The thrilling nature of the 2021 Formula One season cemented many new fans from Netflix “Drive to Survive” into avid followers of the sport. A last lap race and championship decider had not been seen since Hamilton battled Massa for his first title in Brazil back in 2008.
Where Michael Massi the race director bent the rules or Mercedes made a huge strategic error by not pitting Hamilton for fresh tyres will be debated into the distant future. Yet the 2021 season had it all. Hamilton had to win the remaining four races to guarantee his eight title and almost made it but Red Bull finally overcame a seven year dominance by Mercedes.
RB19 and Max run away with it
This year is quite different with Hamilton’s Mercedes nowhere and whilst Aston Martin have lept up the performance ladder, its only really Fernando Alonso who has kept the Silverstone based teams hopes of a shock second place in the constructors championship alive.
By their own standards, Ferrari have been woeful with a car that is up and down from circuit to circuit and Alpine have been a disaster after their P4 last year, sacking numerous senior figures within the organisation.
The one bright hope on the horizon is the renaissance happening at McLaren. Since their big md season upgrade McLaren have been better than both Ferrari and Mercedes but unlike Aston Martin, both their drivers are neck and neck.
Of course Verstappen is running away with the championship now 125 points ahead of his team mate in P2 and Red Bull are smashing all kinds of F1 records held for decades.
By the measure of consecutive races won, the RB19 stands alone beating the record held since 1988 of Mclaren’s MP4/4 which claimed 11 consecutive victories.
Wolff complains about lack of excitement
It could be by the end of the year this Adrian Newey design wonder car wins all the races and sets another piece of F1 folklore held by McLaren who won all but one in 1988.
Max’s dominance has been described in certain quarters as boring and last time out in Belgium lewis Hamilton mocked the efforts of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez predicting if he was driving the Mexican’s car, “things would be very different for Max.”
Toto Wolff echoed this sentiment by suggesting, “I don’t know whether our dominance was similar or less [to Red Bull’s now] as I think we had years where we did it in the same way, but at least we had two cars that were fighting each other.
Yet if you eliminate Max from the equation, the racing between the rest of the front running drivers has been anything but predictable.
Alonso explains F1 history
Perez looked as though he would take the challenge to his team mate after winning two of the first four races – then he fell away.
Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin were ‘best of the rest’ for a while, though the McLaren duo now look to be ahead of their Mercedes, Ferrari and Aston Martin rivals.
The driver with the most F1 experience on the grid explains
“This is Formula 1 so it has always been like this [single-team domination]. It had been years of [Lewis] Hamilton and [Valtteri] Bottas first and second. In the past, [Sebastian] Vettel and [Mark] Webber.
Behind Verstappen its very close
“If you have the fastest car, you can start a little bit behind and you’re maybe still making some moves and overtaking and if you are in any other car, we are all within one tenth or whatever, so wherever you qualify you’re still more or less secure in that position and there are not many overtaking moves after lap two or lap three.”
There have been numerous shocks in qualifying this year where top drivers and cars fail to make it into Q2 as Fernando indicates.
“If you remove the Red Bulls sometimes within six tenths you go from P3 to P16 in Q1. Then eventually you finish qualifying in the order that you deserve.
The Spanish double champion then refers to the fact that some of the races have been a little processional and with less overtaking.
Has Liberty taken a hit?
“And then in the race, how would you overtake if you are just half a tenth quicker? It’s more or less your natural order. I think that’s the main reason.”
The big question which matters more than anything else to Liberty Media who own the commercial rights to the sport is has Red Bull and Verstappen’s dominance turned off Formula One’s audience?
Bernie Ecclestone who ran the sport for almost two decades was desperate to “crack America” knowing full well the might of the corporate sponsorship which would then be unleashed.
Yet with the advent of the Netflix drive to survive series, the US public has taken to the ‘back stories’ of the F1 characters in the paddock which has in turn translated into bums on seats whether at the circuit or on TV.
Liberty’s CEO Greg Maffei reported to investors this week that F1 has seen “particularly solid growth” in the US this year.
“Viewership on ESPN is up on season to date versus the 2022 average viewership with strong F1 TV performance as well,” he said which may be a shock to those who think Verstappen’s dominance is a turn off.
“The 2023 season has already seen three of the four largest live audiences in F1 history on US TV, including Miami, Monaco and the Canadian GPs. All but two of our races have averaged more than one million viewers. Huge numbers for the US market.”
However, its not just the TV audiences that are growing in demand as ticket sales for Miami and Austin Texas have been particularly strong.
Most F1 races sell out
Las Vegas is the exception. A combination of sky high prices and maybe a “let’s wait and see” mentality has seen F1 struggle to sell out the event in Sin City.
Meffei believes the continued development of the F1 weekend format has contributed to the growth in 2023.
“We continue to have sell-outs at almost all races,” they said. “The sprint weekends are driving year-over-year growth in viewership. For example, the Spa total audience across race, sprint shoot-out and qualifying was up versus the Belgian GP last year.”
American fans here to stay
The October race in Texas will be a Sprint weekend format before F1 moves on eventually to its debut Saturday night race in Las Vegas, the penultimate event of the 2023 season.
Many European F1 pundits have taken the view that F1 in America is here today and gone tomorrow sue to the alleged fickleness of the US public.
Yet many Us sports fans support teams for life who rarely win the glittering awards, however their passion is strong and they return year on year.
Drive to survive has offered up a smorgasbord of personalities which the Us F1 fans have bought into and so its little surprise that the audience is growing despite Verstappen’s almost complete dominance on the race track.
Have you recovered yet, @ZhouGuanyu24?! 😄
— Formula 1 (@F1) August 12, 2023