Exploring the Sporting World: Formula 1
Baseball and the New York Yankees have my heart. They always will. But, maybe it's time for something new.
When watching Formula 1, fans of the sport typically root for drivers, teams (called constructors), or both. This leads to an interesting style of fandom within the sport, as fans on the whole (or at least who I've mostly come into contact with in-person and online) are typically more "flowy" with the teams/constructors they root for. With just 20 drivers on 10 constructors, this sport does have its players/drivers with arguably the most pull and influence over fans. There is also a large component of how owners and team principals (think of them like a general manager) can alter a fanbase, as most traditional fans could likely tell you who those guys are for most teams "on the grid".
In the current sport there are the "Big 3" constructors, who make up the "front pack", which are made up of: Ferrari (the team with the pedigree/history), Mercedes (the team that recently dominated the sport), and Red Bull (the newer team that has started to dominate). Often times, drivers from these 3 constructors will solely finish in the Top-3 or 4 of a race.
Following them, we get to the mid-field. This is where most of the remaining constructors tend to find themselves. Though, the list of who is and who isn't in the midfield is constantly changing. This is largely because technical regulations (or the rules about how to build a car) are altered year-in and year-out which does tend to lead to a lot of shuffling around as constructors try to find tweaks to get the best performance out of their cars. Because of this, it is also common to hear controversy within the sport each season about how a team developed their car. Much like how NASCAR (or stock-car racing) was founded from people breaking the law and running moonshine, the origins of winning Formula 1 races and seasons can also be traced towards a lot of cheating and bending the rules.
Getting back to constructors, the remaining 7 are:
Alfa Romeo-Ferrari (who are going to be replaced by Audi in 2026)
AlphaTauri-RBPT (they are essentially a secondary team to Red Bull)
Alpine-Renault (a completely independent constructor with their own engine/power unit)
Aston Martin-Mercedes (a recent rebrand from "Racing Point", they just invested a ton of money into their development process and should be on the rise)
Haas-Ferrari (the newest constructor, and only American constructor, but who are still a step or two behind the others)
McLaren-Mercedes (arguably the most fan-favorite constructor and closest to being in the front pack)
Williams-Mercedes (the constructor with the 2nd longest heritage in the sport, they'll run the only American driver in 2023)
It's from these constructors- who each have 2 main drivers- that the sport gets it's "grid". If you notice, most teams have one of the "Big 3" supply their engines (as listed at their end of their names), with Mercedes supplying 4 teams, Ferrari with 3, Red Bull ("RBPT") with 2, and Renault with 1. This is an important thing to also understand about the sport, as not all teams will create all parts of their cars. Creating an engine/powertrain is a very costly thing and it should come as no surprise that the top constructors are the ones who typically build their own. This is what makes Alpine an exciting constructors to root for as they are trying to break the system.
The constructors also need the best drivers in order to get the most out of the cars. In 2023, the sport will see 3 rookies to Formula 1 in addition to 16 hold-overs from the year prior and 1 driver return. They are:
Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo) - The only Chinese driver to ever be in Formula 1, he's headed into his 2nd season and was able to hold his own against a proven veteran driver last season.
Valterri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) - After 5 years as the back-up to arguably the greatest driver ever while with Mercedes, Bottas' relationship ended with Mercedes as he went to lead a lower-tiered constructor on the grid. A disappointing season all said and told in 2022, he scored points in 7 of the first 9 races before scoring just twice in the final 13 races.
Nyck de Vries (AlphaTauri) - He made his Formula 1 debut last season for one race, he finished in 9th place for Williams and thoroughly impressed. He was a Formula 2 champion (2019) and a Formula E champion (2021), he's finally getting a full-time shot in 2023.
Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) - My personal favorite driver, Tsunoda is the shortest driver on the grid (by nearly 5 inches!) and he has an incredibly fiery personality. To some, it's a bit much considering his lack of success thusfar (which is understandable), and the 2023 season will be a make-or-break one for him as he'll need to prove his talents after a season where his constructor fell a lot from grace. If not, he's likely gone for 2024.
