F1 racing: silver is the new gold

by , | Mar 27, 2024 | Culture, Opinions | 1 comment

The race for second place

On March 2nd, it was “lights out and away we go” for the first race of the 2024 season in Formula 1. From the jump, it was clear that a repeat of the 2023 season was in store, with Max Verstappen pulling ahead from his pole position. As he pulled further and further ahead, fans prepared themselves for another season of Red Bull Racing dominance. In 2023, Verstappen secured first place in 19/22 races held, with only one of those losses being won by a team other than Red Bull Racing. So far, this year, only two races in, Verstappen has taken first in both, with his teammate Sergio Perez following (not so) close behind in second. The gap has gotten so concerning — with the Bahrain Grand Prix having a gap of 22.457 seconds between first and second place — that fans have begun to joke about completely disregarding Verstappen altogether. Whether that be through covering up first place with a sticky note or cropping the screen, the audience seems to have accepted that the highest podium position has Verstappen’s name engraved on it. Is his emerging dominance altering fans’ perception of the sport? And will it hinder new arrivals from continuing to tune in to Formula 1?

The Rookie: Avery Chilton

Entering the Formula 1 domain less than two weeks ago has been a whirlwind of catching up. I have binged four seasons of Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive To Survive, and my goal is to steamroll the last two before the 2024 Australian Grand Prix. I find myself completely immersed in the high-stakes game of motorsports, captivated by the races and the side of drama off the track. The show is produced by Netflix, so I have been trying to do my own fact-checks involving specific racers and the dramatics of it all.

One name that has consistently dominated my screen in more recent seasons is Max Verstappen. Witnessing his incline to the top podium so quickly has been truly incredible, but at the same time, I feel desensitized from seeing it all in such a short time instead of patiently waiting for the race weekend. From his rookie races to his current evolution into a formidable force in Formula 1, Verstappen’s pace is a true testament to his sheer determination and talent. 

Equally fascinating to me is the revolving door of teammates that Red Bull Racing has cycled through to match with Verstappen since his entrance to F1, currently landing on Sergio Perez. It’s clear that he was going to be their star from a young age, and watching him remain consistent in placement despite the ever-changing dynamic within the team definitely displays his adaptability and pure hunger for that top slot. Whether the seasoned veteran in the twin Red Bull Racing car or the fresh-faced newcomer, Verstappen remains in higher ranks.

Catching up to real-time events with the 2024 season revving up, I’m anticipating each race eagerly to see if a new name will replace the comfortable Verstappen on the first-place podium— even for just a single race. I believe that while fresh, my rookie perspective, having the years of seasons consumed within a much shorter time frame, helps me to discuss the downsides of the current first-place reign. From what I have seen online, viewers typically use (current) Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton’s reign to defend Verstappen from the current controversy surrounding his unbelievable lead; I both accept and deny that claim. 

Having binged the 2018 – 2021 seasons, I can easily recall the differences between the two racers’ surpremacies. Compared to Verstappen’s, Hamilton’s reign differs in that competing drivers were still obtaining first place. While Hamilton has many victories under his belt per season, the gap was less significant on average, and the races were less predictable than they appear to be in current times. Red Bull Racing has found the secret formula for constructing a winning car, with Verstappen and Perez claiming a one-two on the podium in both races this season. While it is expected to have seasons dominated by specific teams depending on their car’s structure, what isn’t as normal is to have, as previously mentioned, a 22.457-second gap between you and your teammate with the exact same vehicle. Also, from the second the lights go out, Verstappen has pulled away from the cluster and is frankly out of sight until the last car crosses the line. Still, with the season having just begun, it is hard to say how the drivers will continue to place, but if I was a betting woman, I would put my money on Verstappen for sure. 

As I prepare myself for diving into the remaining two seasons of Drive To Survive, I do so knowing that Verstappen will only continue to dominate the track. I understand how veteran fans are growing tired of the repetition. However, I don’t see that deterring me from the sport, especially after becoming so invested in my personal favourites: Alex Albon, racer for Williams (don’t focus on the team…please), and Lando Norris, racer for McLaren. Due to these two typically finding themselves in midfield, Verstappen’s reign doesn’t typically alter their placings. We may only be two races into the season, but I will continue to be delusional with hopes of  McLaren holding a top three position in the constructor’s championship, with Norris and his teammate Oscar Piastri climbing up the grid. I am just getting the wheels turning on my interest in racing, and while first place will most likely remain constant throughout 2024, I want to be there for when that streak is broken (hopefully by one of my picks!) 

