What a season it's been in Formula 1

Thanks to one of the closest title battles in a decade and increased interest in Netflix, Formula 1 will close a classic season on Sunda...


Thanks to one of the closest title battles in a decade and increased interest in Netflix, Formula 1 will close a classic season on Sunday that has wowed fans old and new.

After years of domination by the Englishman Lewis Hamilton, who won six of the last seven driver’s titles with his Mercedes squad, this season has offered a sign of what the future of Formula 1 might look like as a new challenger emerges.

Max Verstappen of the Netherlands has long been considered Hamilton’s eventual successor. Since becoming the sport’s youngest driver at 17 in 2015 and its youngest race winner a year later, Verstappen, now 24, seemed destined for greatness.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team started the season with a car capable of challenging Mercedes, and the two teams have remained tied throughout the year. Verstappen was no longer the underdog and had a real shot at winning the title, leading to a one-season battle with Hamilton.

Hamilton and Verstappen are considered the defining drivers of their generation, but they are at very different stages in their careers. Hamilton, 36, is aiming for a record-breaking eighth world championship; Verstappen has never even contested a Formula 1 title before.

“He’s a youngster against the established world champion, and I think it’s very exciting,” said Verstappen. “We are still trying to fight, of course. But it’s been a really cool season.

Hamilton said he was “more relaxed than I’ve ever been” during the title fight because of his experience, but noted that Verstappen’s challenge helped his game.

“You’re always trying to level up, trying to improve yourself,” Hamilton said. “There are a lot of areas where you can do that. When you’re in a title fight like this, you’re pushing as hard as you can, even more in areas you haven’t in the past.

It was the closest championship battle between the drivers of rival teams since 2012, when Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel beat Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso by three points, causing tensions this year on and off the track. A wheel-to-wheel brawl between Hamilton and Verstappen in the closing laps of the opening race in Bahrain set the tone for the season.

The first one track battles between Hamilton and Verstappen was tough but fair, but as the competition grew fiercer, an accident seemed inevitable. It happened on the first round of the British Grand Prix in July, when high speed contact crashed Verstappen into the barrier with 51G force, prompting a precautionary visit to the hospital.

It wouldn’t be the only time Hamilton and Verstappen crash together this year. In Italy, Verstappen’s car found itself ahead of Hamilton’s after a fight for position, forcing both drivers out of the race. Later in the year, Verstappen drew criticism in Brazil for his aggressive defensive moves to keep Hamilton behind without success in the lead fight.

This has fueled tensions throughout the season between Mercedes and Red Bull. Led by their respective team leaders, Toto Wolff and Christian Horner, they traded verbal blows, and at times asked officials to investigate controversial incidents.

“It’s the first time they’ve been challenged,” Horner said of Mercedes. “It’s interesting how people react when they’re under pressure. It is by far the most intense political title fight we have been involved in in our time in sport.

Wolff said the fighting was on every level: political (like questioning everyone’s wing design, leading to tighter engineering controls), athletic and technical (making improvements to their cars). “I think whoever wins this championship at the end of the year deserves the victory because it was at a very high level.”

The drama of championship track combat and off track combat was perfect material for “Formula 1: Drive to survive”, the Netflix docuseries, which will show the battle in its fourth season next year.

Since acquiring Formula 1 in 2017, Liberty Media Corporation has clearly expressed its ambition to make the sport more accessible to young fans and to expand its reach into new markets, with a particular focus on the United States. This year suggested he had succeeded on both counts, in part because of the impact of the Netflix series.

A survey led by Formula 1, Motorsport Network and Nielsen revealed in October that fans are indeed getting younger. The average age has fallen to 32 from 36 since the last survey in 2017, while the number of female fans has almost doubled, reflecting a more diverse audience.

“’Drive to Survive’ had a big impact, mainly on those who weren’t really avid Formula 1 fans,” said Stefano Domenicali, Formula 1 general manager. “They saw different stories within the sport.”

“I think that the diversity and the rejuvenation of the public will allow us to enrich [Formula 1] in terms of being able to capture the attention of more people, ”he said.

“This is something that we have seen [happen with] the effect of having the right language, the right narrative and the right tools that are closer to how the younger generation works and behaves.

Zak Brown, chief executive of McLaren Racing, said the Netflix series has “driven a much larger and younger fan base” and “really made an impact in America.”

“He does what we as a sport would like him to do, which is to attract new fans,” he said. “I think it has been a huge success.”

The impact of “Drive to Survive” was no clearer than when 400,000 fans attended the United States Grand Prix weekend in Austin, Texas in October, the only Formula 1 race in the country. . It wasn’t just a record for this race, but Liberty reported in its third quarter results in November that it was a record for all the Grands Prix the sport has staged in its 71 years. of history. The race was hailed as a breakthrough for Formula 1 in the United States.

Red Bull’s Horner said he believes Formula 1 made a “big statement” with the crowd in Austin. “I think we have to thank Netflix, but without great content then it’s not a good show,” he said. “The race really delivered. The fans are really interested in what Formula 1 could offer.

Netflix helped make Formula 1 the mainstream America. After Austin’s race, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo was invited to be a guest on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”. He said DeGeneres got interested in Formula 1 via “Drive to Survive”.

“She showed real interest and understanding,” said Ricciardo.

“We talked a bit later, and she’s all on board. She might have some free time in the near future and hopefully take part in a race at some point.

The heightened American interest has advanced discussions of the expansion of Formula 1 in the United States. A second American race is already scheduled in Miami next year. Las Vegas has also expressed interest in organizing a Grand Prix, with part of the race taking place on its Strip.

“The market could definitely handle a third race,” said Brown. “It’s very complicated to organize these races, but the obvious wish list: New York would be great, Las Vegas would be great, any of the major markets. I hope that a third race will take place.

Hamilton felt the tight title fight with Verstappen was a good time for Formula 1.

“With the growth of what has happened through Netflix, I think it’s been amazing,” Hamilton said.

“We have new people coming in, and now is a great time for people to come and get into the sport, because it’s one of the most exciting times the sport has seen in a long time.”

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