Nobody move! Even the driver market lacks intrigue in a forgettable F1 season

News Focus

Posted on

| Written by

Formula 1 has been a tough sell this season. Max Verstappen has excelled at Red Bull, both now on record-breaking winning streaks, while his team mate Sergio Perez labours unsuccessfully to keep up.

The rest have no answer to Red Bull, at least when it comes down to race pace. The effect this domination is having on F1 can be seen in the viewing figures dropping in the United States.

Moreover, those hoping to proffer exciting new storylines for next season appear to be out of luck, as the signs are there could be no changes in the driver line-up from this year to next. F1 faces the prospect of starting a new season with the same driver line-up as it ended the previous one for the first time in decades.

Of course dominance in F1 is not a new thing. But when a period like this is happening, the sport becomes more reliant on its supporting storylines, the driver market and moves. But with every passing week it looks increasingly as though all the drivers are frozen in position.

Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Mercedes, Zandvoort, 2023
Mercedes locked Hamilton and Russell in for two more years
Ahead of the Italian Grand Prix Mercedes confirmed Lewis Hamilton and George Russell had put pen to paper and will stay put until the end of 2025. Despite some bumps in the road, both Carlos Sainz Jnr and Charles Leclerc will remain at Ferrari until the end of 2024, after then both become free agents.

Verstappen signed a mammoth deal which will keep the double world champion at Red Bull until the end of 2028. Perez has another year on his contract and team principal Christian Horner insists the team are satisfied with his performance and will not show him the door early.

The only other driver who is tied up in a deal past 2024 is Lando Norris, who is due to remain at McLaren until the end of 2025. It means there are very few changes to be made, which makes next season an even harder sell for F1.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

With few juniors waiting in the wings ready to step up to F1, four slots remain on the grid, and it’s pretty clear that few changes are expected. With both Alpine drivers already tied up until 2024, there is a seat next to Alexander Albon at Williams, one alongside Valtteri Bottas at Alfa Romeo and both seats at AlphaTauri, Red Bull’s junior team.

Ricciardo made a promising return, then got injured
This is arguably the most interesting situation due to Daniel Ricciardo’s recent return followed by his unfortunate enforced absence due to injury.

In a Hollywood-esque development, the former Red Bull driver was drafted back into their junior outfit after the British Grand Prix to replace Nyck de Vries in the team. Ricciardo didn’t manage to get into the points but did pick up 13th and 16th place in Hungary and Spa despite spending half a season out of the car.

The comeback was cut short when he crashed during practice in Zandvoort and broke his hand. 21-year-old reserve driver Liam Lawson stepped up, with no prior F1 experience bar three practice sessions last season. Yet, despite his take-it-as-it-comes attitude, he has made a good argument for himself to snatch that 2024 seat finishing 13th in a chaotic Dutch Grand Prix and 11th in Monza.

Speaking after the race he admitted he felt he could have done one better than Ricciardo.

“I’m a little bit disappointed with the race,” said Lawson. “I think we maybe had the pace for points. I’m not sure, we have to look into it.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Another driver who has yet to score points and is keen to secure his place is Logan Sargeant. His best finish was at Silverstone when he crossed the line in 11th place in his Williams, but is the only full-time driver not to score points this season.

Logan Sargeant, Williams, Spa-Francorchamps, 2023
Sargeant is hoping for a second season at Williams
When asked by RaceFans if conversations were happening regarding his future, Sargeant kept his cards close to his chest.

“Honestly, I’m not sure,” admitted Sargeant. “From my side, I’ve been kept out of if there are any. I’m just worried about focusing on myself at the moment. I don’t want to put any energy into something that’s honestly not going to help me when I get on-track.”

The last seat to be filled is at Alfa Romeo, and the driver currently occupying the seat is most likely to return next year. After being in the points twice, Zhou Guanyu has been a safe pair of hands in an underperforming car. His team mate is out-scoring him, but by just two points – showing how uncompetitive their car is at the moment. Logically there would be no reason to switch it up, and Zhou admitted talks are well underway.

“Nothing is going to be 100% until black and white,” concluded Zhou. “But we’re talking about it together with the team.

“Of course, I’m happy to stay here. But it’s not a simple one like the first year. The second year, or second contract, is always more complicated, but let’s see.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

“As long as I’m doing the job I think – [I] then just try to stay in F1.”

Guenther Steiner, Haas, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2023
Taking a rookie not worth the risk, says Steiner
Why are none of the teams apparently looking to take a punt on a driver from F1’s junior series? Haas team principal Guenther Steiner gave an interesting explanation after announcing they had retained Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg for another season.

