Talking Points: Is Verstappen’s success hurting F1?

Was 2023 record-breaking or a broken record for Formula 1? In our fourth installment in our ‘Talking Points’ series, we try to gauge whether Red Bull and Max Verstappen’s unchallenged supremacy risks eroding Formula 1’s global popularity and success.

(L to R): Jos Verstappen (NLD) and his son Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing celebrate Red Bull Racing winning the Constructors' World Championship. 23.10.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, United States Grand Prix, Austin, Texas, USA, Race Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images

Growing complaints about Red Bull's winning habit

Formula 1's current levels of popularity were built, among other things, on the epic battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in 2021 culminating in the notorious season finale in Abu Dhabi. Since then Verstappen has reigned supreme, and after two years of Red Bull domination the sport's appeal hangs in the balance.

There have been grumblings in the the world of Formula 1 in recent months that Red Bull's dominance in the sport is hurting its popularity. After record years in 2021 and 2022, viewership on ESPN platforms in the US fell around 11 per cent to an average of just 1.11 million in 2023. Certain races bucked the trend with record highs, but the predictable nature of Red Bull winning 21 of the 22 races this year has clearly had an impact when it comes to the general audience and casual viewers.

It's less of a problem for purist F1 fans, who are able to look past the headlines about wins and titles to get caught up in the early shock success of Aston Martin and Fernando Alonso, McLaren's turnaround from a horrible start to the season which was transformed into a brilliant run over the summer and autumn, and the Tifosi's celebrations after Carlos Sainz won in Singapore.

It's not the first time that we've had periods of one-team dominance, of course. In the 1990s it was Williams, and then came a brief spell on top for McLaren before Ferrari sprang to dominance with Michael Schumacher in the early 2000s. Red Bull's first stranglehold on F1 with Sebastian Vettel was greeted by regular boos on the podium, and Mercedes' run of eight constructors titles from 2014 to 2021 generated similar resentment.

But even during such periods, there was usually an element of competition from within the teams at least: Vettel's fractious relationship with Mark Webber for example, or Nico Rosberg's determination to beat Lewis Hamilton at all costs culminating in his success in 2016, which added a sense of real competition and uncertainty even when one team was firmly in control.

We're only two years in Red Bull's latest 'dominant' phase. Don't they deserve their time in the sun, and isn't it a little early to be getting restive about the situation? Should we not be revelling in seeing a historic record-breaking campaign? This year Red Bull took the most points over the course of a single campaign and a recored margin over the nearest rival; and Verstappen had the most points in a season for a driver, although it was still not a perfect score as Alberto Ascari compiled in 1952, or Jim Clark in 1963 and 1965.