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  • Writer's pictureEllie Mae

Toni Cowan-Brown on Fandom, 'Fangirls' and Formula 1

An ode to the concept of Fandom, the wonderful book Fangirls by Hannah Ewens, and the sport which brought us together, Formula One; Toni Cowan-Brown (also known as F1Toni) shares her story and explains exactly how these three things have merged together as one to become a huge part of her life.


First introduced to motorsport at a young age by her dad, Toni lived in Brussels, an hour away from one of Formula 1’s most iconic circuits: Spa-Francorchamps. Some of her earliest motorsport memories date back to her childhood, from the sheer noise of the cars to the big names in the paddock.

Having volunteered for a couple of years at the Belgian Grand Prix with some friends, F1 ended up being something that Toni followed, albeit at the back of her mind, whilst growing up. It was only recently when Toni decided to take the plunge into motorsport content creation.

Toni studied Politics and International Relations with a focus on European politics for a total of seven years before working in the European Institutions. She has also worked in the tech space but remained in the politics sphere, working with different political candidates and parties. Toni’s passion for politics and technology led her to the podcasting world; now she hosts both Another Podcast and Unapologetic Women.

“In the content I create, there might be a stronger angle of tech, or a stronger angle on motorsport, but it always combines politics, pop culture and technology,” Toni says. “I fundamentally believe that the most interesting conversations that you can have, and the most worthwhile conversations you can have, sit at the intersection of all these things.

“You can’t have a good, deep, broad conversation about Formula 1 and not understand where we are racing, international relations and the role of pop culture or technology.”

The beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020 left Toni with a forced sabbatical on her hands after having to put her new job on hold. With the uncertainty looming around the pandemic, she was unsure how the role would pan out. This was at the same time of the rise of the content economy and TikTok. As Toni puts it, although in a weird way, it was a perfect storm.

“I was consuming a lot of TikTok at the time and I thought I’d give it a try,” she says. “I’d never created content with my face attached to it.”

After receiving a handful of questions from friends about F1, Toni created what essentially became a 54-page guide about the sport. Some of these questions actually prompted Toni’s first TikTok videos.

“This sport is really complex,” Toni says. “With every video I put out there, I got anywhere between 20 and potentially 100 new questions to answer.

“It was an endless pool of Q&A’s, which I absolutely loved.”

Not only was Toni beginning her content creation journey in Formula 1 at this point, but so were many others. She believes that content creation is one of the huge things that F1 missed, with new fans or fans getting back into the sport because of Drive to Survive heading to the F1 website, which treats fans as if they’ve been around for 70 years.

Formula 1 content creators have essentially provided the cheat sheet for those fans, bringing people closer to the sport they’ve either just discovered or reignited their love for.

“The thing I find most exciting about the creator economy right now is that a lot of the content creators are building this type of content for necessity, but they’re creating content that they were missing and that they wanted,” Toni says. “We’ve got such a good, broad diversity of content right now that we’ve never had before which is exciting.”

“I just found the perfect niche for myself and again, that’s why I get excited about content creators.”

A huge part of Toni’s TikTok journey so far has been the discovery of her page and content by the iconic Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team. She began working with the team at the start of 2022 on projects from the car launches to content capturing and content creation at both the Miami and Austin races.

Another hugely iconic project Toni has worked on with Aston Martin is Sebastian Vettel’s Fireside Chat, held in Austin across the 2022 US Grand Prix weekend.

“It was incredible and I am very fortunate to have spoken to him at a time in his career where he is unapologetic and very open, wants to share, knows what he stands for,” she says. “The main reason I enjoy talking to him is that he embodies the work in progress story arc of how he wasn’t always the person he is today and doesn’t pretend he is.

“Seb is very open about how he has gone on a discovery journey and he’s learnt and become a better person.”


According to Oxford Languages, Fandom is quite simply defined as ‘the state or condition of being a fan of someone or something’.

With fandom and participatory culture being a huge part of academic work and a variety of studies, every fan will relate to the concept in a different way. To me, fandom is what you make of it; you participate and perform fandom in whatever way suits you. To Toni, fandom has always been quite different.

Being brought up mostly by a single dad put Toni on an interesting journey whilst growing up. She was educated in the only way her dad knew how to, which was how he would approach things. Neither him nor Toni herself could guess how society would take that – for her to show up, speak her mind and have a place at the table.

Toni believes that this impacted how she experienced fandom. She highlights that for her father and potentially other single dads, it can be very confusing to fully understand how a young woman is growing up, expressing her love and interest, for anything. Whether it be sport, music or something else, Toni’s upbringing meant that she was encouraged not to express her love for an important part of her life.

“I never experienced fandom; I never felt like this was something that was an option for me,” she says. “It’s definitely something that I pushed back a lot.”