“If you look around at these options, there’s not a lot without risk,” said Steiner. “And I don’t want to take any risk at the moment because I don’t think that’s appropriate.

“You can take a risk if the risk is worthwhile to take, but at the moment, we want stability. We have got one part of the team sorted out well with the drivers, in my opinion. Now we have to work to work on the car to sort that one out.”

Of course you can never rule out the possibility a curveball or bombshell decision might just change the narrative for the 2024 season. And no doubt the fact so many top drivers have contracts running into next year is partly why this year’s ‘silly season’ has been more sensible than most.

Yet at a time when F1 is crying out for more storylines, a little off-track intrigue on the driver market certainly would have been appreciated.

View the current list of 2024 F1 drivers and teams

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

News Focus

Browse all News Focus articles

Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

48 comments on “Nobody move! Even the driver market lacks intrigue in a forgettable F1 season”

  1. What’s wrong with me that I still enjoy the racing this year? Am I the only one watching the fights between the drivers behind Verstappen?

    PS the drivers market is indeed boring

    1. No, but generally F1 fans seem to complain about the sport which by its nature is not competitive from a racing POV at the front.

      There’s more dopamine rush if there was a title on the line, that’s what’s missing.

      But the grid being so close and the racing being good is generally a positive thing.

      1. Periods of dominance lead to monumental title battles. They are an essential component to the F1 narrative.

        Apart from the fact what we’re seeing now is something very very special (max has pushed the level higher than I think we have ever seen), the extra element is that when a team does bring it to Max it’ll be an unforgettable

        If you want 2021 highs you need 2023 ‘lows’.

        1. Yeah I’m fully in agreement with that. F1 also has a nice narrative around title fights, and a unique political battle which makes those rare years that much more special.

          I was just offering an explanation which by my admission is very much incomplete.

        2. I’ll be surprised if there’s another 2 seasons that go to the last race this decade. With 6 sprints and the FL points, there’s essentially 31 gps worth of points on offer over a season. Which highly reduces the chances of a title going to the end

          1. Sometimes though you can have interesting title fights that don’t make it to the last race, 2000 is an example and 2003 made it to the last race, as well as 2006, but they were almost mathematically settled.

        3. F1 didn’t need periods of dominance for 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 to be interesting.

          Some people certainly care about the longer narratives, and that’s fine. But if there was a title battle between, say, Verstappen, Leclerc and Norris this year it wouldn’t be interesting because Verstappen won last year but because it’d be a title battle.

      2. Engine freezes, ecu lock in amd now funding capped, meaning tech development is once in 5 years. Most drivers stay with teams during those periods amd are locked in too

    2. Am I the only one watching the fights between the drivers behind Verstappen?

      Nope, you’re not alone. The only items of interest are P2 backwards.
      It would be P3 backwards, but Perez manages to muck things up so often at least P2 is possible for other teams.

      I’m sure Max taking a leisurely Sunday drive in the fastest car on the circuit fails to raise the heartbeat of all but the most fanatical of MV fans

      1. Max did this in karts when his gear wasn’t the ‘best’. This constant insertion belies the fact we are seeing a genius at work here and it’s truly special. It’s not always about heart rate excitement.

        It was the same with Hamilton as well when he was at the top of his game.

        1. Agree with both points. I go into every race assuming Max will win, and I am enjoying watching the racing behind him. There are a lot of good fights for the places from P2 on down.

          And, it is also special to watch Max dominant so massively. He is a truly special talent.

        2. Fully agree. Max has always been this dominant in whatever category he participated. And Lewis has had some stellar years as well. The fastest car narrative will remain to be broadcasted though, but only finds its target in a small part of the globe luckily. The rest in enjoying the creation of history.

          1. This season is more about how brilliant Redbull as a team are, but also if you do have the advantage of the quickest car or at least challenging for podiums the strategy afforded to you isn’t so difficult and does allow for a slight misjudgement if a mistake is made whether it’s made by a driver, pit crew or any other part of the team. For anyone else chasing especially with similar pace cars mistakes are exponentially more costly.

            Max is good that’s clear but with 0 competition, for various reasons I fully expect him to win every race and destroy the record beyond comprehension.

          2. @icarby: but now I think about it, there is a way to prevent verstappen from winning every remaining race, you just need to pull a senna suzuka 1990. But drivers don’t seem willing to take the risk of bans or similar for a record they’re not involved in.

    3. Agree … enjoying it. Mid-pack terrificness

    4. There has been some really good racing this year, behind Max. It would be nice to have a title fight, and I really wish that Ferrari could have taken it to Red Bull this year, but as a Williams fan my eyes are already adjusted to watching the action further down the field :-)

    5. Declaring this a forgettable season as a whole is quite strange. You would almost think the writer is British

      1. Don’t have to be british to find dominance boring.

        1. Covcentry Climax
          14th September 2023, 12:50

          F1 is crying out for more storylines, a little off-track intrigue on the driver market

          And you don’t have to be american to feel like this, apparently.

