Charlotte Tilbury's beauty brand made Formula 1 history. Now the 'adrenaline junkie' is upending the sport with race-day makeup touchups and lipstick-colored cars



Beauty mogul Charlotte Tilbury is an unlikely evangelist for Formula 1. And yet, the former makeup artist to the stars is a longtime fan who used to watch the circuit with her dad and drive go-karts as a kid. 

Now, she’s one of the sponsors pushing forward Formula 1’s new image of a brand that is youthful, sophisticated, and perhaps most importantly, flush with female fans. 

“There’s something otherworldly about F1,” Tilbury said in a Financial Times interview. “It’s euphoric. It’s exciting. It’s adrenaline. It’s like everyone’s buzzing. It’s kind of chaotic.”

Tilbury’s eponymous cosmetics company, which she founded in 2013 and in which she retains a stake (selling the rest for $1.2 billion), is the first beauty brand and the first female-founded brand to sponsor Formula 1’s all-female division, called Formula 1 Academy. Formula 1’s decision to add Charlotte Tilbury Cosmetics as a brand sponsor is even more bold considering the edginess Tilbury cultivates with products like a perfume called More Sex or a makeup palette dubbed Glowgasm. 

“I love breaking rules, breaking the status quo,” Tilbury said. “The world still isn’t where it should be in terms of supporting women…Just because things have been done a certain way forever, why do they have to be that way? Why can more women not be represented in sport?” 

There are good commercial reasons for Formula 1 to pay close attention to women fans. Approximately 40% of Formula 1’s fans are women, the competition’s chief executive Stefano Domenicali told Reuters in December. That’s a huge increase compared to just a few years ago—in 2017, 8% of fans were women. Under current corporate owner Liberty Media, the holding company belonging to the larger-than-life media investor John Malone, Formula 1 has been reshaping its image beyond just the sponsorship it brings on. It’s investing in new markets—namely the U.S. and Asia—and considering leaving behind those most closely associated with its glamor like Monaco. Formula 1’s popularity has soared across the U.S. ever since a Netflix series called Formula One: Drive to Survive chronicled the lives of several of the sport’s top drivers. All that attention helped push the franchise to a global valuation of $16 billion.  (Charlotte Tilbury Cosmetics and Formula 1 did not respond to a request for comment).

A ‘complete adrenaline junkie’ turned makeup impresario

Sponsors like Tilbury and her beauty brand embody the sport’s push to branch out beyond its core demographic of wealthy Europeans. As part of Tilbury’s sponsorship her beauty brand gets to plaster one of the circuit’s cars with advertisements. So Rodin Motorsports’ car, which can hit top speeds of 165mph, finds itself covered in a pattern of plump, red lips dangling a lipstick tube as if it were a cigarette. In addition to the car decal, the brand also gets to set up a trailer at races for attendees. At the most recent Miami race, Charlotte Tilbury Cosmetics’ trailer offered makeup artists touch-ups to fans whose makeup may have melted in the South Florida sun.  

While the fit between makeup and race car driving may still lead to a few raised eyebrows, Tilbury herself seems like a natural fit for the literally high-octane sport. “I’m a complete adrenaline junkie,” she told The Fast and the Curious podcast in May after the Miami Grand Prix. 

Tilbury’s introduction to the Formula 1 world as a prospective sponsor, rather than a fan, was through longtime executive and former driver Susie Wolff. As the managing director of Formula 1 Academy, Wolff had the unenviable task of finding sponsors for the series’ 15 cars. 

So up stepped Tilbury.  

“There weren’t a lot of female beauty brands clamoring to sponsor them and I’m like, ‘Yes, we are sponsoring these women. We are breaking down boundaries,’” she told the podcast.  

For Wolff, brands like Tilbury are a logical way to both give women a chance and hit her numbers. 
“I don’t want people to think that I’m on a feminist crusade,” Wolff told the Financial Times. “There’s a real business element to it for F1. I believe we can create value for Liberty Media, for the stakeholders.”

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