Amid Formula 1’s social media boom seemingly coming to a halt, the solution to some of the sport’s more modern problems could be found in the past.
Last month, a study conducted by social intelligence group Buzz Radar found a series of alarming statistics surrounding F1’s social outreach.
It’s no secret that the sport has been growing its fanbase in recent years, in part due to a significant increase in social engagement from both the sport itself as well as the teams and drivers within.
But after year-on-year growth peaked in 2022, social media mentions have declined by 70.7%, new followers are down 49.2% and overall social media reach has dropped 64.1% in 2023.
The study found that a lot of this data can be attributed to the lack of a title fight and predicts the downward trend may continue next year.
F1’s recent social media boom has been beneficial in drawing new eyes to the sport and thus contributing to its overall growth, but unless Red Bull and Max Verstappen’s significant advantage over the opposition is clawed back over the winter, 2024 could be another onesided title-fight, three years removed from the dramatic 2021 title saga between Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton that no doubt drew in a lot of new fans in the first place.
It’s hard right now to contemplate a team emerging from the offseason to start next year neck and neck with Red Bull, let alone sustain that over a record-long 24-race calendar.
But if the gap to Red Bull is closed somewhat, what other factors could be employed to help reign them in, or in the case of further dominance, curtail fans losing interest?
The answers, at least in the opinion of the one writing the words that lay in front of you, could be found in the past.
During Ferrari’s F1 dominance in the early 2000s, measures were put in place to try and halt the Scuderia.
Perhaps the most drastic of these was the implementation of a rule that prevented teams from using more than a single set of tyres in a Grand Prix during the 2005 season, save for circumstances such as a change in the weather or a puncture.
This affected those on Bridgestone tyres the most, which of course included Ferrari and the Italian giants won just one GP all year, the highly controversial United States GP in Indianapolis, where the Michelin runners famously withdrew at the end of the warm-up lap.
The rule lasted just a single year and most definitely did a fine job of halting Ferrari’s title run.
But, in the present era, such drastic action doesn’t seem favourable with Toto Wolff labelling a supposed balance of performance to slow Red Bull down would “ruin” F1.
An implementation of BOP, or something as drastic as no pit stops for tyres isn’t necessary to try and inject some spice back into the title race in the years to come, but one rule change made two years prior to 2005 could do the trick.
Changing the points system
In 2003, Formula 1 overhauled the points scoring system, allowing eight competitors to score points at any given GP – this saw the old system of 10-6-4-3-2-1 struck out in favour of 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1.
Not only had two more competitors been given the opportunity to score points on race day, but the margin between second and first had been halved, from four points to two.
Whilst other factors played into the title fight, the new points system helped contribute to a championship showdown in the season finale, with Kimi Raikkonen missing out on the Drivers’ title by just two points, despite having only one win all year to Michael Schumacher’s six.
The tight point differential helped Raikkonen stay in the fight by being consistent and didn’t allow Schumacher to suddenly stretch out a title lead when he started winning, in fact, Schumacher didn’t even take the lead in the title until after that year’s Canadian GP, the eighth round of a 16-round season.
Williams’ Juan Pablo Montoya was also in title contention until the conclusion of the penultimate round in the United States.
A three-way title fight was in stark contrast to what had transpired a year prior, with Schumacher wrapping up the 2002 title in July.
In modern F1, points are handed out to the top-10 finishers in the fashion of 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1.
This system was introduced in 2010, with the seven-point differential between first and second said to increase the value of a win, which indeed it has done, but it also enables a significant gap to be created when someone goes on a run of victories, as Verstappen has done to devastating effect this year.
Perhaps a switch back to a smaller points differential would be beneficial to the sport, but what would this look like?
If one were to retain 10 points-scoring finishers whilst reintroducing a two-point differential from first to second and second to third, the points scoring system would look something like this; 14-12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1.
Whilst in the case of this year, Verstappen’s dominance over the rest of the field would be maintained due to his sheer number of victories even with a points overhaul, reducing the gap between positions could help encourage a closer fight next season, should the competition close the gap to the front runners.
But there are other factors that could be employed to ward off fan fatigue and dwindling social numbers.
Reduce the number of Grands Prix
Verstappen’s crowning moment came in Saturday’s Sprint at the Qatar Grand Prix, the 18th round of a 22-round season.
This means with everything wrapped up, there are still five races left to run, plus Sprints, with the odds looking like Verstappen won’t be beaten all too often until the season concludes in Abu Dhabi on November 26th.
