Football fans will often attest to the excitement inherent in their favourite sport. The Premier League, for instance, is often dubbed “the most exciting league in the world”, but why is this the case? Perhaps it is because on any given day, any side can feasibly get a positive result against any other and, if the stars are aligned (as for Leicester City in the 2015/16 season), almost any side can go all the way and win the title. The same cannot be said of drivers or teams competing in Formula 1. Predictable sports simply lose their edge and become far less fun to watch. But is that the case in recent years with F1, or is it holding its own in the increasingly competitive global sporting marketplace?
In this article, we’ll delve into the Formula 1 statistics in an attempt to assess how predictable it is. We’ll also take a look at the viewing figures over the years to see if people really are switching off, or whether the sport is maintaining or even growing its audience despite the accusations of it being boring.
How Predictable is Formula 1?
Since the 2010 F1 season, all the World Drivers’ Championships and the World Constructors’ Championships have been won by one or other of just two teams: Red Bull and Mercedes. Indeed, during that period, only four men won the drivers’ title:
- Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 2021, 2022, 2023
- Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020
- Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 2016
- Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
It is notable too that, except for Rosberg’s win in 2016, the other three championship-winning drivers won in streaks or at least two consecutive titles. Of the 14 seasons from 2010 to 2023, only five championships have gone all the way to the final race, with six of the titles having been decided with three or more races left on the calendar, and in the 2023 season, Verstappen won with the title with five races to go. That’s akin to a Premier League football team having the title wrapped up with eight games left of the season… which would hardly make for an exciting climax to the campaign. Verstappen also won 10 races on the bounce, a new record.
The question is, were the dominant performances of the abovementioned champions predictable? Well, yes, at least once the teams started testing and it became obvious which constructors had the most dominant car. It often became very apparent after the first few races of a given season. If we take a look at the opening 10 races of the last five seasons we see that the driver who eventually won the title won at least half of the opening 10 races of the campaign.
|Number of First 10 Races Won by Eventual Champion
|Races Remaining when Title Decided
Bookmakers’ Odds Suggest Predictability
To give an idea of how predictable the bookies think F1 is, the pre-race odds for Verstappen to win the final Grand Prix of the 2023 season in Las Vegas are hovering around 2/7. The next nearest in the betting is Lando Norris of McLaren at around 9/1… and at the time of writing, he’s a full 329 points behind Verstappen in the overall standings.
Does Predictability Affect Popularity?
Interestingly, although many people (including some drivers like 2005 and 2006 world champion Fernando Alonso) find Formula 1 to be quite boring, the viewing figures are still massive. In the 2021 season, for instance, the cumulative audience for the season was 1.55 billion. Interestingly, that was one of the few seasons in which the title race went down to the wire, with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen battling it out all the way to the final race at Abu Dhabi (which recorded massive audience figures of 108.7m viewers.
After signing new TV broadcasting deals with ESPN to show races in the US, figures were boosted again in the 2022 season with an average of 1.21 million viewers per race in the US alone. It is thought that the Netflix documentary, “Drive to Survive”, has also turned new fans on to Formula 1 (although some have suggested the series is more exciting than the actual sport!).
What Could Make F1 More Exciting?
As exemplified by the massive viewing figures for the 2021 season finale, fans of any sport want to see a rivalry with two (or more!) competitors with a chance of winning, right until the final moment. When one driver dominates, as has happened all too often in Formula 1 in recent times, the sport lacks this competitive edge and many with a passing interest in the sport simply look elsewhere for their sporting thrills. The most obvious way to promote competition in F1 would be to ensure the cars driven are much closer in terms of performance levels, but there appears very little appetite for that among constructors.
Best Formula 1 Rivalries
Instead of trying to predict what the F1 authorities will do to make things more interesting (if indeed anything!), let’s instead take a look back to some of the biggest and best rivalries in the sport that really had fans on the edge of their seats.
- Alain Prost vs Ayrton Senna – 1985-1993 – Arguably the greatest rivalry F1 has ever witnessed between two of the sport’s most magnificent talents. The pair won seven world titles between them, but it was their on-track nip-and-tuck battles that really caught the imagination of the fans.
- Nigel Mansell vs Nelson Piquet – 1986-1991 – In one of the most fascinating eras of the sport, there were so many great drivers, often all in with a chance of the title. Mansell and Piquet’s rivalry was perhaps not as flamboyant as that of Prost and Senna, but they were so evenly matched that it made for some very close races.
- Michael Schumacher vs Damon Hill – 1994-1998 – A trailblazer of the sport in many ways, Michael Schumacher is certainly one of the best to ever grace F1. But, for his part, British driver Damon Hill gave the German a run for his money on plenty of occasions.
- Lewis Hamilton vs Max Verstappen – 2017-present – A rivalry that is still going on has seen Hamilton and Verstappen win 10 world championships between them. We’d love to see them in the same team and then we might get a decent idea of which is the better driver!
- James Hunt vs Niki Lauda – 1975-1977 – A blast from the past here as 1970s motor racing legends James Hunt and Niki Lauda produced a blistering rivalry on the track despite being firm friends off it. The rivalry is depicted brilliantly in the 2013 dramatised movie, Rush, which is well worth a watch.