Why thrilling battles for F1 race wins are killing the title race


The 2024 F1 season has been a breath of fresh air, with six different race winners across the first 12 grands prix. But the scale of the competition — and Red Bull's early advantage — are giving Max Verstappen few concerns in the championship

Verstappen lead

The six F1 race winners of 2024...so far

Grand Prix Photo/Getty Images

F1 fans were bracing themselves for two more years of Red Bull domination after pre-season form that was almost universally greeted as “ominous”. But, 12 races in, and the 2024 championship is already one of the most competitive in modern times, with six race winners from four constructors — in just 12 races.

Since 2010, F1 has averaged five different winners over the course of each year. That dropped to just three in 2023 in the face of Red Bull and Max Verstappen‘s record-breaking supremacy.

This season, the success of Carlos Sainz in Australia, Lando Norris in Miami, Charles Leclerc in Monaco, George Russell in Austria, and Max Verstappen everywhere else, combined with Lewis Hamilton‘s ninth British Grand Prix triumph means that the number of winners in 2024 has only been matched or surpassed four times this century. With half a season of racing still to come and no one team pulling clear of the rest, we could yet see that tally increase. McLaren‘s Oscar Piastri looks to be a pinch of luck away from a race victory, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez needs somewhat more.

But while it may sound like music to the ears of loyal race fans who sat through the 77.2% of all grands prix won — often predictably — by Max Verstappen since 2022, the close competitive order that brings uncertainty to each race weekend is killing the championship battle

Despite only claiming two race victories in the last four grands prix and missing the podium entirely in Austria, Max Verstappen’s hold on a fourth consecutive drivers’ title has actually tightened.

A storming start to this season established an early cushion of advantage as those behind him struggled for consistency and pace. Victories in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Japan and China (as well as a sprint race win at the latter) gave him a total of 110 points heading into the sixth round, with Charles Leclerc 34 points behind him. A slow start for both McLaren and Mercedes meant Lando Norris and George Russell only scored 58 and 33 points respectively over the same time frame.

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Although a gradual convergence in performance between Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari has now opened up the possibility for more race winners — as Norris, Leclerc and Hamilton displayed in Miami, Monaco and Britain respectively — it has also meant that there’s no clear championship rival. Verstappen might not be winning the number of races he did in 2022 or 2023, but with up to eight drivers able to fight for each race win, the damage to his title lead remains limited.

The Dutchman’s title lead was brought down to as little as 31 points following defeats in Miami and Monaco but has since ballooned to 84 points as Norris failed to finish in Austria and secured third-place at Silverstone. His previous closest challenger, Leclerc, has dropped back after scoring only 12 points in the past four races during a period of intense struggle for Ferrari.

Even if Verstappen finished no higher than fourth for the remaining 12 grands prix and three sprint races of the season (while also missing out on every additional point for the fastest lap), he’d still have accrued a total of 414 points — a tally good enough to have made him world champion in every season since 2010. If Norris — who is currently second in the drivers’ standings — finished two-places ahead of the Dutchman in every race within the same time frame and won every sprint, he’d still be three points short of the title.

Max Verstappen Red Bull

Verstappen could win a fourth-consecutive drivers’ title in a very different way this year

Red Bull

It’s a different case altogether in the constructors’ championship, as the consistent underperformance of Sergio Perez is already damaging Red Bull’s chances of retaining the top spot.

While McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes all possess driver pairings which have run each other close this season, maximising their teams’ points scores, the contrast between Verstappen and Perez at Red Bull has been stark.

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Since Imola, the Mexican has scored just 14 points to Verstappen’s 119, giving Red Bull a total tally of 134 points over the last six races. Of the four front-running constructors only Ferrari have scored less (115), while Mercedes has scored 157 points and McLaren an impressive 171.

But while it may look bad on paper, Perez’s poor performances are yet to have an actual impact on his team’s standing in the constructors’ championship. After a 1-8 finish in Imola the Milton Keynes outfit held a 52-point lead over Ferrari, but due to the now tight-knit performance of the trailing pack making big points gains much more difficult, Red Bull’s lead has actually grown to 71 points following the British GP.

Unlike in the drivers’ championship, the chances of another constructor catching Red Bull are high — especially if Perez continues to finish outside the point-scoring positions. Even if Verstappen won half of the remaining races as well as every sprint — replicating his results from the first half of the season — McLaren and Ferrari would need an average of 21 points from every race weekend in order to pass the reigning world champions. Both teams have averaged north of 24 points per race so far this season.

Ferrari Red Bull Mercedes Austrian Grand Prix 2024

The fight at the front has become crowded

Getty Images

Realistically, Red Bull’s historic lack of empathy for its struggling drivers suggests that its Perez problem will be fixed before another constructor can get close, and Verstappen’s lack of mistake-making could mean that the drivers’ title is well in hand too.

But while Red Bull’s early advantage has open up a daunting gap in the championships, the genuine competition for race wins and the thrilling battles it produces are helping to make up for the current lack of a title race. 2024 has already produced its fair share of great headlines from Oliver Bearman’s emphatic debut drive in Saudi Arabia and Norris’s first win, to Leclerc’s first victory in Monaco and Hamilton’s ninth Silverstone triumph.

With the performance gap between the front runners looking ever closer, an uneventful championship race might be the price we pay for action-packed race weekends.