‘The tightest field ever in F1’ – Is Alex Albon right to say F1 isn’t boring?

Thomas Maher
Max Verstappen, 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen's ongoing dominance in F1 doesn't mean the sport is boring, according to Alex Albon.

Alex Albon has made the case that F1 isn’t set for a boring season, arguing that the sport has never been healthier in terms of the closeness of competition.

With two consecutive Red Bull 1-2 finishes, following up on their utter dominance of the 2023 season, has Formula 1 reached a point of boring the fans and even its participants? Williams’ Alex Albon has scoffed at the idea…

Alex Albon: Take Max Verstappen out of the equation, it’s the best grid ever in Formula 1

Speaking about the topic of domination on the Beyond the Grid podcast earlier this week, Albon was talking about the closeness of the field and how the pressure is on every driver to make sure they don’t make even the slightest mistake – even a tenth of a second can cost a driver on the 2024 grid several positions.

“It’s a bit of a shame to see comments about Max and it being a boring season, because it’s totally not that, at least from my perspective,” Albon argued.

“You take him out of the equation, you have one of the best grids, the best field, the tightest grids, ever in Formula 1.

“Even if you include Max, it’s still the tightest field in Formula 1.”

Albon is correct in many ways – there is no arguing against just how close the field really is. After all, in a world that has seen stable regulations and a budget cap result in ever-increasing convergence, there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ car in F1 anymore – the slowest machines are merely cars that are less good.

To that end, just two seconds separated the fastest and slowest flying lap in qualifying in Saudi Arabia (between Q1 and Q3) and just 1.1 seconds between the fastest and slowest times in Q3 – an average difference of 0.11 seconds between each competitor.

In contrast, compare that field spread to the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix (the second race of the third season following the last major rules change when the hybrid power units were rolled out), where the gap between the fastest and slowest in Q3 was 2.2 seconds, and 4.9 seconds between the fastest time of Q3 and the slowest of Q1 – more than double the differences of today.

Gone are the days in which the 107 percent rule, designed to keep dangerously slow cars off the grid, was actually something the slowest teams needed to worry about.

Indeed, with Sargeant going 4.5 seconds quicker than the 107 percent cut-off time in Saudi Arabia, the slowest car was within 102.35 percent of the fastest time.

Depending on your age, and what era you believe is the ‘golden age’ of F1, the field spread has never been… well, less spread! Throughout most of F1 history, the gaps between even the first and second-quickest cars over a single lap could be multiple seconds – greater than the gap between the entire field of today.

But, does Albon’s argument about the closest field really matter? After all, the ‘mistakes’ that prove the great differentiator are considerably harder to make than in the past, due to how easy the cars of today are to drive in a consistent manner.

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With 20 highly-skilled drivers (and they are all highly skilled, regardless of how you view some of those who are more talent-challenged than others) all extracting the potential of their cars on a consistent basis, the factor that separates them comes down to the machinery, and the statistics of the season so far stacks up against that.

Red Bull has left just a solitary point on the table from the 88 available so far, due to Charles Leclerc taking the fastest lap point away on the final lap in Saudi Arabia, while the leading five teams have scored 19 of the 20 points positions – just Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas is the interloper there.

Without revolutionary car designs that teams can’t take risks on due to a lack of testing time, the performance gains that can be unlocked over the course of the season are quite small – the budget cap and aero testing restrictions make sure of that. It’s why McLaren’s huge gains in 2023 were so eye-opening – the improvement would have been shockingly impressive even without such restrictions in place.

So, in some ways, Albon is right – the field is very competitive, perhaps the strongest all-round pack of drivers ever in terms of talent.

That’s probably very fun for a driver battling in the midfield for every point available. But, unless you’re one of those drivers and are, instead, the average fan tuning in on a weekend to watch some racing, seeing Red Bull sprint away at the front probably isn’t all that entertaining.

Yes, the sport is a meritocracy and Red Bull have earned their current domination. No, I don’t believe the rules should be changed as a knee-jerk reaction to that. But let’s not pretend that seeing Max Verstappen win all but one of the last 20 Grand Prix is highly entertaining for anyone other than Max or his team.

What most fans care about most is the battle for supremacy, not who finishes fourth or fifth in the championship. That’s why even an intra-team battle like the Mercedes civil war between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in 2016 was memorable, even in a year where another team couldn’t haul itself into the mix.

As long as Verstappen sails off in the lead, untroubled by Sergio Perez, with Red Bull clearly out in front… sorry Alex, but I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one!

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