Formula 1 has already conquered the United States, and Las Vegas will complete a trio of races along with the already historic one in Austin and the one that opens this year in Miami. The championship’s relationship with the United States has had to evolve a lot since the 2000s, when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway played host to an F1 that always felt undervalued compared to IndyCar, even before the ridiculous 2005.
Much of Formula 1’s current success is due to the Netflix series ‘Drive to Survive’, which has surged in popularity since it first aired in 2019. But after four seasons of ever-increasing poetic license to concoct rivalries and stories, the valuation of the fans has plummeted. The series was getting around 90% positive ratings in its first year, and now that’s down to 15%.
Verstappen maintains he will stay out of it and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has admitted the distortion of reality they do in Drive to Survive, so those negative ratings may rise even further. Netflix’s days of creating arguably the best content campaign in all of sports history may be over.
And even if critical acclaim from the public does come back, maybe there’s a natural shelf life for that series. ‘All or Nothing’, the soccer series that can be seen on Amazon Prime , changes teams after eight or nine episodes in order to have a useful life of 20 series beyond the descents and promotions of the Premier League (English soccer league ). ‘Drive to Survive’ is more limited and no series is safe from the viewer simply getting tired.
And given that step back, despite the fact that the CEO of Liberty Media, Greg Maffei , assures that the fourth season has already been seen by more people than the previous ones, what could F1 do?
The category has already capitalized on its rise in popularity in the US, and will need to find more ways to maintain the current rating.
To keep the bubble swollen for as long as possible, the championship must show its willingness to give in to certain pressures. Changing history by holding the race in Las Vegas on Saturday instead of Sunday is one such example. Because instead of racing on Saturday so as not to collide with another event on Sunday, the decision was made to enjoy a larger audience at the best possible Saturday time slot on the West Coast. And there could be more.
America’s take on domestic sports might give you an idea. There they like that there is an event that decides the winner, that nothing is decided until the final. This is how the NBA, NHL or NFL playoffs work. NASCAR’s adaptation to create in a similar style has resulted in something tediously complex, but the idea is the same.
F1 achieved that in 2021, thanks to the title battle in Abu Dhabi between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. That was very different from what fans experienced in previous years, first with Sebastian Vettel and then with Hamilton himself, who won several of his world championships with several races to go.
If F1, therefore, finds itself in a post-Netflix boom scenario where it needs to keep its audience’s interest piqued, could it look for some kind of ‘finale’ to make sure everyone stays hooked until the last flag? plaid of the season?
While dishing out double points in the last race of the year, as they did in 2014, was heavily criticized and didn’t play much into the ultimate fate of the title, it is something that could possibly make a comeback. However, it would be ironic if an idea from the last years of Bernie Ecclestone could be the origin of a new boom in the Liberty Media era after F1’s digital revolution.
Doling out double points in the last race would still have the same flaws as before. F1 is a sporting meritocracy that does not play with Balance of Performance, ballast to the best and reverse grids to skew the competitive order in the hope of creating a fake show. On the contrary, it seeks to be the stage in which the best wins within a level grid. But in these prosperous times, the emphasis on the purity of the sport may need to be reduced.
Double points or a similar idea designed to keep the title fight alive to the end may not be necessary if capping costs and changing cars succeed in increasing the level of competition in F1. But if such measures have to be included in the coming years (much to the frustration of traditionalists) in a post-‘Drive to Survive’ era out of concern of falling interest, perhaps it won’t be too much of a surprise.