Pierre Gasly (Alpine) - The former teammate to Tsunoda, Gasly is off to complete a perfect french trio of constructor and drivers at Alpine. The 2022 season was a huge fall-off for him as well, as he ranked 2nd worst in terms of performance of returning drivers.
Esteban Ocon (Alpine) - A solid driver whose early career was marked by an overly-aggressive attitude, Ocon has matured well in recent years and has become one of the more consistent drivers each year. He scored points in all but 6 races in 2022 and should continue getting better.
Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) - A 2-time Formula 1 champion from the mid-2000's, Alonso recently returned to the sport in 2021 after a 2 year hiatus. The oldest driver on the grid, he was one of the best last season with Alpine. He's changing constructors again for 2023 (taking the place of another great in the recently retired Sebastian Vettel).
Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) - His dad owns Aston Martin. As long as he's driving just okay and wants to continue to go out there, he'll be a driver. That's not unheard of in Formula 1 as Stroll would be considered a "pay driver", and some "pay drivers" turn out to be all-time great (see: Michael Schumacher). He has promise, but has yet to really ever deliver on it.
Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) - One of the consensus fan-favorite drivers in the sport currently, Leclerc is a constant threat for winning races but suffers from one major thing: he drives for Ferrari. It's not his fault that watching him is so frustrating due to poor tactical decision making, but it takes away from how good he could be.
Carlos Sainz Jr. (Ferrari) - Driving for his 4th constructor in his Formula 1 career, Sainz found himself as a driver after leaving Red Bull. He moved to Ferrari ahead of the 2021 season and over the last two years has finished 5th overall (after finishing 6th overall in two consecutive years with McLaren). While driving for Ferrari has helped raise his game, it is also a detriment for the same reasons as Leclerc.
Kevin Magnussen (Haas) - After a miserable 2020 season for driver and constructor (with Haas), they departed ways...until Haas needed a driver (for geopolitical reasons) right before 2022. Magnussen is an okay driver, and there isn't much else to say about him.
Nico Hulkenberg (Haas) - Nico Hulkenberg has been in the most Formula 1 races without ever finishing in the Top-3 (or on the podium). He's a driver that will get overwhelming support next year as fans look for him to break his curse. He's also back after his last full Formula 1 season in 2019.
Lando Norris (McLaren) - The first driver to be mentioned out of the trio of "goofballs", Lando Norris is another fan-favorite as he has a great personality and is one of the best drivers (if not the best) not on a Big-3 constructor.
Oscar Piastri (McLaren) - A large controversy about how he became a member of the McLaren team will follow him through his rookie season in 2023, as he's been talked about as one of the most promising prospects to the sport and is joining a constructor that is able to play ball with the Big-3.
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) - He's the best driver of this generation. He holds a record 7 World Drivers Championships (tied with Michael Schumacher) and a record 103 wins and a record 191 podiums. He's the best, in the best machinery, with the best team. If you like greatness and aren't familiar with his name, across sporting history and dominance his name should rank up there with Tom Brady and Michael Jordan.
George Russell (Mercedes) - Another member of the "goofballs", George Russell spent many years struggling at the bottom of Formula 1 just waiting to get a shot in a good car. He got that shot in 2022 with Mercedes and finished 4th overall. He has a great future ahead of him as the heir-apparent to Lewis Hamilton's throne with Mercedes.
Max Verstappen (Red Bull) - The winner of the last 2 World Drivers Championships, Verstappen was the last great prospect to make it into the sport...as a 17-year-old in 2015. It has taken a number of years for him to showcase that his promise was legitimate and the duo of him and Red Bull are going to be a constant threat for many years to come.
Sergio Perez (Red Bull) - The #2 driver to Verstappen, Perez lives in his shadow (as did Valtteri Bottas to Lewis Hamilton for years), though doesn't seem to really mind (at least not yet). Perez is a fantastic driver when it comes to strategy and driving for the constructor as opposed to his own glory and fame.
