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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Formula One Is Back After a Particularly Spicy Offseason

  • F1 begins its 2024 season with Saturday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
  • The 2023 season set revenue records, and the offseason brought the drama.
Max Verstappen. Christian Horner
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Formula One begins its longest season ever Saturday, with the Bahrain Grand Prix kicking off a 24-race schedule that will include the circuit’s return to China for the first time since the pandemic.

All of that should set up yet another record year for F1, after annual revenue surpassed $3 billion for the first time in 2023. That was thanks in part to the wildly successful debut of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, which will take another spin around the Strip in November. But since the ’23 campaign ended, it’s been an offseason filled with plenty of twists and turns, all leading up to this weekend’s return.

From the Executive Suite

After dominating both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships last year, Red Bull became the talk of the offseason for a different reason. Allegations of inappropriate behavior levied against team principal Christian Horner by a female Red Bull employee brought his future with the organization into question. This week, Red Bull, without revealing any significant details, announced an independent investigation cleared Horner of any wrongdoing. But the drama continued, with Horner having to speak out Thursday after files purportedly related to his misconduct investigation were emailed to hundreds of F1, FIA, and team officials. On Friday, Horner met with F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and FIA boss president Mohammed Ben Sulayem separately to discuss the ongoing controversy surrounding him, per ESPN.

Meanwhile, Toto Wolff signed a three-year extension to remain team principal at Mercedes. His salary is not public, but Wolff owns 33% of the F1 team, which Forbes most recently valued at $3.8 billion. At Haas, founding team principal Guenther Steiner’s contract was not renewed, but there’s good news for any Drive to Survive fans who have enjoyed his energetic personality on the grid and Netflix series alike: German F1 broadcaster RTL has tapped Steiner as a commentator this season.

Behind the Wheel

No drivers have changed teams for the 2024 season, but there is an impending shift creating tension on the F1 grid. Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has already agreed to leave Mercedes after this season to join Ferrari in ’25, creating lame-duck years for himself and the driver he’ll replace, Carlos Sainz. Hamilton’s ’23 salary was $55 million, per Forbes, and some reports out of Europe estimate his multiyear Ferrari deal to be worth more than $400 million, between salary and other benefits.

Media Madness

The sixth season of Drive to Survive is out, and like other editions of the series, Netflix is being criticized for some overdramatization of some events. Now three-time defending champion Max Verstappen famously refused to participate in the show’s fourth season, which chronicled his first title in 2021, due to his portrayal in previous seasons.

While ESPN enters the second season of its three-year U.S. media-rights deal believed to be worth $85 million annually, F1 just completed a 10-year pact with beIN Sports for broadcast rights in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey that multiple reports are saying is worth $500 million in total.

Call It What You Want

With sponsor dollars key for F1 team operations, official squad names change all the time as new financial backers arrive—and this year is no different. Welcome to the grid, Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber and Visa Cash App RB Formula One Team. Rolls off the tongue nicely, huh? 

“I know people are going to shorten it and I’ve already heard RB and whatever,” said Daniel Ricciardo, who drives for the latter. “I will say ‘Do as you wish,’ but you’ll hear me say ‘Visa Cash App RB.’” Spoken like a true … spokesperson.

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