However, there are many people who highlight that being part of a specific fandom – being a fangirl – is part of their personality. I am one of these people.

Toni believes that this is why she has found fandoms so incredibly powerful and has been so curious about the impact of fandom and the impact of fans.

For the many people like me – who has experienced fandom and being a fangirl in some way throughout their entire life – it is unclear whether their exposure to the concept of fandom or women being a fangirl is a cultural thing, and upbringing thing or a generational thing.

When it comes to fandom and being a fangirl, there are two sides; there’s the people like Toni who have a bit of fandom in their life and they have suppressed not only using the word but identifying as part of a fandom, and there’s the people like me, who might’ve dedicated a page to someone or travelled to see a musician or a sports event.

For me, it was always music; my young years consisted of going to a variety of concerts, and when I was old enough, I began to travel for different music events. That was a huge part of my fandom, of being a fangirl.

“I know that for everyone like you, who was a proud fangirl, there is someone like me, who struggled with the connotation, the word and the association for a myriad of different reasons,” Toni says. “I love this because I really do think that for everyone who has your belief, your upbringing, your experience and community, there’s someone like me who is still struggling.”

In Formula 1, fandom is rising. Simultaneously, the content creator economy in F1 is rising. These two things essentially come hand in hand, with new fans taking to social media channels to produce the content they are missing or that they are interested in.

“The pandemic, the rise of esports, of the content creator economy and of TikTok all came together incredibly nicely,” Toni says. “There’s definitely a role that content creators have played in continuing that spark.

“Content creators have played an important role in the shifting dynamic of the sport.”

So, it all comes together nicely; new fans are discovering Formula 1 and forming a brand-new passion, then they move to TikTok or Instagram to create the content they want to see or want to be part of. Here, we are essentially seeing how F1 fans are performing fandom.

Many of the female content creators in the space are also breaking the misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding the notion of being a fangirl.

It was the publication Fangirls by Hannah Ewens which inspired Toni to take her brand one step further. Fangirls explores the Harry Styles fandom amongst others and how young women have performed fandom across recent years whilst the book Wordslut by Amanda Montell discusses taking back the feminist lingo and how words over time have been used to ridicule and shame women, as well as the power of vocabulary.

“I looked at those titles and was intrigued,” Toni says. “With Fangirls, I had a knee jerk reaction to that word; I don’t want to ever be associated with that. I’m not comfortable with that word, it brings up all these negative connotations.

“I read the book and was like, ‘oh wow, all of these negative connotations come from society’; it never started as a negative term. It became a negative term.”

Toni’s TikTok video, The Ode to the Sunday Fangirl, was one of her first real deeply opinionated pieces of content. That TikTok was truly about saying, as a society, we have got to do better and have to respect the people who create the relevancy for sports or for music, or for any other fandom.

Toni believes it’s the young women who have stood up and who have questioned Formula 1, who have asked it to do better as a sport and who have asked the FIA to do better. Not only that, but they are the ones buying the merchandise, buying the tickets and organising events across race weekends.

“For me, 2022 has been F1, the FIA, teams and drivers celebrating the new young, female demographic but not actually celebrating them,” she says. “Nobody has turned around and commented on how these young women are epic.

“They’ve created relevancy for the sport, they’re buying the products and creating all of this buzz.”

This was how Sunday Fangirls started. Staring at Hannah Ewens’ book and with F1 races always happening on a Sunday, Toni’s new project was born.

“I never bought any merch because it’s not my style, it’s not what I want,” she says. “I remember zapping Sunday Fangirls on a cap and having it delivered, and it wasn’t too bad.

“I was wearing it and getting a lot of messages afterwards and then I was realising that actually, merchandise could be my way of starting these conversations.”

Toni gives kudos to Sarah Levenson, co-founder of Grid Clique, who, in Miami, had the cap and was asking drivers to sign it. Toni looked at this from a distance and quickly realised how powerful this was.

“I thought, ‘holy shit, she is doing something incredibly powerful by putting this word, which still carries such a negative connotation, in front of all these drivers, with a big smile and asking them to sign it’,” Toni says. “It prompted some of the drivers to ask her more about it. And I later realised, so many other Fangirls were doing the same and proudly wearing the cap - as one woman put it, “it has become our bat signal”.

Image credit: Sarah Levenson

Toni wants the Sunday Fangirls movement – and in turn, the merchandise – to carry a purpose, and if that purpose is asking about the word fangirl, then that’s what she will run with.

“I still haven’t quite figured out what I want the Sunday Fangirls movement to be,” Toni says. “But, for now, it’s definitely a cultural platform for us to have these conversations and for us to kickstart these hard but necessary conversations.”


To keep up with Toni’s content and adventures, you can follow her on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Twitch.

Image credit: Toni Cowan-Brown


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