Interesting conversation on the tube in London last evening, about Max Verstappen. I found myself in his defense. In actual fact, I was in defense of Formula One’s 2023 season.
You see, in the late 80s, I was not a Senna fan nor a Prost or McLaren fan. I loved Formula One but the 1988 season, the one which paralleled our most recent F1 season best, to some degree, had me spite the sport. Similar to the people I was chatting with on the Underground platform at Oxford Circus. To watch every race that year and know that McLaren would win at either the hands of Prost or Senna, induced my love-hate relationship with F1 that season.
Much like this season, Ferrari played the spoiler in Monza, after the death of Enzo Ferrari, when Gerhard Berger took the top step of the podium. Being in the right place at the right time, as it were.
The conversation yesterday centered around the distaste for Max (or Checo) winning all but one of the races this year. Singapore being the only outlier, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz brilliantly driving a near perfect and cerebral race. My own spite towards the domination in '88, made me miss the bigger picture. I discounted and overlooked the brilliant racing, handy maneuvers, brilliant strategies and overtakes, taking place further down the grid. Effectively missing out on some fantastic racing, simply because it was not for the lead or victory.
Worse still, Senna and Prost running away with the championship, forced my narrow-minded view to miss the appreciation of what we were witnessing. Senna’s skill, his commitment, his approach and mastery of his craft. His determination to beat Prost. I was watching history being made, I was watching a driver who many today, still regard as one of, if not the best, F1 has ever seen. And I ignored it.
Now, at my ripe old age, I’ve learned to appreciate drivers and teams such as Lewis and Mercedes, Schumacher and Ferrari, Vettel and RedBull, who dominated. Yes, some may believe it’s boring to watch the same old people win, race in and race out. But this is not by chance. The effort, thought leadership, innovation and skill involved in dominating a sport separated by a measure of fractions of a second, must be appreciated.
And so is the case with Max and RedBull this year. As I argued this point with my younger debaters, I’m not certain if I was successful in changing their view. However, I am certain that I gave them something to ponder while I challenged them to learn to appreciate what we are witnessing today.
Despite the spite, Formula One 2023 was a success. There were some absolutely brilliant performances further down the grid. We had Yuki lead most laps of any other Japanese driver in F1 history. Leclerc overtake a RedBull three times in a race in a 2023, Sainz actually beat a RedBull to a win a race in 2023. Fernando Alonso, in an Aston Martin outrace most of the field to take 4th in the championship and multiple podiums this year. The incredible resurgence of McLaren with some stonking performances from both Norris and Piastri. The list goes on.
Let’s not hate on Max or RedBull for dominating. Let’s appreciate what we are seeing, what will go down as one of the most dominant displays in our sport. Let us cheer on those further down the grid, as they race their hearts out as they desperately try keep it within track limits.
Bring on Formula One 2024 and reflect on 2023 in a positive light.