Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu has been tipped to take over from Lewis Hamilton as the “next big name” in F1 fashion in an assessment of the drivers’ styles by industry experts.
According to a report by the Sunday Times, F1 drivers are now considered to be more fashionable than footballers in light of the success of Netflix’s Drive to Survive docuseries, with the likes of Hamilton, Zhou, Red Bull reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo and Alpine’s Pierre Gasly leading the way in the style stakes.
The drivers, all with considerable followings on social media, are routinely captured by photographers entering the F1 paddock wearing all manner of extravagant and adventurous outfits.
Richard Thompson, chairman of sports and marketing organisation M&C Saatchi UK, told the Sunday Times that the F1 paddock is now as interesting as the biggest events in showbiz from a fashion perspective.
He said: “Think of Formula 1 like the Met Gala with added gasoline. Perhaps they should nix the ‘Formula’ bit altogether and just call it Fashion 1 instead.”
Joe Bobowicz, a contributing fashion writer for i-D magazine, believes that while seven-time World Champion Hamilton continues to lead the way by combining confidence, fashion and an unrivalled social media strategy, other drivers are aiming to seize the 38-year-old’s crown.
He said: “With 33 million followers on Instagram, Hamilton is definitely the one in fashion pole position. But don’t discount the other drivers coming through the ranks, all with something to prove.”
Bobowicz added that figures such as Hamilton are now as much Instagram influencers as racing drivers in the modern age, stating: “Pictures of the boys wearing the latest fashions are being shared like wildfire over TikTok and Instagram. They’re as much fashion influencers now as they are successful drivers.”
The extent of their reach is not limited to clothing either, with Jos Gibson – a men’s groomer at Vidal Sassoon – describing drivers like Ricciardo as “hair influencers” too.
“That could be a fan pressing ‘like’ on the Aussie driver Daniel Ricciardo’s latest crop, even on the hair product he’s using,” he said. “Thousands of men and teenage boys around the world will copy him.”
The “handsome” Ricciardo is described by author Richard Gray as having “a fashion style as irreverent and playful as his – frankly, bonkers – sense of humour,” while fitness enthusiasts who happen to be admirers of Gasly are urged to “check out his latest big lifts in the gym over on his Instagram Stories.”
However, special attention is paid to 24-year-old Zhou – who became F1’s first ever Chinese driver by joining Alfa Romeo in 2022 – a “Prada fanatic” who recently was announced as the face of Dior Men.
“Our money is on Zhou to be the next big name in F1 fashion,” Gray writes.
Zhou outlined his passion for clothing in a recent Sky Sports F1 feature, in which he was asked if he would have pursued a life in fashion if a career in racing had not materialised.
“Yeah, I [would] actually,” he replied. “The outfits I come to the track on Thursday, it’s not [picked] by any clothes [brand], it’s all just by myself.”
Ricciardo’s fate a warning to fellow drivers to avoid distractions
Let the fate of Ricciardo be a warning to F1’s next generation of the perils of the influencer life.
Ricciardo was the future once too, a supremely gifted driver and accomplished race winner with a personality unlike any other.
Where did it all go wrong?
August 2018, to be exact, when he decided to walk away from one of the few cars capable of winning races to drive a Renault regularly lapped by the leaders.
Released from Red Bull’s tentacles – the company who had overseen his career from an early age – Ricciardo enjoyed his new-found freedom a little too much and soon enough came the launch of his own clothing/alcohol brands and the video game cameo appearances.
A quick skip through his Instagram feed today – go on, do it now – will point to the exact moment when his priorities began to change.
And now look where he is, frustratedly sat on the sidelines as Red Bull’s team mascot having been discarded by McLaren at the end of 2022 after two damaging years in which his lack of focus brutally caught up with him.
It took Hamilton some time to realise it but he eventually understood that if he performed on track and in the car, the rewards – fame, fortune and the rest – would inevitably come his way.
This does not mean that F1 drivers should not live the life and enjoy the perks their status affords, but in the age of social media it has never been more important – yet also more difficult – to avoid distractions and keep the focus on the day job.
Take note, Pierre and – sorry to say – Lando Norris too.