Despite a chaotic sprint race ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, Formula 1 fans worldwide complained of a “boring” Saturday at Spa.
Several hours after Saturday’s sprint race at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps ended, the word “boring” was trending on Twitter, along with “F1” and “Formula 1“.
We know that not everybody is a fan of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, and so his weekly P1 finishes can tend to drag on for some. He is currently riding a seven-race win streak (excluding two sprint races he also dominated), two shy of the all-time record.
We also know that some Verstappen fans — like even his own engineer Gianpiero Lambiase — have had to fight dozing off at times this year, given how far ahead the 25-year-old Dutchman has been from everybody else in what Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has described as “Formula 2 cars”.
But ignoring that dominance, the battles for P2 down through pretty much the entire points order have been about as unpredictable as they’ve been since the early 2010s, if not before.
Saturday’s sprint race itself produced two top three finishers who had not yet finished in the top three this season, including one who had never finished there in his career.
McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri finished in second place after leading laps, and Alpine’s Pierre Gasly finished in third, bagging his highest single-race point total of the year — and in a race that pays nowhere near full points.
AlphaTauri’s Daniel Ricciardo almost came away with a point for an eighth place finish before being overtaken by Mercedes’ George Russell.
Considering all the madness that led to that finishing order, such as the drivers switching from wet tires to intermediate tires, some doing so on lap one vs. lap two, and two of the top three drivers in the world championship begin forced to retire, calling Saturday’s action boring is laughable.
For starters, all 10 teams had a car running in the top 10 at the end of lap one, which is simply unheard of in Formula 1.
While that admittedly came about because of the split strategy between when each driver within each team made the switch to inters, that split strategy in itself set up an interesting narrative for the rest of the abbreviated race.
And for what it’s worth, it gave the legitimate race lead to Piastri. He wasn’t simply leading with a pit stop looming and Verstappen breathing down his neck. He was the race leader, and Verstappen needed to overtake him to win.
Piastri ran as high as third place in the British Grand Prix, second in the Hungarian Grand Prix, and now led in Belgium, making him the first rookie to lead laps since Esteban Gutierrez in the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.
Of course, it’s probably fair to say that select “boring” comments undoubtedly come from Lewis Hamilton fans who were disgruntled over not just Verstappen winning again but their driver’s penalty for making unavoidable contact with Sergio Perez, which ultimately knocked the Red Bull driver out of the race. The ensuing penalty dropped the Mercedes driver from P4 to P7.
All these years later, the reality is that there are still some fans who think every race not won by the seven-time world champion is boring; it’s par for the course, and it is what it is.
As for everybody else, Formula 1 was just fortunate to have gotten the race in, given the conditions.
There were doubts over whether or not that would be possible, and there were even calls for the FIA to cancel the race if the conditions were poor, given the dangerous nature of the circuit and some of the fatal crashes that have taken place there in other series in recent years.
But the sprint ended up running, despite being shortened from 15 to 11 laps around the 19-turn, 4.352-mile (7.004-kilometer) Stavelot, Belgium road course, and it was a relatively clean race.
And let’s not forget the basics: what a sprint race replaces. The sprint race, coupled with the sprint shootout qualifying session, have resulted in sprint weekends dropping two of three practice sessions.
While the concept of the sprint race remains somewhat gimmicky, there is little doubt that sprint race weekends are a heck of a lot less “boring” for casual fans than traditional weekends.
If fans are really bored with the product Formula 1 is putting forth on a regular basis, they’d flock to IndyCar. Unfortunately, Formula 1 would rather focus on copying several trademarked IndyCar and Indy 500-related phrases in an attempt to siphon American fans from the world’s most competitive open-wheel racing series.
We’ve heard all year how Formula 1 is supposedly losing fans left and right with the domination of Verstappen, who has won nine races and has yet to place lower than second, and Red Bull, which have won a record 12 straight races going back to last year, yet the first half of the season has already produced three of the four all-time most watched Grands Prix in the United States.
Addition by subtraction? Subtraction by addition? Not quite sure how that would qualify as losing fans.
We all know that it is going to take a heroic effort of gargantuan proportions to beat Verstappen, but that has almost made the battle for second place even more intriguing.
It took just three races for all 10 teams to score points in 2023, an all-time record, and throughout the first half of the 22-race campaign, six teams have finished on the podium. Five have scored multiple podium finishes and five have placed a car in second place during Verstappen’s current seven-race winning streak alone.
While the RB19 has certainly been the class of the field, Perez himself only has one runner-up finish during that stretch.
Will Verstappen’s dominance continue for an eighth straight race this Sunday at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps? He is set to start Sunday’s 44-lap Belgian Grand Prix in sixth place after taking a five-position grid penalty for exceeding his gearbox allowance.
FanDuel Sportsbook, which is now offering fans an instant $100 just for betting $5, still lists Verstappen as the -380 favorite to win. The race is set to be broadcast live on ESPN beginning at 8:55 a.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!