F1: The IP formula for success

5th Jul 2024

The role of Formula One drivers as brand ambassadors is not new, but the concept of the driver themselves as the brand is growing. 


With drivers employing their own private social media managers and the increasing expectation of fan engagement, the value of a driver’s image outside of the cockpit is more important than ever.

Drivers who are active online and who advocate for social causes tend to build a stronger following than their teammates who are focused solely on race week. 

The popularity of Formula One has visibly grown over the past decade, thanks in part to the widely-appealing Netflix documentary Drive To Survive, which has also helped to push the current pack of drivers into the public eye and to a wider following.

A review of the trade mark registers shows that it is the British drivers Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris who hold the most trade mark registration.

Hamilton and Norris serve as examples of how the modern motorsport celebrity can leverage success in their field into a lucrative branding strategy. 

We take a closer look at the trade mark protection strategy of these two drivers - comparing the established competitor with a relative newcomer is revealing.   

HAMILTON – #8 in the Drivers’ Standings

Sir Lewis Hamilton is a seven-time world champion in Formula One and has been competing for podiums since 2007. 

lewis hamilton.jpg

Driving for Mercedes since 2013, Hamilton is reported to be the Formula One driver with the highest net worth and one of the highest-paid athletes of the last decade. 

Hamilton is also on pole position on Instagram when comparing F1 drivers; he has 37 million followers, over 20 million more than his front row rival and closest contender, Charles Leclerc.

Hamilton referenced his driver number 44 in his branding, launching the +44 clothing line, sold through Hamilton’s personal store and the Mercedes team shop. 

Hamilton has also registered his official driver logo as a trade mark, in addition to his name and his signature. The slogan STILL I RISE, prominently tattooed across his back, is another registration he has secured.

The 44 themed branding was extended to Team X44, a electric off-road racing team founded by Hamilton in 2020 and clinching both driver and constructor titles in the 2022 Extreme E Championship, pipping former teammate, Nico Rosberg’s team.

Sir Lewis collaborates with established fashion brands.  He is notorious for attending race days in high fashion brands, including Prada and Dior, and has been spotted at fashion shows for Balenciaga and designers in New York Fashion Week. 

He has grabbed headlines by hosting a table of Black designers at the Met Gala.  His collaborations collections include TOMMYXLEWIS with Tommy Hilfiger and a luxury watches with IWC.

In 2023, on par with Lebron James and Harry Kane, Hamilton bagged his own skin pack in Fortnite. Hamilton is accompanied in the game by his Instagram 1 million+ followed dog, Roscoe.

In spite of all his success, both on the track and as a brand ambassador, Hamilton’s fame among non-motorsports fans has been scrutinised. 

In late 2023, the European Union Intellectual Property Office’s (EUIPO) Board of Appeal published a decision assessing the level of Hamilton’s reputation in Europe.

They found that there is no doubt he is “a famous and notoriously known person in the United Kingdom” but members of the public in EU countries Bulgaria or Croatia were not likely to recognise his name, citing Leo Messi’s 17 times higher follower count on Facebook as an example of what’s expected of an “extremely famous sportsman” – perhaps an indication of the relative popularity of their sports.

In February, Hamilton shocked Formula One fans with the announcement that he would join Ferrari for the 2025 season, bringing an end to his 11 year run with Mercedes. 

As he enters the later years of his career and other drivers begin collecting more championships, it will be interesting to see the continued value of the Hamilton brands.  

NORRIS –  #2 in the Drivers’ Standings

When Lando Norris debuted an a reserve driver in 2018 for Hamilton’s former team McLaren, Sir Lewis had already won four driver world championships and claimed a global portfolio of over 60 trade mark registrations.

Lando norris.jpg

However, before the end of the debut year, Norris had already filed over 70 trade mark applications. 

Trade mark databases indicate that Norris has secured more active trade mark filings than any other F1 driver. 

Norris has joined other top athletes in protecting his name, official logo, and signature. He was also quick to protect LN4 and L4NDO, incorporating his initials / name and driver number. 

This portfolio of trade mark registrations has supported his role as a brand ambassador and assisted his own commercial ventures.

Norris has engaged in the traditional branding exercises expected of F1 drivers, including acting as the front man for McLaren’s partnerships with Coca-Cola and Hilton Hotels. 

Norris’ more casual persona, awareness of online culture, and younger fanbase has also allowed him to take advantage of more unusual branding opportunities. 

After claiming his first F1 win in Miami in May 2024, he immediately launched a limited edition run of “NO WINS” hoodies, where the NO is deliberately struck through, inverting a long-running social media meme bemoaning his to-date lack of wins.

That apparel was released with an autographed “WE DID IT” t-shirt.

Norris is also prominent in the gaming space, more so than other Formula One drivers.  His video-game streaming Twitch channel, active since 2018, has amassed over 1.5 million followers and almost 22 million total views.

While Norris has streamed motorsports games, including iRacing and official F1 games, and invited other drivers on to his streams, such as George Russell and Alex Albon, he also founded esports Team Quadrant in 2020. 

This includes FNG, a popular Youtuber who produces content for FIFA, and Fifakill, a competitive Call of Duty steamer. 

Team Quadrant, in addition to selling apparel and sponsoring teams in Halo and Rocket League, has its own YouTube channel with over 160 million views.  The Team, fronted by Norris, has collaborated with the likes of the Sidemen, an immensely popular British YouTube group.

While he can’t yet claim the same degree of on-track recognition as Hamilton, Verstappen or Schumacher, Lando Norris’ rapidly-developing public persona makes him a strong contender for the public vote.

From clothing lines to major brand partnerships, it’s clear that an F1 career opens the door to myriad other career opportunities – but it’s not just celebrities who should protect their IP. To take the first step in protecting your ideas, contact a Chartered Trade Mark Attorney.