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There's a First Time For Everything

If you're ever going to watch an F1 race in your life, Sunday is the day

December 10, 2021

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To be a basic bro in the American sports world of 2021, you have to be mildly into F1 racing as a result of watching Netflix's documentary Drive To Survive. To be an insanely basic bro, it has to have happened within the last two months, years after it became cool. That last group? Ladies and gentlemen, it's me.

In my defense, Drive To Survive is ridiculously good, and any sport you can consume in 30-minute chunks with all the boring parts cut out is like manna from the heavens for a parent with an internet-zapped attention span. I won't apologize. Nevertheless, as a recently minted ambassador to the world of F1 racing, it's my duty to inform you, here on this golf website, that Sunday morning at 8 a.m. should be bananas.

At that time, in Abu Dhabi, the last race of the year will determine the winning driver in what is the closest championship in the sport's history. I can say that confidently, despite knowing nothing about F1 racing, because the two top drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, are tied in points after 21 races. Also, and more pertinently: they hate each other.

Before I get into that, let me give you a quick rundown of what I've learned about F1 in the short time I've become America's no. 1 fan:

1. It's a classic European sport, where out of 20 drivers, only four—and that's probably being generous—have an actual shot to win. Because it's a wildly expensive sport, and there are no restrictions on spending, teams like Mercedes and Red Bull have way better cars than the other teams, and because they have more money and better cars, they also attract the best drivers.

2. Of the other 20 drivers, many are extremely talented, but some are also there because they have a rich dad, or something. Imagine if you were an NBA fan, and franchises were so expensive to run that only major corporations or guys like Jeff Bezos could own a team, and Bezos bought a failing franchise like the Minnesota Timberwolves with the caveat that his son had to start at point guard. That's F1 racing.

3. Are the races fun? I'll tell you this, buddy: kinda. Definitely not as fun as Drive To Survive, especially if you're not a racing fan already, but in terms of something to have on in the background, it's...fine. I don't hate it.

I also may never watch it again, but I can promise you that I'll be watching on Sunday. The hilarious situation here is that Hamilton, the reigning champ going for his fifth title in a row and his seventh in the last eight years, seems to have the better car, and has won three straight races to come back from the brink of defeat. He's the favorite. However, Verstappen, the 24-year-old wonderboy looking for his first title, would win in the case of a tie, and the only way they can tie is if neither racer finishes in the top ten. That's virtually impossible—Verstappen has finished outside the top ten three times in 21 races, and Hamilton just twice.

The only way it happens is if they both crash, which means that perversely, Verstappen might have an incentive to just crash himself and Hamilton out of the race, especially if he thinks he's going to lose anyway. And Verstappen seems like exactly the kind of guy who might do it...to the point that the race director had to issue a reminder to everyone last week that such a tactic is illegal.

The profile on both racers is that they are super, super aggressive, and Verstappen is so aggressive and so loath to let anyone pass that he's alienating some fans. In the interest of good journalism, I asked four friends and race fans I know named Noodles, Dave, Matt, and Anthony to give me a more nuanced take on these guys. Here's what they said:

Noodles: "Verstappen has always had a reputation for being an aggressive driver, bordering on dirty...these two do seem to dislike each other on a personal level at this point."

Dave: "There are few athletes that I dislike more than Verstappen. It is rapidly progressing from punk kid who drives aggressively to the guy being a true sport supervillain...Lewis is far from fault and is kind of a prick himself. But he doesn't purposely endanger other drivers and wreck his own teammates."

Matt: "The F1 press, who are admittedly pretty British and in the bag for British drivers, talk about Verstappen being a guy who will tell you to go **** yourself when you ask a difficult question but then tell you “hey, sorry” after the interview."

Anthony, bringing it home to golf: "Lewis, starting with his second season (he snuck the championship in the greatest sporting event I've ever watched) was pretty petulant himself, all the way until he decided to leave McLaren in 2012. He would often whine about his car or team strategy over the radio and still to this day drives way too aggressively at times...There was one weekend where the F1 announcers caught Lewis snarking at his team, made a comment, and later in the day Bubba said something to Ted Scott and the announcers said almost the exact same thing I'd heard earlier in the day about Lewis."

So there you go—race fan or not, why would you ever miss this? If you have to be up on Sunday morning at eight, you have ESPN, and you can set aside 90 minutes to two hours, this should be worth your time. My personal recommendation is to do some Drive to Survive binge work first so you get to know the drivers a little, and then tune in for what has a chance to be a ridiculously great—or perhaps just ridiculous—season finale.