In 2024, the calendar is growing to 24 races, with the season getting underway with Friday practice in Bahrain on February 29th and concluding with race day in Abu Dhabi on December 8th.
When Liberty Media acquired F1 ahead of the 2017 season, they were said to be hopeful of turning Grands Prix into a Super Bowl-style spectacle, but considering there’s only one Super Bowl a year and the fact that it is a season-ending, all-or-nothing championship game, Liberty may have missed out on what defines the Super Bowl as being special.
The 24-race calendar next year reeks of too much of a good thing and F1 risks losing the special feeling of a Grand Prix weekend if there is one being run practically every week of the year save for the dark days of mid-winter.
By reducing the number of rounds in the calendar, not only would the fatigue of countless Verstappen victories wear off due to the simple fact there would be fewer of them, but also fatigue amongst those working the paddock would significantly be reduced, as would the carbon footprint of the sport as whole by way of less travel.
Also, in the heart and mind of the nostalgic F1 fan writing this piece, a reduction in the number of rounds in a season would help make each event feel more special and more rarified.
The NFL season that culminates in the Super Bowl that Liberty has been trying to emulate all these years only has a regular season of 17 games and a Super Bowl-winning team would have played either three or four more games than that after the post-season.
So perhaps a rewind back to a smaller calendar, say 18 races would help reinject the special rarified feeling a Grand Prix encompasses.
The last 18-race calendar came in 2008 and that was an exciting year, to say the least.
Get rid of Sprints
Call me old-fashioned, but qualifying takes place on Saturdays and races take place on Sundays.
When it comes to Sprints, there wouldn’t be much of a loss if they were struck from the calendar altogether.
First of all, traditionally the way Sprints play out is similar to that of a long, drawn-out first stint of a Grand Prix and when overtaking is still at a premium, that doesn’t make for excitement.
Also, drivers haven’t exactly been unanimous in their appraisal of Sprints and their infrequent and haphazard placement throughout a Grand Prix calendar only serves to make Sprint weekends off and ambiguous and in a year of dominant race victories, who wants to see the same person win twice on the same weekend, which has happened on three of four of the Sprint weekends in 2023 thus far.
What’s more, with the revisions to the Sprint format this year having pushed Grand Prix Qualifying, often the most thrilling spectacle of a GP weekend, back to Friday, the majority of the working public miss out on the action.
Again, less is more should be the approach and Sprints, along with an elongated calendar, can be left out of the picture.
Make cars louder, lighter and smaller
It’s no secret the current age of F1 cars are rather on the large side, with the incoming technical revolution in 2026 seeking to mitigate this somewhat, but more needs to be done.
In ten years, F1 cars have gone from a minimum weight of 642kg to 798kg and currently stand at 5.63 meters in length and 2 meters wide.
One reason for the significant growth in F1 cars is the 1.6-litre V6-Hybrid power unit, which was introduced in 2014.
The extra weight gained from additional electrical components has had a part to play in increasing the overall mass of F1 cars and the current power units are here to stay in the near future, with just the MGU-H not being carried over into the 2026 engine regulations.
With the introduction of hybrid engines in 2014, not only did F1 cars gain weight, but they lost one of the most enthralling elements of the sport: sound.
Long gone are the days of loud, raucous V8s, or the even louder, earth-shattering, super high-revving V10s that preceded them.
V10s in particular, shrieking in their spell-binding song, would be heard long before being seen out on track and however fanciful, there is a pathway that would allow them back into the sport, in some form or another.
The recent developments of synthetic fuels, as demonstrated by Sebastian Vettel in his Race Without Trace show-runs, prove that naturally aspirated internal combustion power units can function in an ever-increasing environmentally conscious world.
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has promised that the 2026 engines will be louder, “because that’s part of our emotion.”
However, Domincali has also stated that “of course we need to be hybrid, we’re going to be hybrid for the future.”
Whilst a sound improvement is beneficial, a return to the sounds of F1 cars from the early 2000s would help invigorate even the most disinterested fans in a season as one-sided as this year’s.
Add into the mix smaller, lighter, nimbler cars and the on-track action will also be more enthralling, if and when cars go wheel-to-wheel.
To conclude, it is worth noting how hypothetical and somewhat unlikely these changes will be implemented in F1.
The sport at the end of the day is a business and Liberty has found a supremely profitable way of running F1 that would put a stop to a lot of the theories being put forward, but let’s continue to dream shall we?
Perhaps F1 will continue to be one-sided, but maybe in an alternate 2024 future, a revised points system, a smaller calendar, and lighter and louder cars will all come together to create a spectacle that nobody could choose to ignore.