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OPINION: The F1 season may already be over but the fun’s just begun

11th March 2024
Russell Campbell

Anticipating who'll be crowned Formula 1 world champion in the twists and turns of a season is ultimately the reason we all follow the sport. So what keeps us watching when the title race seems tagged and bagged before a wheel's been turned in anger at the second race on the calendar?

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Not for the first time, that was the question I was asking myself after watching Max Verstappen saunter to yet another victory, seemingly driving at 80 per cent of his full potential. Barring freak lightning strikes (unlikely) or the implosion of Red Bull (more likely by the second), you'd be mad to bet against Max.

However, as a seasoned Paul Di Resta and, before him, David Coulthard fan (because Scottish), I am here to tell you that F1 isn't all about winning championships. Not for us viewers, anyway.

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It can also be about a driver's battle with their psyche, car, team-mate, reliability, circumstance, unforced errors, collisions, and controversies that only the very-highest-performance sport can bring.

Perhaps the biggest joy comes in the battle between team-mates.

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Sure, there will always be number ones but competition doesn't get much more revealing than two drivers in identical cars.

Netflix's Drive to Survive serves as a preseason recap ideal for stoking the personal battles and dramas that spill into the new season.

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After establishing that Max would indeed win again, my focus on Bahrain immediately dropped down the order to see what everyone else was getting up to. Can Checo Perez consistently get the second place he needs to keep his Red Bull keys? Is Charles Leclerc Ferrari's best hope, or is a scorned Sainz the man we should be watching?

Lewis Hamilton's move to Ferrari has set the cat amongst the pigeons. Chop Lewis in half, and you'd imagine Merc's three-pointed star runs through him like Blackpool rock. His close personal relationship with Toto Wolff is (or at least was) legendary, and Mercedes will be forever indebted to the success brought by the once-in-a-century champion.

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Surely, though, heading to his biggest rival means he must be cut adrift from any team talks that flow into the following seasons. Now must be Russell's time to shine.

The battle between Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri is among the most interesting. As a neutral fan, finding a cigarette paper's worth of separation between two outwardly likeable (not always a given in F1) competitors becomes almost a random choice. Oscar, as last year's rookie, is who I'll be rooting for, but next week, you could get a different answer.

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I could discuss every team with similar musings: from Yuki Tsunoda's loveable obnoxiousness to Alex Albon's nice-guy humbleness, there's a driver in most teams that I want to see doing well.

Fernando Alonso, of course, must be everyone's second favourite if he's not your first. When he's not puffing out miracles in a machine that's down on pace, he's breezily commenting on trackside replays simultaneously watching a big screen as he fends off attacks from the world's best drivers.

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But even the best can get it wrong, and therein lies one of the most captivating aspects of motorsport – defeat can be snatched from the jaws of victory at any moment in a way that a football team that's five-nil up will very rarely lose. 

Collisions, mechanical failures, slow pit stops and Ferrari-special strategies can turn a race weekend on its head just when you think all's fine and dandy and you've just to carry her home.

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If Drive Survive To Survive has done one thing for the casual (which I count myself as) fan: it's brought to life the parts of the F1 grid I hadn't seen before, the creaking pressure between the bosses that run a team and the owners that finance them.

Seeing Guenther Steiner in Bahrain – albeit on TV duties – felt almost like a deceased family member had miraculously been brought back to life, his charming forthrightness like an uncle famed for calling things as he sees them. And who couldn't feel for ex-Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer like a jolly aunt whose smile and kindness shone in a world famed for ruthlessness.

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It's impossible to summarise F1's near-unlimited aspects in one column. Here, we've not even touched on the genius engineers and aerodynamicists who can be just as important as the drivers. Even they are merely the spearhead of a factory workforce back at the factory that's many hundreds of heads deep.

So while the season may already be over, it's only the driver's championship that's a conclusion; there are plenty more private battles, awkward grid walks, and dodgy drain covers still to come. It's this minuity of detail that means F1 is about more than just championships.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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