The Danger of a Red Bull Whitewash: Will F1’s Boom in Popularity Survive Another Era of Dominance?
The 2023 Formula 1 season started with a bang as Max Verstappen and Red Bull dominated the season opener in Bahrain, leaving many wondering if we are in for a season-long Red Bull steamroll. While the prospect of a one-sided championship may not excite everyone, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the rest of the season.
Aston Martin and Fernando Alonso’s unexpected rise to podium contenders, the potential for unpredictable weather, and the competitive nature of F1 mean that anything could happen in the upcoming races. Let’s dive into the current state of the championship and what it means for F1 as a whole.
The way Max Verstappen triumphed in the Bahrain Grand Prix, the season opener of 2023 Formula 1, hints that he has the potential to clinch victories in the next 22 races as well. However, considering the length of the season and the fact that we have only observed the cars on one circuit, is it overly negative to hold such a viewpoint?
Alternatively, could we have already determined the result of the 2023 championship battle? If that is the case, how detrimental would it be for the F1?
Although a closely contested battle for the front is desired by everyone, one must earn their place there, and currently, Red Bull has a firm grip on everything. It may seem unlikely that there will be a close fight for the championship, but Ferrari and Mercedes have to put in a lot of effort to apply pressure on Red Bull. Furthermore, with the additional ATR limitation, Red Bull has a limit on development work, and it will be difficult to divide resources between 2023 and ’24.
The field has, however, become more competitive, and Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin will provide entertainment when given the chance. While it is a long season, a strong start always puts one in a good position, and it is Red Bull’s responsibility to capitalize on that and reap the benefits. As Toto Wolff mentioned, there are rarely any “silver bullets” in F1, so it is up to those chasing to work even harder and smarter to narrow the gap.
Currently, the fight for the lead may seem unsatisfactory, but one can appreciate the job that Red Bull and Verstappen are doing and relish the close battles further down the order.
F1 fans have been disappointed by the lack of progress made by Mercedes and Ferrari, which everyone hoped for and expected. However, Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin may prevent the season from being a complete bore.
It may be too early to write off the season yet. This particular track accentuates strengths and weaknesses, and teams do not have the same luxury at other circuits. Who knows if Red Bull’s advantage will be as significant elsewhere?
The season is lengthy, and it feels even longer after a race like this. However, there is enough time for other teams to catch up and put up a fight. If they fail to do so, Red Bull will rightfully reap the benefits. The problem is not with Red Bull, but with the teams that have not done enough to catch up.
The early season success of Red Bull, with both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, could be an indication of their potential dominance in the upcoming races.
Despite various mitigating factors, it appears that Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes have all picked up where they left off last year. Red Bull continues its winning ways, Ferrari is plagued by ongoing reliability issues, and Mercedes lacks ultimate pace.
Fortunately, the presence of Aston Martin and Fernando Alonso has added some unpredictability to the front of the pack. It is refreshing to see someone with a different approach competing at the top level.
Mercedes may benefit from observing not only Red Bull but also its green counterpart, which uses many Mercedes power unit, gearbox, and other components, for ideas on the visual direction it should take.
The danger of a dominant team, such as Red Bull, pulling away from the pack and leaving other teams fighting for scraps is a long-standing problem in F1. While the novelty of Aston Martin podiums may create excitement in the beginning, the new season hype will wear off soon, and the F1 championship could suffer from a Red Bull whitewash.
This is especially concerning because F1 is currently experiencing its biggest boom in popularity. If Red Bull wins by half a minute over 20 times a year, it could cause some of the new fans to lose interest. Although some fans will stick around and appreciate the dominance for what it is, the global popularity of F1 relies heavily on casual fans.
F1’s growing TV audiences, increasing race attendances, and engaging social media presence, as well as the popularity of the behind-the-scenes documentary series, are all at risk if a dominant team causes fans to lose interest. Senior management at F1 headquarters may panic and resort to radical ideas to prevent another era of dominance from taking hold.
Although Red Bull’s dominant performance at the season opener may remind some of Mercedes’ previous streaks, it is not an apples-to-apples comparison. While Mercedes won eight constructors’ titles and drivers’ championships for seven consecutive years, they only streaked ahead of rivals in the 2014-2016 seasons, whereas Red Bull’s dominance appears more pronounced this year.
During Mercedes’ streak, Nico Rosberg challenged Lewis Hamilton and gave him a run for his money. Rosberg came close in 2014 and won in 2016, regardless of whether the outcome was correct. In contrast, it is difficult to envision Sergio Perez challenging Max Verstappen in the same manner as Rosberg did. It is more probable that Verstappen will run away with the title, with Perez in second place and a sizable gap to the rest of the field.
F1 is facing a unique challenge due to its increased commercial prospects compared to the time of Hamilton-Rosberg battles. Although F1 has dealt with similar issues before, it has never faced such a boom in popularity while dealing with dominant teams.
Aston Martin and Fernando Alonso’s sudden rise from the midfield to being contenders for the podium has made the prospect of a Red Bull and Max Verstappen steamroll more bearable.
Rather than watching Mercedes and Ferrari compete for leftovers in a familiar rivalry that we have seen countless times before, Aston Martin has reinvigorated the fight.
Lance Stroll is also more than capable of mixing it with George Russell’s Mercedes, and he could provide plenty of entertainment since he lacks the polish and experience of the drivers from the old “big three” teams. And if it rains, Stroll may be the one to watch.
Therefore, although we may not witness a championship battle in 2023, there are still plenty of reasons to be enthusiastic about the season, and Aston Martin’s significant improvement is one of them.
The situation for the rest of the field in the wake of Max Verstappen’s dominant victory at the season opener is bleak. Verstappen would have spent a significant portion of the race bored, and there is not even a clear second-best team at the moment. Even if Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari had managed to finish, he might have been under pressure from Fernando Alonso towards the end of the race. While this could make individual races more exciting, it is terrible news for the title contest, as they will all be taking points off each other. By the time Red Bull’s aero handicaps come into play, it may be too late, as the standings could have already rendered them irrelevant.
Having one team that is stronger than all the others, with a clear number one driver, has been a common occurrence in F1’s history, particularly in the 21st century. While it is not an ideal situation, many F1 seasons that have had an ‘obvious champion from the outset’ are still fondly remembered because of how privileged fans were to witness the excellence of that champion or because of how much else was still going on.
The issue with the current season is that the 2021 season raised the bar extremely high. Although there were controversies and animosity, the back-and-forth title battle between two exceptional teams and two legendary drivers was precisely what every sport needs every year. While it feels like a long time ago, the level of drama and excitement in 2021 is what the rest of the 2020s will be compared against.
The question now is whether F1’s increased popularity and media attention make it feasible to have seasons that are similar to most of F1’s history.
The Danger of a Red Bull Whitewash: Will F1’s Boom in Popularity Survive Another Era of Dominance? The Danger of a Red Bull Whitewash: Will F1’s Boom in Popularity Survive Another Era of Dominance? The Danger of a Red Bull Whitewash: Will F1’s Boom in Popularity Survive Another Era of Dominance? The Danger of a Red Bull Whitewash: Will F1’s Boom in Popularity Survive Another Era of Dominance?
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