With the 2022 season in the rearview mirror, I pulled together the social media data that I had compiled and found the drivers fit into these categories — the F1 affiliates, the Twitter Superstars, the Bus Bros, Two Veterans with Interesting Gains (that don’t fit anywhere else), and the Unremarkables. I also have dubbed a driver as ‘the rising star’ and another driver as ‘the one who forced me to grapple with an ethical question.’
Formula One Affilates
There are three drivers that had their social media gains influenced by their F1 associations and it should be no surprise that these three drivers had the most followers gained on Instagram.
These three drivers are Romain Grosjean, Pato O’Ward, and Colton Herta.
Instagram Gains: 90,791 (1st overall)
Twitter Gains: 95,983 (1st overall)
Almost 28k of Romain Grosjean’s 90.8K new IG followers Came in March, coinciding with the release of the newest Season of Netflix’s Drive to Survive it didn’t seem to matter that Grosjean was not featured in the newest season. His social media gains indicated the likelihood that people either rewatched the previous seasons or had been turned onto the show, watching it all for the first time. Similarly, almost 30K of his 95K new Twitter followers were gained in the same post-DTS premiere time period. Romain’s YouTube channel largely featured interviews with other IndyCar drivers. Grosjean’s gains also were likely boosted by on-track rivalries that came to a head in Mid-Ohio. It was likely a combination of the above factors that put Romain Grosjean firmly at the top of the gain list.
Instagram Gains: 71,151 (2nd overall)
Twitter Gains: 51,118 (2nd overall)
Of all the drivers, I think Pato consistently has the strongest content. Pato is young and he (and/or his team) seems to have a good grasp on social media strategy. However, I do suspect that a lot of his gains came from his affiliation with McLaren. He gained over 100k new followers on Instagram after his off-season test with McLaren so I think it’s safe to assume that test really put Pato on the radar of Formula One fans that otherwise might not have known him. McLaren also regularly shares AMSP posts and congratulated Pato on his wins at Barber and in Iowa also seem to have contributed. Pato’s strong showing in the Indianapolis 500 which ended with a second-place result also netted him 15,291 new IG followers in the five days after the race.
Pato also had a spike in gains on Twitter after his second-place Indy 500 finish that netted him almost 6k new followers in twenty-four hours. Pato also had two tweets go viral on 8/2 about the Oscar Piastri/McLaren/Alpine drama that saw a gain of 10k followers. Beyond that, his Twitter gains were steady.
Instagram Gains: 31,130 (3rd overall)
Twitter Gains: 14,655 (5th overall)
Colton Herta holds the distinction of being the only driver in the field to have doubled the amount of Instagram followers through this season. While this doubling was a season-long endeavor, I can match spikes in his Instagram gains to big news events.
Those events are Colton’s development deal with McLaren, his wild Indy GP win, his vicious Carb Day Crash, his actual F1 test in July, and also the rumors that he’d be granted a super license to drive at Alpha Tauri (and all of the social media discourse that came after).
There are a few drivers who excelled at Twitter, entertaining fans with their tongue-in-cheek remarks, political stands, and viral tweets.
These drivers are Marcus Ericsson, Callum Ilott, and Dalton Kellett.
Instagram Gains: 16,649 (5th overall)
Twitter Gains: 21,722 (3rd overall)
Marcus Ericcson’s gains are incredibly interesting to me. His Instagram gains (as shown below in the chart) are almost entirely (89.8%) from winning the Indianapolis 500. And you can tell that because of the long plateau, the huge spike that rounds out into a second long plateau.
Marcus’ Twitter gains heavily contrast this because while he does have a spike after his Indy 500 win, there are no big plateaus like there are on his IG. And I think this can be attributed to the fact that Marcus is incredibly active on Twitter and he isn’t afraid to ruffle the feathers with his hot takes.
Instagram Gains: 3,159 (19th overall)
Twitter Gains: 16,909 (4th overall)
While Callum Ilott’s Instagram gains are largely nothing to write home about, his frequent interactions and quick wit on Twitter boosted him tremendously. He had two tweets that garnered him extra attention – one about the Silverstone crash (early July) and another about the motorsport drama (early August) and you can see the spikes line up with that.
