The Formula 1 championship fight has only been decided at the final race once in the past seven seasons.

With first Mercedes holding the upper hand among the teams, then Red Bull, the chances of the championship going down to the wire have been slim to begin with in recent years. On top of that, with the calendar growing to an unprecedented 24 races this year, plus more points being given out for the six sprint races, the likelihood of the title fight ending before the final race in any year has risen.

So could Liberty Media, in its quest to enhance the spectacle of the series, introduce a format which would see the championship decided at the final race every year? ‘Play-offs’ such as these are common in other sports.

The most well-known of these in motor racing are the NASCAR play-offs. These were originally known as the Chase for the Cup when it was introduced 10 years ago, but the essential idea remains the same: Once a certain point is reached, a leading group of drivers enter a tournament where each is progressively eliminated until the final race where the champion is crowned.

Last year’s F1 title fight ended with six grands prix left

From a sporting point of view the system has an obvious downside: It increases the likelihood the champion will not be the driver who has the best results over a season. But the idea of ensuring the drivers’ championship goes down to the final race every year – eradicating ‘dead rubber’ races – may be seen by Liberty as a more entertaining format.

Similar play-off systems are already used in other sports, such as baseball. Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei was asked this week whether they could be adopted for F1 as well, and his response indicated that while it isn’t on the table at the moment, it may be only a matter of time.

“I don’t think we’re quite to that point,” Maffei told the official F1 website. “I think one of the great things about this sport – which you actually have in baseball as well and not in every sport, I think – is the fact we spend the season, we crown a world champion at the end. That is a huge win, I think, in a lot of peoples’ minds.”

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But Maffei pointed out that even a long-established sport such as baseball had altered its rules with a view to improving the spectacle.

Greg Maffei
Maffei says Liberty are paying attention to what fans want

“Major League Baseball is a place with a ton of tradition, proud traditions, and yet it’s had to change,” he said. “It’s had changes over the last couple of years, [the] pitch clock being the primary one. [Plus] no-shift, limitations on how many times you can throw to first [base], how many times the batter can get out of the batter’s box.

“All those changes are new, and they actually made the sport better, I think, in most people’s minds. Formula 1’s a place with a lot of proud traditions and in some cases there’s resistance to change and you shouldn’t just change for change sake but you have to keep moving and come up with the times.”

Liberty Media has already altered F1’s championship structure by making some rounds worth more than others through introducing sprint races at a limited number of events. Maffei said this is an example of how, since they took over F1, the series pays closer attention to what fans want and responds accordingly.

“Formula 1 used to be [business-to-business],” he said. “The show would come to town, the local promoter would be the one who sold the tickets and really understood who the audience was.”

But now “we’ve increasingly moved to a much more direct-to-consumer business where we understand the fans better,” said Maffei. “We know the fans better and we need to because all these other sports are doing the same thing. They understand what their fans want and how to meet their needs.

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“That’s an area where I’ve been involved, that’s where I’ve been pushing. We talked about the changes in linear television. The world is fragmenting and the younger fans don’t necessarily want to watch a race that runs an hour and a half or two hours.

“So finding new ways to reach them, shortened versions, touching them on social media, touching them on platforms that they care about, whether it’s YouTube or something else, those are areas that are of interest to me.”

Another factor which pushed NASCAR towards introducing its play-offs system is the length of its calendar, which with 36 points-paying rounds is 50% longer than F1’s punishing schedule, albeit contained entirely within one country. Maffei said it’s unlikely F1 will expand beyond its current 24 events.

Video: 2023 NASCAR Play-off final at Phoenix

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