          I generally and genuinely like ms/mss Cottinhams contributions, but the title, the remark about a forgettable season and the article’s conclusion are stark exceptions.

          1. typo in the name, sorry.

  2. Next season lineups indeed seem set for staying stable throughout the field, with only the Red Bull B-team a viable one to feature any changes.
    Regarding Sargeant, simply not knowing any better himself because of otherwise handling his matters isn’t the same as trying to avoid giving info.

  3. I don’t completely agree with the article, still plenty of stories to look forward to. But agreed the silly season is just plain boring. And it’s not a good omen for the coming 2 seasons. With another big rules overhaul coming in 2026 – I fear F1 is heading for 2 more seasons of Red Bull dominance and most teams in a deadlock, with engines not being developed and a team like Alfa Romeo just bidding there time till Audi arrives (maybe they should just hire to pay drivers for those seasons and not care about performance). Mind you. 2 more season of 24 races with almost the same results – all the Drive to Survive hype will be surly undone and no Hollywood movie that can save that. Liberty and F1 might need to consider something drastic or we will spend the next 2 seasons in the Doldrums.

    1. Edit – Biding their time.

  4. someone or something
    13th September 2023, 9:09

    It would be nice if all that moaning could stop for five minutes …
    No, this season does not lack intrigue. Both world championships are done and dusted for quite a while now, that much is true.
    But there’s plenty going on everywhere else, and even the races have been pretty good on average. There’s not much to complain about, entertainment-wise.
    This is probably more about the who (and who not) than it is about the how. And that’s the part that’s predictable and boring.

    1. Agreed. Never been that bothered by moves in the driver market: that’s not racing

      1. someone or something
        13th September 2023, 10:55

        Well, I don’t disagree with the author insofar as the driver market is concerned: Unless Red Bull surprise everyone by sacking Pérez, there isn’t any movement, nothing to be excited about.

        However, I strongly disagree with the notion that this is a ‘forgettable’ season. That’s either a deliberate hot take to drive engagement, or the result of a lamentably partisan perspective, from which the wrong team coming out on top (unchallenged, that much is true) looks just like an overall forgettable season.

        1. I’m still enjoying all the races, there’s plenty going on. Alonso dragging the Aston Martin to beyond where it should be. McLaren improving exponentially, and their drivers being very well matched. Albon’s performance in the Williams Even Ferrari not obviously shooting themselves in the foot.

  5. There’s plenty of existing “storylines”, and much less wrong with F1 than what the permanently online would have us believe.

    1. There is indeed a considerable amount of bias & shady instruments deployed when the preferred candidate is not winning.

  6. Tough season? Forgetable?

    It’s a legendary sporting season with an incredible performance from one team and an absolutely shamefull performance from 9 other teams.
    Proving how difficult it in fact is in this new technical era to design and setup a car and perform consistently.

    Only a DTS type of F1 fan that’s looking for meaningless spectacles and soap opera like gossip, that will disappear the moment they don’t get instant gratification runs away is this a problem. Then again it’s also the type of fan any sport shouldn’t be catering to, to begin with.
    It brings a sport on a slippery slope towards Pro-Wrestling like theatrics and meaningless entertainment.

  7. Max isn’t really an interesting person is he, he’s more of a genetically contrived machine, rather one dimensional. As a runaway leader, he’s not ideal, with his not especially likeable people around him too. And F1’s fakery was exposed with Michael Masi’s non-disclosure agreement that media don’t dare to mention, and then sprint races, the safety cars which in fact aren’t needed at all now, they keep them to spice up the show with random effects, all the millions of rules trying to make ‘close racing’, so controlled, but actually make it hard for the others to catch up and mean the cars are nearly the same this race as they were last race. It’s easy to feel disillusioned with F1.

    Williams is a great story, but they aren’t allowed to invest enough to catch up beyond about 5th best team! So they could be just in the points, or not. It’s fairly interesting.

    1. someone or something
      13th September 2023, 10:59

      Yeah, well, at least the now the worst hot take of this article isn’t in the article itself anymore.

    2. I would rather say Max is a very interesting person and true athlete. A joy to watch such a professional. Same can be said of a lot of the youngsters. I’ve been watching F1 for decades and can say this new generation has got an incredible vibe with lots of sportsmanship. Something that can definitely not be said from earlier generations which seem unable to see the difference between on and off track or between real life and their profession.