Instagram Gains: 1,572 (22nd overall)
Twitter Gains: 4,282 (14th overall)
While Dalton’s gains don’t look incredibly high, they’re impressive nonetheless because he nearly doubled his Twitter followers over the course of the season. Dalton did this through his willingness to speak on political issues that he felt were important but also through his willingness to teach fans about intricate IndyCar technology.
His approach to Twitter feels fresh and IndyCar fans have reacted positively and his gains show that.
This season marked the start of Bus Bros which is Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin’s YouTube series brainchild. It’s full of chaos and fun and as far as I can tell, it has been incredibly well received. The first 11 Bus Bro episodes averaged 19,515 views which is a stark increase from Josef’s other content which has an average of 6,081 views. From May 2022- August 2022, Josef’s channel gained approximately 5,800 new subscribers which account for roughly 30% of his total channel subscribers.
So I think it’s safe to say that Bus Bros is a success and I hope Bus Bros continues on into the 2023 season. While both Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin had strong seasons, I do think that Bus Bros helped boost their social media gains.
Instagram Gains: 11,113 (6th overall)
Twitter Gains: 11,762 (6th overall)
Scott McLaughlin started the season off with a bang – capturing his first pole and his first IndyCar win in the season opener and IndyCar fans really took notice. Scott had nice spikes after his first wins on both Twitter and Instagram. From there, he had really nice upward gains throughout the whole season that did not have any major spikes or plateaus. I would attribute that to his on-track performance, the success of Bus Bros, and his wise-cracking on Twitter.
Instagram Gains: 5,245 (15th overall)
Twitter Gains: 7,973 (8th overall)
The past few seasons, it seemed like Josef Newgarden had stepped back from social media and all of his posts were very clinical, produced content that did not contain the candor and charisma that Josef had largely become known for. And while Instagram has largely kept that sort of content (which fits Instagram and I want to be clear, none of this is criticism, just observations), he has returned to Twitter with his sarcastic quips and defense of IndyCar and his Twitter gain chart moves upward steadily all season because of that.
Two Veterans With Interesting Gains (That Don’t Fit Anywhere Else)
Instagram Gains: 18,706 (4th overall)
Twitter Gains: 4,175 (16th overall)
Scott Dixon’s gains can almost exclusively be attributed to three events this season – his Indy 500 pole, his record-tying win in Toronto, and his record-breaking win in Nashville. In between these events, there are noticeable plateaus that signify to me that these events drove the social media gains, but his social media content did not.
His Twitter gains don’t have such stark plateaus and his Twitter gains also don’t have such noticeable spikes. While it isn’t a completely smooth upward gain, it’s much smoother than Instagram.
Instagram Gains: 9,514 (8th overall)
Twitter Gains: 1,476 (23rd overall)
Jimmie Johnson didn’t really have any huge spikes that pushed his gains forwards. On Instagram, it was just overall gains at fairly steady rates. However, on Twitter, Jimmie saw gains in the first half of the season and then he started to lose followers after the Indy 500 before rebounding slightly and then continuing the drop.
While I don’t have concrete answers to why that happened, I think it’s likely that the majority of his existing followers were NASCAR fans that were uninterested in his post-NASCAR endeavors, and/or Twitter clearing out inactive accounts brought his numbers down.
I hate to say it but the majority of drivers had fairly unremarkable social media gains and there really isn’t much to say about most of these drivers so this section will be largely presented without comment.
Instagram Gains: 6,349 (11th overall)
Twitter Gains: 4,240 (15th overall)
Like Will’s season, his gains are consistent without any dazzling spikes and that’s okay. He did have a spike when he broke the pole record at the end of the season and won the championship. Since the season has ended though, Will has gained 3,037 new followers on Instagram which is roughly half of what he gained the entire season.
Instagram Gains: 8,732 (9th overall)
Twitter Gains: 4,445 (14th overall)
Likely because Felix doesn’t really have F1 ties, he didn’t have nearly the gains of his teammate, Pato O’Ward. However, he did have steady upward gains that didn’t really spike despite being entangled in the McLaren drama on Instagram. On Twitter, he did have a spike that seemed to stem from a tweet he had that went viral about the August motorsport drama.
