When most of us think about racing we probably think of Disney’s ‘Cars’ (or if you’re like me you probably thought of the ‘Race’ franchise but were too embarrassed to say it out loud). Well, that changed for me when I discovered a Netflix series called ‘Drive to Survive’ that spiced up the ‘pinnacle of motorsport’- Formula One.

Since its inaugural season in 1950, Formula One has been driving towards new innovations in technology and their implementation. As of today, Formula One cars are a few of the world’s fastest cars reaching speeds up to 357 kmph! 

In the championship there are ten teams with two drivers each which makes them twenty drivers that fight for the championship each season. Each season has around twenty races and each race takes place in a different country, usually every alternate Sunday. 

A typical F1 car 

Many people argue that Formula One lacks the physicality of other sports and in one aspect this is true. If you think about it, all the driver needs to do is sit in the car and drive it around in circles for a certain period of time but as you dive further you realise that there’s more than what meets the eye. As established before, Formula One cars attain high speeds and they do not slow down at all at turns. This generates a G force that pressurises the neck and can cause it to snap. Formula One thus, is a dangerous sport and requires the drivers to maintain a strict regimen and a standard weight. Drivers are not allowed to race if they are underweight but at the same time, the excess weight comes at the cost of a slower car so they have no option but to maintain a standard weight for every race throughout the whole year. To add to this the race circuits are challenging. Since every race is in a different country the drivers also have to combat and overcome jet lag on a very regular basis. 

Each race is called a Grand Prix (pronounced ‘grau pri’ because it’s French) that attracts around 4 lakh people to the circuit and millions in views. 

The Monte Carlo Circuit 

What makes this sport interesting is the fact that success in the game isn’t just based on the driver’s talent. The car design, construction, and reliability are all engineered by the teams themselves. The result of a race is determined by a lot of factors including car reliability(engine and power), weather conditions(for the type of tyres), team strategy, time taken for a pit stop, and a host of other factors. The team principal is responsible for managing all these factors to ensure the best result for the team. All of this latest technology, engineering, and R&D requires a lot of money making. Thus,  Formula One is one of the most expensive sports to compete in. If that wasn’t enough, the FIA also exercises budgetary restrictions on the teams to ensure a level playing field. These reasons are why people compare this sport to chess but just at 300km/h!

A Typical Pit Stop 

I haven’t even got to the best part yet. The science, money, and technicality of this sport make it rather difficult to enjoy and understand but what makes it entertaining is the politics, of course! Formula One’s paddock is a harsh place- drivers swap contracts changing teams and loyalties constantly. Team principals are cutthroat and teams take full advantage of another team’s weakness and to top it all. The sport is driven by cash and capitalism. In fact, 2023 marks a landmark change in viewing Formula One. The FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) has snatched streaming rights from TV networks and OTT platforms and has given it exclusively to its new venture F1 TV. Thus to watch a race you now have to download or install the application and pay a subscription fee annually. Through this system, all the money is now made by the FIA.

This season promises more excitement and a record-breaking 23 races with a new circuit on the Las Vegas strip in an effort to bring fans, press, and obviously more money to the table. Many believe that it might be the seven-time world champion Lewis Hamiliton’s last season as his contract with Mercedes ends this year. While the reigning double world champion Max Verstappen is the fan favourite, many journalists expect Charles Leclerc to be a tough competitor who could bring the trophy back to Ferrari who hasn’t won the championship since 2007. 

Lewis Hamilton vs Max Verstappen : A rivalry

While all of the racing, competition, and sportsmanship may seem completely harmless and in good spirit, there is something that threatens this sport. The 2022 season saw the first Miami Grand Prix ever which was hyped on social media but met with protests from the residents of Miami Gardens who claimed that the noise from the cars and the pollution generated was an environmental hazard and sought the cancellation of the race. Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel retired from the sport in 2022 citing personal reasons and admitting that the negative environmental effects of the sport made him want to distance himself from the sport itself. While the FIA has maintained that it will achieve a list of sustainable goals by 2030, many still criticise them for not doing enough in these times of global warming and climate change. While electric-powered cars may not be in the distant future, sports journalists question whether the FIA will make such a change mandatory if it comes at a cost of the speed. Formula One has also met considerable backlash for not having enough opportunities for women drivers. The race drivers have mostly been Caucasian males since 1950 and that has not yet changed. While these protests and critiques plague the sport, its fanbase is still increasing at a considerable rate since 2018.

Now you may choose to like the sport or dislike it but as a student of economics, this proves as the perfect challenge to predict the winner based on so many variables (car engine, driver form, driver talent, strategy, etc. I asked Chat GPT to predict the winner for 2023 and here’s what it has guessed based on past performances. 

Let me know who you think will win and I look forward to discussing it with you!

Till then, it’s lights out and away we go with the 2023 season!

-Gaargi Jamkar 


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