z favorite in part thanks to the Netflix docuseries Drive to Survive. One of its famous fans is Bad Bunny, who has used motorsport as inspiration for his music multiple times. Last year, following the release of his album Un Verano Sin Ti, the Puerto Rican artist met up with three-time F1 world champion Max Verstappen, who’s mentioned in the song “Andrea.” The F1 references are back in Bad Bunny’s latest album, nadie sabe lo que va a pasar mañana, which was 2023's most-streamed album in a single day on Spotify.
Directly inspired by F1, "MONACO" is the album's most popular track by Chartmetric score and currently boasts more than 300 million Spotify streams. The song talks about Bad Bunny’s rise to fame and luxurious lifestyle, so it makes sense that it’s named after a country that’s the epitome of wealth. Monaco is also synonymous with F1 since it is home to one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world, the Monaco Grand Prix.
Bad Bunny’s lyrics once again mention Verstappen as well as Mexican Red Bull Racing driver Sergio “Checo” Pérez, who also made a cameo in the music video: “Primero llegó Verstappen, después llegó Checo [First Verstappen arrived, then Checo arrived]” and “Créeme, los carro' de F1 son má' rápido' en persona [Trust me, F1 cars are faster in person].” Used in more than 60k TikTok videos, the song has become a staple background for F1 content by young Latinos, a growing demographic in the sports’ fanbase.
F1 is also referenced in other tracks of the album, including “Los Pits” and “Nadie Sabe,” which mentions Brazilian F1 legend Ayrton Senna, who died racing in 1994: “Por eso están rezando que me estrelle, Ayrton Senna [That’s why they’re praying that I crash, Ayrton Senna].”
Soon after his Bad Bunny feature, Perez starred in the music video of “Por La Familia” by Regional Mexican singer Carin Leon. “I’m a very big fan of Checo. I feel like (to) every Mexican right now, he’s our biggest star in sports. We are proud of him for what he is doing for Mexican culture,” León told AP.
French Alpine driver Pierre Gasly also made a music video cameo, on TikTok singer Benson Boone’s “To Love Someone.” The unexpected pairing came to be thanks to Amazon Music, which has been Alpine's official streaming partner since July 2023. “Sport and music together play a key role in cultural influence,” said Karolina Joynathsing, Director of Business Development at Amazon Music, about the partnership. “We are delighted to widen our footprint in sport and bring artists and fans closer to the drivers, sport, and music they love with this global collaboration with Alpine around F1.”
Revving Up and Reviving Old Tracks
TikTok is known for giving a new life to old tracks, especially when fandoms tie a song to a trend and make it go viral organically. Such was the case of the '80s hit “Smooth Operator - Single Version” by English band Sade, which had a TikTok revival thanks to F1 fans and specifically, Spanish Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz.
Sainz was first linked to the song in 2019 after he sang it during the British, Hungarian and Brazilian Grand Prix. He claims to have listened to the song multiple times during the British race and couldn’t get it off his head. “After the race [at the Hungaroring] I sang this song, without knowing what a smooth operator was,” Sainz said back then when asked about it. “And then I realized, well, maybe I can attribute myself that and start creating a bit of a joke around me.” Since then, Sainz has been nicknamed “Smooth Operator” and the song has become intricately linked to him among F1 fans. The track has been used on thousands of TikTok videos about Sainz, and as the F1 fan base keeps growing, so does the popularity of this kind of content.
In May, DJ/Producer Enzo is Burning posted a House remix of the song on TikTok, which went viral as well and has been used roughly 450k videos to date. The track was soon adopted by sports content creators to showcase impressive athletic feats, further popularizing the song beyond the F1 fandom. Thanks to the surge in virality, "Smooth Operator" now has over 368 million Spotify streams and 149 million YouTube views, and is featured on more than 76k Spotify playlists — many of which are dedicated to the Ferrari driver.
While there’s no footage of Sainz singing Sade’s hit in full, artificial intelligence has made the fans’ dream come true. F1 Sings, an account dedicated to AI-generated song covers featuring F1 drivers’ voices, released a version of Sainz singing a complete verse of “Smooth Operator” which has amassed 3.4 million views and more than half a million likes in three months. TikTok users love to hear their favorite drivers sing all sorts of hits, from Rascal Flatts’ “Life is a Highway” to Fuerza Regida and Marshmello’s “HARLEY QUINN.” The search term “F1 AI song cover” has more than 13.6 million views and has even caught the attention of and positive reactions from the drivers themselves.