Instagram Gains: 6,330 (12th overall)
Twitter Gains: 6,135 (6th overall)
Instagram Gains: 1,878 (20th overall)
Twitter Gains: 2,699 (19th overall)
Instagram Gains: 6,397 (10th overall)
Twitter Gains: 4,723 (12th overall)
Instagram Gains: 5,540 (14th overall)
Twitter Gains: 2,071 (21st overall)
Instagram Gains: 1,457 (23rd overall)
Twitter Gains: 2,990 (18th overall)
Instagram Gains: 5,708 (13th overall)
Twitter Gains: 7,523 (9th overall)
Instagram Gains: 4,454 (16th overall)
Twitter Gains: 2,343 (20th)
Instagram Gains: 1,870 (21st overall)
Twitter Gains: 1,738 (23rd overall)
Instagram Gains: 3,284 (18th overall)
Twitter Gains: 3,502 (17th overall)
Instagram Gains: 10,853 (7th overall)
Twitter Gains: 8,471 (7th overall)
Prior to Alex Palou’s now infamous Tweets stating that he had informed Ganassi that he would not be returning and instead, he had signed a deal with McLaren, he had gained only 2,860 followers on Twitter. But after these tweets through the end of the season, he gained 5,683 new followers.
His Instagram is much more balanced, gaining 5,083 new followers prior to the controversy and 5,800 followers after, however, roughly half of the 5,083 new followers that he had gained prior to the Ganassi-McLaren controversy were gained during the month of May.
The Rising Star
Instagram Gains: 4,268 (17th overall)
Twitter Gains: 5,151 (11th overall)
While David Malukas’ numbers aren’t outrageously high, they are still incredibly impressive considering he nearly doubled his Instagram following and more than quadrupled his Twitter following this season.
He had two big gain drivers – losing the Indy 500 ROY to Jimmie Johnson (despite being the highest finishing rookie in the actual race) and his podium at Gateway. While I suspect that he had already started to endear himself to IndyCar fans prior to his Gateway podium, his post-race reactions sealed the endearment (as well as his guest-appearance on Bus Bros that happened because of the Gateway podium).
I don’t say this lightly but if his social media gains are any indication, David Malukas is a rising IndyCar star.
The One Who Forced Me to Grapple with an Ethical Question:
Instagram Losses: -5,397 (24th overall)
Twitter Gains: 831 (24th overall)
This is a concept that needs a whole article to explore, the tl;dr is that there is really only one explanation for Devlin to lose over 5k followers on Instagram. And it isn’t because of his questionable on-track moves — Devlin lost almost 8k followers in the offseason (meaning he has lost over 13k followers on Instagram since I began keeping social media data).
Followers were bought.
And this brings up the ethical question because a driver’s social media platform is taken into consideration by potential sponsors. If a driver or his management bought followers to make his platform appear larger to attract new sponsors, is this ethical?
It also opens a whole other discussion in my head of this — are racing drivers also social media influencers and if they are, shouldn’t they be held to the same standard of other social media influencers and content creators where buying followers is considered extremely unethical and not allowed?
I haven’t come to a good answer on any of this yet.
And I want to be clear that this isn’t just one driver who is doing it. I have suspicions of other IndyCar, Indy Lights and Junior Formula drivers that appear to have bought followers, however Devlin’s losses make it the most apparent and the easiest to point to (for now).
The Series’ Gains
Instagram Gains: 53,484
Twitter Gains: 31,634
I talked to F1 fans who don’t watch IndyCar about why they don’t and one of the common reasons that I was given was that they felt that there was no good introductions to the series or the drivers that they could find. With social media being as accessible as it is, it feels like a golden opportunity for IndyCar to be able to introduce the series and drivers to wider audience but that’ll only happen if the decision makers in IndyCar feel that social media is worthwhile.
And I want to be very clear — I think IndyCar’s social media team has made leaps and bounds this season. I just hope that the people who allocate funding realize that there is still much more that IndyCar’s social media team could do with more funding and personnel and I think that IndyCar would see returns on a social media investment.
Regardless, these gains are nothing to sneeze at and I hope IndyCar’s social media team is proud because they did great with what they had.
These numbers are a basis.
I don’t want my data to be used against IndyCar because these are the starting points. I fully expect to see every driver best their 2022 social media gains as IndyCar continues to raise their profile as a competitive, worthwhile open-wheel series in 2023.