The Vet: Nour Ihsene Salhi 

Dominance is nothing new in the world of Formula 1. There’s been the Schumacher era, the Hamilton era (my favourite), and now, the Verstappen era. That’s why I don’t believe that long-term fans of the sport will be deterred from watching. We’re used to this and, more importantly, we love it. Yet the difference between them, as Avery stated, is the gap between first and the rest of the grid. While there were certainly times when the championship leaders would gain a large gap, it never happened as consistently as it is now. Red Bull’s sudden dominance in this new era of car regulations raises the question: what have they figured out that the rest of the grid hasn’t? 

Despite a strong driver lineup consisting of seasoned champion Lewis Hamilton and their young talent, George Russell, Mercedes has been struggling to put out a competitive car since the new regulations and cost cap. Ferrari, also with a strong driver duo, came close to competing with Red Bull back in 2022, yet their struggle with strategy led them to give Verstappen a clear path to first. This hasn’t hindered our delusion as dedicated tifosi. With Ferrari drivers placing on the podium during the first two races of the 2024 season, we hope that once their braking issues are fixed, Verstappen’s road to first won’t be so easy. 

I’m a Hamilton fan through and through, but despite that, I cannot find it in me to hate Verstappen for his well-deserved wins (except Abu Dhabi 2021 – don’t even get me started on that one). Vets know dominance in this sport all too well. We can only hope that the other teams begin to catch up because at the end of the day it’s not so much Verstappen’s first-place podiums that are bothering us, but the lack of action during the race. Through past eras of dominance, there was still an element of suspense and uncertainty. It’s why fans are even discussing covering up first place, to bring back the drama and edge-of-your-seat feeling of seeing risky overtakes and intense battles for positions. Despite how it ended, 2021 was one of the most exciting seasons I’ve ever watched. Likely because, for once, we weren’t sure if Hamilton would win. Each race weekend brought the question, who will be first this time? We’re not asking that question anymore. 

No matter how talented a driver is, it’s the car and everything behind the scenes that can make or break their results. Some have attributed Red Bull’s sudden success to their strategist, Hannah Schmitz, or their chief technology officer, Adrian Newey. Not to say that other teams do not have talented strategists, mechanics, and engineers, but somehow Red Bull has used the new regulations in a way no other team has. Some around the grid (i.e. drivers, team principals, and even engineers) have been demanding another revision of the rules to even out the playing field. The FIA could technically do so, and since they’ve established that their priority is to put on a good show, it would be in their best interest to create more battles for that beloved first place. However, their ties to Red Bull, specifically their team principal, Christian Horner, may complicate the matter. We already saw how easily they let Red Bull get away with breaching the cost cap in 2022. So, how long will they allow this gap to exist on the grid? Or will they watch alongside us fans to see if other teams manage the impossible?

Interestingly, the gap also exists between the Red Bull teammates. Theoretically, considering their equal machinery, Perez should be further ahead than he is. While he is still consistently placing on the podium, he remains a part of the race as Verstappen drives out of view. With his contract coming to an end in 2024, fans are wondering whether it’ll be renewed or if Red Bull will be going with the other talents that will be up for grabs this year, as many drivers’ contracts also come to an end. There is also the question of if they’ll go with a rookie instead of someone already in the paddock. The last time they placed their bets on one, they got Max Verstappen. Could Red Bull be trying to find their next champion? 

Whatever the answer may be, fans, new and old, are hoping for some more variety as this season continues — drivers too. Charles Leclerc, one of the drivers for Ferrari, called the Saudi Arabian GP “a bit of a boring race,” and most viewers agreed. However, his optimism for team growth and car development as the season goes on did bring the tifosi, and honestly all F1 fans, something to look forward to. But just in case, I’ll keep my post-its ready.


Photo by Nour Ihsene Salhi

Nour Ihsene Salhi

The Griff

1 Comment

  1. amanda e

    suddenly i am invested in F1

    Reply

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