Advertisement

Max Verstappen Is Killing Formula 1

max  checo's homecoming
Max Verstappen Is Killing Formula 1Bob McCaffrey - Getty Images

So, 2024 is shaping up to be the most insipid Formula 1 season ever. Nothing but a series of inevitable victories for Max Verstappen, some half-hearted play acting that second matters, and the nail-biting suspense of the Haas team struggling to score a single point. And yet, somehow, F1 will grow even more popular.

Pity.

Meanwhile, last weekend NASCAR had a wild damned-near three-way dead heat at Atlanta, the World Endurance Championship is insanely and compellingly gonzo, IndyCar has become chaotic fun and even NHRA drag racing seems unpredictable and oddly charming. Practically every big-time racing series is now more competitive and entertaining than ever. But F1? Yawn. So why waste time on F1?

formula 1 testing in bahrain day 1
Clive Mason - Getty Images

Right now, for at least the past two years and going into this one, Formula 1 is as much a transnational lifestyle brand than a race series. High rollers, European models, yachts, celebrities, and soap opera storylines. It’s all about brand marketing to people who’ve never heard the name Juan Manuel Fangio, look to be influenced by Kylie Jenner, and trash glamor. The racing has been, well, meh.

ADVERTISEMENT

Fashion and lifestyle and all that is fine, but the racing must matter too. Competition that’s unpredictable, close and straightforward to follow. It’s not impossible to care about who is battling for seventh, but that’s a fight that is more obscure than one for the lead.

In the fifteenth of 22 races last year, Red Bull finally lost at the Singapore Grand Prix. Britain’s Guardian newspaper asked Verstappen if his team's domination was good for the sport. “I have zero interest in that,” he replied. “We got beaten and in a very clear way. I don’t think about what’s good for Formula 1. I don’t think it was necessarily bad what was happening to Formula 1, because we were just better than everyone else. If people can’t appreciate that, then you are not a real fan.”

f1 grand prix of bahrain qualifying
Mark Thompson - Getty Images

What is a “real fan?” Verstappen and Red Bull’s excellence is wholly amazing. Legends are built on excellence. Tiger Woods won the 2000 Masters by 15 strokes. The 1972 Miami Dolphins went undefeated including their victory in Super Bowl VII. In the history of sanctioned bowling in the United States, only Robert Mushtare has bowled a 900 series (three perfect games in a row) twice. And Mark Donohue drove the Porsche 917/30 to victory in every Can-Am race in which they competed during 1973.

Now Verstappen was born in 1997 and has never lived in a world where F1 wasn’t a thriving circus of money. Many real fans, however, love the sport for many different reasons. Many can recall when teams were operated almost as a hobby by people like Rob Walker, Lord Hesketh or Ken Tyrrell. The ancient fanatics among us can chart their enthusiasm back to when the cars ran on wire wheels wrapped in skinny tires and aerodynamics were handled on a “best guess” basis. We were emotionally invested in F1 even when the only complete coverage came months after each Grand Prix in the pages of Road & Track.