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Max Verstappen Is Too Good
The Dutch driver’s dominance has made Formula One feel dull.
By Mark Naida
Nov. 15, 2023 5:38 pm ET
Max Verstappen celebrates winning a grand prix in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nov. 5.
Formula One driver Max Verstappen is having one of the most dominant seasons ever by any athlete in any sport. And it’s boring.
The Dutch driver has won 17 of the 20 races run so far this season, has clinched the championship, and will soon move into third place on F1’s all-time-wins leader board. Though he earns headlines for his victories, race highlights hardly feature him. He usually finishes near the top in qualifying contests, which establish the race order. Once the starting lights flash, Mr. Verstappen, 26, quickly takes the lead and zooms steadily ahead, seldom facing a serious challenge for the rest of the race. He must be getting tired of the champagne spritz by now.
Such dominance in a team sport would normally earn significant viewership. From 2015-18, massive audiences tuned in to watch the National Basketball Association’s Golden State Warriors in the playoffs. The trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green was nearly impossible to stop. Once Kevin Durant joined the team in 2016, fans watched to see if anyone could possibly challenge such an accretion of talent.
The most dominant and popular teams reinvent their sport. The 2015-16 Warriors searched for the limit of the 3-point shot. During that season, Mr. Curry improved his record of 3-pointers made in a season from 286 to 402, and the team as a whole hit 1,077 such shots while achieving the league’s best ever regular-season record. The team’s reliance on outside shooting made basketball, a century-old sport, feel new.
It’s hard to reinvent an individual sport. Mr. Verstappen might be doing it through technical mastery, but it isn’t clear to casual viewers what he’s doing differently. Nor is it obvious why his car is so superior, especially when Red Bull’s other driver, Sergio Pérez, insists that his and teammates’s cars are the same. An in-depth analysis of Mr. Verstappen’s use of his gas pedal, brake and steering wheel could provide some context, but it wouldn’t be nearly as intuitive or satisfying for fans as a barrage of arcing basketballs hitting nothing but nylon from downtown.
Some individual athletes are able to maintain intrigue despite their dominance. Gymnast Simone Biles continues to dazzle, and Novak Djokovic’s mastery of tennis feels fresh, but their battles against time are part of what makes them interesting. Ms. Biles, 26, became the oldest woman to win the U.S. Gymnastics Championship this year, and many fans watch to see whether Mr. Djokovic, 36, is starting to rust. Mr. Verstappen could spend another decade at the front of the grid.
Formula One viewership in the U.S. had been increasing steadily since Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” series debuted in 2019, but it has leveled off. Attendance at U.S. races is slightly down this season, and ticket prices for the Nov. 19 race down the Las Vegas Strip are crashing.
The sport’s governing body is set to change some of its car-design rules in 2026, which likely will give Red Bull some competition. Until that happens, Mr. Verstappen could hurt his sport’s prospects by being the best it’s ever seen.
Mr. Naida is an assistant editorial features editor at the Journal.