      1. Well yes he is an athlete and professional. Some of the others have a vibe. But I’m not sure you’ve really addressed my hot take.

  8. How is F1 crying for more storylines? There are plenty:
    – Verstappen and RB on a historic season
    – Development woes of Mercedes
    – Ferrari just being Ferrari
    – Perez having to prove that he can hang on to the RB seat
    – Stroll thrashed by every team mate, but now even more clear
    – Two veterans still on top of their game, or not?
    – New teams entering, or not?

    If I want constant drama, I’d watch WWE. In a real sport there are times where favorites win a lot. And if all else fails and you want to generate a lot of internet traffic fast, you could do a story about Abu Dhabi 2021, the gift that keeps on giving.

    1. Those supposed storylines are lame as hell.

  9. …And that despite Toto and Lewis trying to create intrigue every weekend? It’s pure gold watching Max getting under their skin and see them exposing their true personalities.

  10. You really reporting on the wrong sport if you can’t see beyond the fact that Max and Redbull are winning.

    1. Forgettable season sounds a bit too biased, I agree. On the other hand it does make thing clear and puts other articles in perspective.

  11. I don’t like constant changes. No move is exciting, if there are moves everywhere at all times. I don’t like the idea of half the grid being changed each season. I don’t get excited by quantity, and it’s usually a lot more interesting when a driver changes team after five years than after a single season. What I mean to say is, I like when teams have identity, and part of that identity is their drivers line up. I’d find it exciting if Verstappen, Hamilton or even Leclerc were changing teams, like it was exciting seeing Russel in Mercedes last year. Random moves just make things more… random. I would like to see some “boring” and slower drivers gone in favor of someone new, in hope to see better battles next year (like having someone faster alongside Albon in Williams, or, God forbid, someone interesting driving for Haas). It would be cool to see Hamilton in Ferrari, but that didn’t happen of course. Or seeing him move to Aston, replacing “the young talent” Stroll Jr., I’d actually like that even better. Norris joining Verstappen would be as exciting. Moves like Magnussen to Williams, Bottas to Haas etc., who’d care… I wouldn’t even care about seeing anyone from current F2 in F1, as well as Lawson (I don’t get the hype, he wasn’t the best in poor F2 competition even, I’d rather see Drugovich at least, and he’d be nothing special either).

  12. Wasn’t there an outlandish rumour Lance was going to retire with Felipe Drugovich taking his place. Or was that wishful thinking? I’ve personally found Max’s record breaking year and the fight for second really enjoyable – far from forgettable.

  13. When inevitably Max and RB. have one both titles, I think the FIA. and F1 should agree on a new format for the last few races. Max should qualify 20th. and start 20 seconds behind the car in 19th. although not a top fan of his watching him slice through the field is very enjoyable and shows he has incredible skills. Ideally he should reach the top guys with 10- 15 laps left that should give them the opportunity to really put up a show and not have the situation where they feel it better not to fight to much . Perhaps 30-40 seconds would be better!.

  14. This “but the fights behind Verstappen are good” argument is as bad as people saying “Spa is good even if just to see this noisy super fast cars rushing through these corners” that i heard back when the cars were still noisy.

    It’s another forgettable season that is turning people off the sport.

    And there have been way too many of these in the last 20 years.
    Only hardcore fans will appreciate the “exciting fight for 7th place between four drivers” or stuff like that, regular people interest is waning already, after peaking in 2021.

    1. Only hardcore fans will appreciate the “exciting fight for 7th place between four drivers” or stuff like that, regular people interest is waning already, after peaking in 2021.

      Indeed, so while the article comes across as a bit sour – especially in contrast to the general trend of almost demanding admiration for Hamilton’s dominant years – it’s nevertheless true that the season is a big failure for F1. The biggest problem is obviously that Red Bull’s car is vastly superior to anything else, and that, justified or not, the budget cap shenanigans cast a dark cloud over their ‘sudden’ technical superiority.

      And below that there’s also an uncomfortable situation where Leclerc is once again not doing all that much better than Sainz, Russell can’t keep up with Hamilton, Norris has looked good beating a worn down Ricciardo but is already being chased by a rookie, and it’s starting to seem like Verstappen is the only Big Talent of the next generation. This too is a problem.

  15. So the Norris to Red Bull rumours are unfounded? That would certainly make things more interesting for 2024.

    1. Or maybe it’s only a 2025 thing.

  16. So Claire, tell us how much of a huge Lewis fangirl you are in the headline without telling us.

    If it’s such a “forgettable F1 season” rather do us the favour of not writing about it.
    Nothing worse than media whining by sour fangirls.

Comments are closed.