The greatest spectacle - Wheel Sports

The greatest spectacle

This post was contributed by Rob Beltman, who has an incredibly insightful eye for racing matters.

Coming off the back of a legendary qualifying in Monaco, we saw an entertaining race with different tire strategies in play, which were seriously spiced up by the risk and eventual arrival of some rain. So it was quite a lot more exciting than the general no-overtake borefest that Monaco can be. The talks of making F1 more exciting may actually not be front-and-center this week, as many media applaud the drivers for their heart-in-mouth performances under pressure. But after all is said and done, the outcome was still quite predictable. Let’s just say you won’t have won much at the various betting platforms by putting your money on Verstappen P1 and Alonso P2. 


Actually, talks about any serious challenge to a third consecutive WDC-bid by Verstappen have already deafened significantly. We still have 16 races to go, but hardly anybody can see anyone else laying claim to the title, especially after the shocker Max’ teammate had in the famous principality. The Mexican, often heralded as ‘King of the Streets’, got a sound beating in Miami after he got pole and his teammate started down the order, only to pass him with ease for the win. Checo dealt with any pressure and expectation on his shoulders for another street circuit in the worst of ways: binning it at almost the very first chance he got and getting lapped twice in Sunday’s race. Max, being as flawless as he’s been over the past seasons, has one hand on the trophy, for sure. Should this make F1 nervous about becoming boring?

As I was watching the Indianapolis 500 straight after the Monaco Grand Prix, I found the contrast quite interesting. IndyCar is such a different proposition. It has speed and very close racing, with huge unpredictability over the course of some 800 km of driving. There even was a last lap shoot-out! Granted, I still tend to check out the start and the final 30 laps, for risk of dosing off. Somehow I can’t bring myself to watching all of the 200 laps around an oval with the same intensity as I watch an F1 race. But as F1 clearly conquers the hearts of Americans, IndyCar remains very confident it nonetheless has the edge and provides the best racing. So much so, that when LL Cool J introduced the drivers at the Miami GP and said it was ‘the greatest spectacle in motorsports’, IndyCar CEO Mark Miles quickly reminded FOM of the trademark claims the Indianapolis 500 has on almost that exact claim. And he added; “I’ll bet you race fans know that’s a crock of s*** anyway.” Indycar Team-owner and racing legend Chip Ganassi said in an interview “I mean, let’s face it: F1 is about everything but the racing. OK? It’s like the racing is almost an afterthought.”

He has a point and those in charge of F1 know it. But they’re actually making it worse by doubting themselves. It’s clear the new generation of fans require something extra. They’ve been brought to the sport by DTS, which ironically was developed to showcase the hopeless backmarkers and their uphill battle to make it to the front. Now it seems Liberty Media is looking to create more entertainment in every aspect of the sport. Of course it makes sense to add new forms of entertainment off-track, boosting engagement on social media. Everybody is playing that game and playing it increasingly well. However, they’re also trying to increase unpredictability on-track, with ideas like a separate sprint-quali and mandating the use of specific tires for different parts of regular qualifying. And of course, adding new one-off tracks like Miami and Vegas and expanding the calendar. 

The off-track entertainment itself likely won’t be enough to cover up a certain predictability across the season in who’s actually winning. And the on-track curveballs seem hardly enough to destabilize the big teams, who have more resources and talent to deal with them, thus achieving the opposite of what they are meant for. Adding more races further limits development time and with testing restricted, you wonder how teams further down the order are ever going to make huge steps. Every extra step F1 is taking to boost the spectacle, actually seems to backfire.    

What they should do is ask themselves if the current domination of Red Bull and Max Verstappen is actually bad? Those of us who’ve been watching F1 through the Schumacher-era and Hamilton-era realize this can be survived, as it is always temporary. It may take 2 years, or it may take 4, but somebody else will get it right eventually. Most likely the ’26 engine regulations will be the thing to do it. Six engine manufacturers and works teams is a treat! But don’t forget that many very interesting drivers are out of contract by the end of ’24 and that silly season may see someone move into Red Bull to really take the fight to Verstappen. By that time, the continued budget-cap and progressive reduction in CFD and wind tunnel allocation should have brought the field closer already (assuming absolute regulation stability). In the meantime, F1 may not be the greatest spectacle, but watching someone trying to become ‘the greatest’ can also be spectacle, as we learned from seeing Schumi and Lewis achieving their numerous victories.