McLaren CEO Zak Brown believes Formula 1 has never been more competitive than it was last season, but you have to take Max Verstappen out of that equation.
Last season as Formula 1’s ground-effect aerodynamic cars evolved, Red Bull continued their 2022 success and took it to a new record-breaking level.
Verstappen won 19 of 22 Grands Prix, including a run of 10 on the trot, finished all but one Grand Prix on the podium, and wrapped up the title with six races to spare.
‘I think once some of us catch this Max guy…’
His success, though, divided the paddock and the sport’s fanbase with some applauding his prowess while others felt it was boring and hurt the sport.
But as he romped from one P1 to another, Red Bull winning 21 of the season’s races, behind them the competition was intense.
Aston Martin led the early running before being overhauled by Mercedes with Ferrari and McLaren. Mercedes pipped Ferrari to P2 by three points while McLaren overhauled Aston Martin to take fourth, 22 points to the good.
Six of the 10 teams featured on the podium and every one of them made it into Q3.
It’s the latter that has Brown believing Formula 1 has never been more competitive, and he expects it will be even closer in 2024.
“On one hand, with one driver, we’ve never had a less competitive Formula 1 – thank you Max, and hats off,” the McLaren chief told Speedcafe’s KTM Summer Grill.
“Behind Max, it’s the most competitive I’ve ever seen Formula 1. (Last year) it was the first time in the history of Formula 1 we had five teams with seven or more podiums.
“You had teams that were ninth and 10th in the championship making it into Q3, I wouldn’t say on a regular basis, but enough.
“In the good old days of Formula 1, the teams at the back of the grid were three seconds off (the front). Now the entire grid is covered by a second.
“So I don’t think Formula 1’s ever been more competitive, and I think it’s only going to get even more competitive.
“You had Max and the RB19 working their magic, which made the racing at the front a little more predictable than we’d all like it to be.
“But behind that, look at us, we were ninth quickest (at the start of the year) and ended up second quickest at the end of it.
“Then you had Aston Martin, second quickest (early on), then kind of dropped to fifth quickest and then made a comeback.
“The teams were amazing, so I think the sport is massively competitive, and I think once some of us catch this Max guy, Formula 1’s going to be unlike anything we’ve seen before.”
Mercedes resurgence despite Red Bull dominance?
This season, the general belief is that Red Bull will once again dominate as last year’s runaway success meant they were able to focus on this year’s car earlier than any of their rivals.
But with the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari putting all-new cars on the grid, Brown is not ruling out the possibility of an intense title fight.
And it could even be one that yields Lewis Hamilton’s eighth World title as the Briton bids farewell to Mercedes to move to Ferrari.
“The great mystery is Red Bull, and when did they turn off development (of last year’s car) to focus on this year?” he said.
“I think the answer is probably pretty early, so we’ll just have to wait and see how much Adrian Newey magic comes out of the oven, so to speak, to see where we are.
“At the same time, Mercedes, Ferrari, these teams have everything they need, and they’re great teams.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we were sitting here (at the end of the year) and all of a sudden Mercedes was back to Lewis winning his eighth championship.
“It’s very tough and competitive now, and I don’t think you can rule anybody out at this time of the year.”