Melodies from the Paddock
While AI-generated song covers give fans a taste of what their favorite drivers would sound like singing their favorite tunes, some F1 drivers have actually dipped their toes into making music of their own. Monegasque Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc officially launched his music career in early 2023 with the release of “AUSS23 (1:1)” under the music management company Verdigris. The track is a piano composition inspired by the driver’s experience in the 2023 Australian Grand Prix and boasts nearly 10 million Spotify streams. “It’s just something that I really enjoyed doing whenever I was coming back from the races,” Leclerc said in an interview with The Athletic. He later released “MIA23 (1:2)” and “MON(1:3),” which have racked up more than 5 million and 2 million Spotify streams respectively.
Leclerc currently ranks as the No.2 artist from Monaco on Chartmetric. While most of his popularity can be attributed to his racing career, he has seen positive changes in his Spotify listenership (226k monthly listeners) that correlate with major races and has appeared in multiple iTunes and SoundCloud country charts. He noted that his biggest obstacle to releasing music is lack of time but with the F1 winter break underway, perhaps fans will hear new material soon.
British Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton also enjoyed a brief stint as an artist in 2018 after he was featured on a Christina Aguilera song. It took him two years to reveal that he was the voice behind the mysterious collaborator XNDA on the track “Pipe” but fans soon jumped to his support, stunned by the driver’s vocals. While Hamilton admitted that music has been “the most incredible outlet,” it’s unclear if he will ever release more tracks. “If he doesn't release music after he's retired from F1, I'm protesting,” a fan commented on a TikTok video with over 58k likes.
Head Over Wheels
On top of drivers becoming musicians, the motorsports and music industries have collided in more unexpected ways this past year. Hamilton made a fuss in the entertainment world thanks to a rumored romantic relationship with Shakira earlier in 2023. The Colombian singer was spotted at the Miami Grand Prix and in multiple social events next to the F1 driver, although neither confirmed the speculations. That didn’t stop fans from creating TikTok edits of Hamilton using Shakira’s hits “Addicted to You,” “Shakira: Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 53,” and “Ojos Así,” among others.
But the most unforeseen rumored pairing was Taylor Swift and Spanish Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso. At the beginning of the year, celebrity gossip page Deuxmoi started spreading unverified news about a possible romance between the two, taking F1 by storm. Not only did F1 commentators start using Swift lyric references in their race commentary, but Alonso himself posted multiple TikTok videos featuring her songs. His savvy song choices and playful take on the rumors might be part of why he was named TikTok Spain’s 2023 Public Figure of the Year.
As the F1 fan base demographics become less male-dominated, the overlap between motorsports and Swifties is growing strong as shown by the increasing fan-made and official team social media content. With Swift’s boyfriend American football player Travis Kelce becoming an investor in Alpine, fans are hoping to see her at a Grand Prix this year.
While Swift wasn’t in attendance in 2023, this season saw a large number of artists as attendees and performers, especially at the Las Vegas Grand Prix in November. Fans enjoyed performances by J Balvin, Steve Aoki, and will.i.am, among many other A-listers who are also fans of the sport. “I love Charles Leclerc. I just follow certain racers and am very familiar with the sport,” Aoki told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Beyond the passion for the sport, both J Balvin and will.i.am told AP that performing at a Grand Prix is a smart business decision. “Every producer, every DJ wants to play F1. Why? Because it’s a (expletive) of money they make,” will.i.am said. “Every band that’s any band wants to play the mainstage at F1.”
Could fans get to see Taylor headlining an F1 concert once again? Will there be more F1 cameos in music videos? Is Leclerc going to release more music soon? While we don’t have the answers to those questions, we are keeping an eye on F1 and its growing relationship with the music industry. In the same way that the World Cup is known for producing chart-topping tracks, maybe F1 could become the next driver of worldwide hits.
Graphics by Sarah Kloboves and cover image by Crasianne Tirado; data as of Jan. 8, 2024.