Verstappen Will Reign Again: But Competition Is Key for Casual F1 Fans

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 09: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB20 arrives on the grid prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Canada at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 09, 2024 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202406091146 // Usage for editorial use only //
MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 09: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB20 arrives on the grid prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Canada at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 09, 2024 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202406091146 // Usage for editorial use only //

After a pulsating Canadian Grand Prix, there was clearly a sense of what might have been for anyone following the title race. Ferrari’s shock exit in Q2 and the issues with the safety car that scuppered Mercedes’ chances of victory meant that Max Verstappen was able to tighten his grip on the World Championship. Indeed, three out of the four drivers ranked 2nd to 5th in the Drivers’ Standings failed to complete the race – a gift for the reigning champion and his Red Bull team. Events in Canada probably ended any doubt over the outcome of the 2024 World Championship.

As it stands, then, Verstappen has a 56-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship. He’s not been as dominant as he was at the same juncture last season. Indeed, if Verstappen stays on the same trajectory, he will finish the season with around 466 points, which would be more than 100 fewer than last season. It’s still enough to secure yet another Drivers’ Championship, and he is the red-hot favorite in the F1 betting to do just that. However, there is enough vulnerability between Verstappen and Red Bull to make the season more competitive, and that’s just the ticket for engaging casual fans.

F1 has lacked championship battles in recent years

When framing the season as a championship, F1 has been in a strange position for a number of years. With a couple of exceptions – Verstappen pipping Hamilton in 2021 and Nico Rosberg snatching it from Hamilton in 2016 – the season has turned into something of a procession for the eventual champion. We knew Verstappen was going to win after a half dozen last season, and it was more or less true the season before that. It leads to the situation where F1 effectively exists as a collection of individual races, not a championship.

None of the above is meant to sound like a criticism. Moreover, there are positives to it. F1 fans want to see excellence beget excellence. Nobody ever got bored of seeing Usain Bolt dominate at the Olympics, so it’s the nature of sport to wish to see the best be, well, the best. Yet, it is competition that drives engagement among the casual fans. It’s what gets people talking on social media, and it is what pushes F1 to prominent positions in sports newspapers.

The important thing for F1 is we are seeing some of that competitiveness return in 2024. We have had more individual Grand Prix winners (4) in 9 races than we had in the entirety of last season (3). Perhaps more importantly, there is a sense that some teams and drivers will get better as the season progresses. This is most evident with Mercedes. After a torrid couple of seasons, the improvement is plain to see, and the team went agonizingly close to what would have been a first win since 2022 (Sao Paolo Grand Prix) in Canada.

Mercedes showing signs of improvement

None of this means we will have a competitive title race. As mentioned, it would take a shock of almost unprecedented proportions to see Verstappen loosen his grip on a 4th consecutive World Championship. But it could become closer than most predicted at the start of the season, and there is also the question of the Constructors’ Championship. Red Bull are favorites, of course, but it does not seem as cut and dry as the Drivers’ Championship. Had things gone better for Ferrari in Canada, the Constructors’ Championship could have been neck and neck.

Of course, things didn’t go well at all for Ferrari, so it is pointless to talk about hypotheticals. Yet, it is this potential for more varied Grand Prix winners – more drama, if you will – that gets the sport noticed. Having one driver and one team dominating is not detrimental to the sport of F1, or to any sport for that matter, but the casual fan craves the narrative that only competition can bring. From what we have seen so far in 2024, that could continue to evolve for the remainder of this season and beyond.

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