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Finding a formula for suspense

Updated: 2023-12-25 09:09
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Ferrari's Charles Leclerc (left) and Mercedes' George Russell (right) will be hoping their cars can improve sufficiently to challenge Max Verstappen (center) and Red Bull's dominance in 2024. [Photo/AFP]

F1's chasing pack hopeful of closer battle next year as Red Bull's dominance breeds boredom

Max Verstappen may well become the fifth Formula 1 driver to win four world championships in a row next year but he and Red Bull will be hard pushed to be as dominant as in 2023.

Rivals, commercial rights holders Liberty Media and millions of fans are all hoping to see more of a battle for the top of the podium when the racing starts again in Bahrain next March.

Whether that will happen is the question nobody really has the answer to before the new cars and tires are put through their paces in testing, and the uncertainty creates some suspense going into the winter break.

"I think for the sake of all of us and for F1, and even for Red Bull to be honest, we need not just McLaren but Ferrari, Aston Martin, Mercedes and everybody to close the gap," said Sky TV commentator and ex-racer Martin Brundle.

It may be wishful thinking to expect a big change at the front, with Verstappen only getting better and teammate Sergio Perez posing no threat, but even Red Bull recognizes it may never have it so good again.

"This season, I doubt it will be repeated in my lifetime," said team boss Christian Horner.

"With such strong opposition as well — such strong teams and stable regulations — I am sure next year is going to be a lot closer, a lot tighter and a different kind of challenge."

Only Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have managed four successive titles since the championship started in 1950 but Verstappen already deserves comparison.

His 19 wins in 22 races, and the team's sweep of all but one, were astonishing and are now part of the sport's rich history.

The Dutch 26-year-old took more points, more podiums and led more laps in a single campaign than anyone before and his win rate of 86.3 percent eclipsed Alberto Ascari's 85.7 percent from 1952.

Longest year

Next year will be the longest yet at 24 races, with six sprints including Miami and Shanghai experiencing that format for the first time.

While the season proved a dud in terms of title suspense, the racing delivered close battles through the rest of the field and that should continue.

Las Vegas, back on the calendar for the first time since 1982 and with a race down the famed Strip, showed there can be plenty of thrills and entertainment even after championships have been won.

A dream scenario for F1 in 2024 would be a decider in Las Vegas with Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, 39 next month, fighting old foe Verstappen for the record eighth title he controversially missed out on in 2021.

The pairing with George Russell could also provide some sparks if Mercedes produces a competitive car after two difficult years.

It would also be quite something if resurgent McLaren could be a serious contender with Australian hotshot Oscar Piastri growing in confidence after an impressive rookie season alongside Lando Norris.

"We're feeling really good about our car for next year," said McLaren boss Zak Brown. "We definitely feel like we'll take a step forward, but so will the entire grid. We're just going to have to wait and see, but we're excited."

The dream at F1 headquarters would also see Ferrari, without a title since 2008, challenging for more than best of the rest and Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso, who will turn 43 in July, back on the top step more than a decade on from his last win.


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