Tuesday, October 27, 2020

I’m falling in love with F1 again

I fell in love with Formula One for the very first time in 2009, watching Jenson Button and his Brawn GP car leave the rest of the field in its wake… for the first half of the season at least. What started out as something to fill my Sunday afternoons, quickly became an obsession. At 11 years old, I would be waking up at all hours to make sure I didn’t miss a live Grand Prix, because very few things compared to the rush of watching a live F1 race. 

The biggest challenge F1 faces, is the gap between top teams. For as long as I have been watching the sport, there has almost always been one car that is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. As amazing as the 2009 season was for me personally, with Button immediately becoming my favourite F1 driver (something that would remain the case for the remainder of his career), the Brawn car was dominant at the start of the season, nothing could come near it. 

The 2010 season was different, and possibly still the season that stands out strongest in my memory in the 10 years I’ve been watching the sport. Rule changes, driver changes, the return of a legend, and a four way title battle that came down to the last race of the season. It had everything you could ever ask for. 

Following Sebastian Vettel’s first World Championship win, we had three consecutive years of Red Bull dominance, through which my obsession with the sport wavered. Rather than waking up at the early hours of the morning to watch races like Australia, Japan, etc. live, I would catch the highlights in the afternoon. I might miss a race or two, without really feeling like I was going to miss anything important. 

Mercedes Era

In 2014 there were a batch of rule changes that would shift the landscape of F1 more than we had seen in decades. Red Bull were no longer the dominant force, in fact reigning champion Vettel only managed to make the podium three times all season. 

As much as I hated the new engines and the sounds that came with them, seeing Red Bull fall down the order and a British driver claim the World Championship was certainly a more exciting season. The issue is, this ushered in a new era of dominance – one we still haven’t seen the end of. 

Mercedes have now won the Constructors championship four years in a row, and one of their drivers has won the Drivers World Championship for four years in a row, both of which are almost certain to be extended by another year at the end of the 2019 season. 

Once again, a lot of fans (including myself), began to lose interest in the sport. At the beginning of the 2018 season, I found myself watching perhaps one of every four or five races. This season began the same… however…

2019 Season

Many people were quick to dismiss the 2019 season after Qualifying in Australia. Despite Ferrari looking like they were going to have the quickest car following testing, pole sitter Hamilton qualified seven tenths of a second ahead of the quickest prancing horse, with Vettel lining up fourth on the grid. It seemed like it was going to be the same old, same old. 

However the 2019 season has thrown up some of the most entertaining races we have seen in years. While the battle for the Drivers and Constructors championships might not be keeping anyone on the edge of their seat, the races themselves have kept fans enthralled throughout the year. 

Of course, not every race has been thrilling, China and Spain weren’t the most entertaining affairs. However there has been some genuine, honest to god racing for the first time in as long as I can remember. All the way up and down the grid, we’ve seen some of the most intense on track battles in modern history, with the aerodynamic revamp for the 2019 season seemingly having the desired effect. 

The last four races have shown exactly why people love this sport, myself included. Austria saw the first non-Mercedes victory of the season, and an amazing battle between two of F1’s young stars – Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc. It was a fight that I hope to see for years to come, with Verstappen just edging his rival out to claim the win at Red Bull’s home Grand Prix. The British Grand Prix was perhaps even more exciting. Not only did we see the Verstappen vs Leclerc battle once again, we saw Hamilton and Bottas fighting for the lead, along with a safety car, and Vettel crashing into Verstappen.

Then we come to Germany… with perhaps one of the most chaotic races I’ve ever seen, rivalling Canada 2011 as my favourite race of all time. These highlights tell the tale far better than I ever could

Finally, the Hungarian Grand Prix which took place over this recent weekend. Watching Hamilton and Verstappen battle for the lead was something fans have been clamouring for ever since the Dutchman took a seat with the main Red Bull team. We got half a race of genuinely tense racing, watching Hamilton chase down the younger driver and attempt to get by, before switching strategy, and leaving fans wondering if he could close a 20+ second gap, with just 20 laps to go.

For the first time in almost as long as I can remember, I’ve watched four consecutive races, and been thrilled by every single one. So much so, that during the German and Hungarian Grand Prix’s, I didn’t move from my spot on the sofa, in fear that I would miss part of the excitement. 

F1 has received a lot of stick in recent years, for being boring and predictable, and lacking any real racing. All of those criticisms had merit, however the sport is changing, and changing fast. Over the next four weeks, during the summer break, I’ll be counting down the days to the return of F1. Already excited to sit down and watch the Belgian Grand Prix – in what is sure to be yet another thrilling race.

I’m falling back in love with Formula One again, and if like me, you had almost given up on the sport, I implore you to give it another chance. You won’t regret it. 

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