Logan Sargeant (Williams) - The only American driver (and first since Alexander Rossi in 2015) set to drive next year, he's the last of the 3 rookies set to make his debut at the highest level of racing this upcoming season. Driving with Williams will prove to be an interesting challenge as the constructor has been at the bottom of the grid for a while now, so expectations should be tempered for how his season goes.
Alexander Albon (Williams) - The final member of the "goofballs", Alex Albon was a castaway from Red Bull after being elevated very quickly into the #2 seat behind Verstappen. He didn't last in that seat and was quickly out of the sport in 2021 before Williams took a shot on him in 2022 and he performed very well. He has a tumultuous background due to some family issues, but his perseverance makes him an easy one to root for.
I understand that was a lot of information to throw at you and you might be thinking, "how is this any different from NASCAR?". Without trying to bore you to tears, I'll explain it simply.
NASCAR is what's called "stock car racing", where all the cars are built upon the same basic shape and form. Formula 1 cars are what's considered "open wheel racing", where the design of the cars is developed as part of a bigger picture for how to get the best performance out of it.
NASCAR also races on (mostly) oval tracks during races. Formula 1 races on circuits during a grand prix. This is something where baseball fans could appreciate Formula 1 more than NASCAR, as Formula 1 circuits all differ from one another in design and how they are raced. Much like how every MLB stadium has their own quirks, as do the many circuits on the calendar. These will also affect how teams will alter their cars week to week in order to best take advantage of different weather conditions, seasons, altitudes, and more over the course of the season.
Where and When?
The 2023 Formula 1 season will feature 23 races that will take place all over the world. This upcoming season is going to be the longest season in Formula 1 history. While subject to change, as of now, these are the 23 tracks and the date of the grand prix:
Bahrain International Circuit (Bahrain) - March 5th
Jeddah Corniche Circuit (Saudi Arabia) - March 19th
Albert Park Circuit (Australia) - April 2nd
Baku City Circuit (Azerbaijan) - April 30th
Miami International Audodrome (USA) - May 7th
Imola Circuit (Italy) - May 21st
Circuit de Monaco (Monaco) - May 28th
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya (Spain) - June 4th
Circuit Giles Villeneuve (Canada) - June 18th
Red Bull Ring (Austria) - July 2nd
Silverstone Circuit (United Kingdom) - July 9th
Hungaroring (Hungary) - July 23rd
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium) - July 30th
Circuit Zandvoort (Netherlands) - August 27th
Monza Circuit (Italy) - September 3rd
Marina Bay Street Circuit (Singapore) - September 17th
Suzuka International Racing Course (Japan) - September 24th
Lusail International Circuit (Qatar) - October 8th
Circuit of the Americas (USA) - October 22nd
Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez (Mexico) - October 29th
Interlagos Circuit (Brazil) - November 5th
Las Vegas Street Circuit (USA) - November 18th
Yas Marina Circuit (Abu Dhabi) - November 26th
Formula 1 is one of the quickest growing sports both internationally and within the USA. If you're in the market of always wanting to be "in the know" this is the sport to get into now. The push by Formula 1 to break into the American market is very clear with their being 3 races across the country over the course of the year, as they know American fans are that next population to get interested.
It also helps a ton that the Netflix show "Drive to Survive" has been critically acclaimed and is a joy to watch if you were unfamiliar with the sport and/or are a casual fan.
It also helps that there is a huge interest in watching cars race at over 200 miles per hour down a circuit...and occasionally there are big crashes that are (as I think we can all admit) hard to look away from and exciting.
I got into Formula 1 by virtue of being friends with a lot of engineers who were huge into the technical aspect of the sport. I was lucky that all those questions I had could be answered for me, so that I could just enjoy the fast cars going fast.
If you're looking for a sport that will keep you entertained about every other weekend over the course of all but 3 months during the year, Formula 1 is the perfect sport for you. I have a good feeling that most baseball fans would be able to get on board with this idea of having a sport to follow throughout most of the year. At the very least, I think it's a fun sport to give a chance to that doesn't require a huge commitment to get into. (And then once you do, watching qualifying and practice sessions over the whole weekend just gets to be even more fun!)