Get set to em­brace a brave new world

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - Fol­low An­thony on Twit­ter: @Rowl­in­son_F1

What is it about late-sum­mer Monza that makes it al­ways a race to re­mem­ber? Thick heat ooz­ing in from nearby Mi­lan, pasta, vino rosso, tifosi, ev­ery B-list Ital­ian TV celeb F1-tour­ing on race-day morn­ing. All th­ese clichés com­bine to make the Monza pad­dock the most Ital­ian place on the planet for three days each Septem­ber. More than this, things hap­pen there. The in­ten­sity of the Au­to­dromo’s at­mos­phere re­duced Mika Häkki­nen to tears in 1999; Schu­macher an­nounced his (first) F1 re­tire­ment at Monza in 2006; As­cari, Rindt… both died at this still fear­somely quick track.

As for the 2016 edi­tion… the departures of Felipe Massa and Jen­son But­ton – one tear­ful, one full of glee. And hov­er­ing above, ru­mours, since con­firmed, that F1 would soon be un­der new own­er­ship. It sud­denly felt as if F1 were about to un­dergo a shift more pro­found than the gen­er­a­tional pas­sage of Massa and But­ton; there’s a sense that as profit-hun­gry ma­jor share­hold­ers CVC Cap­i­tal Part­ners step back, a bold, dig­i­tally savvy fu­ture might await F1, with Lib­erty Me­dia Group at the helm.

Ma­jor­ity own­er­ship and con­trol by a me­dia com­pany, rather than by ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists, of­fers a chance for F1 to pro­mote it­self glob­ally – and to a wider au­di­ence. A few high­lights from Lib­erty’s in­vestor pre­sen­ta­tion of­fer en­cour­age­ment. It de­scribes F1 as ‘the world’s lead­ing com­mer­cial sport en­ter­tain­ment fran­chise’ and notes ‘[the] op­por­tu­nity to de­velop the sport for the ben­e­fit of all stake­hold­ers (fans, teams, part­ners, share­hold­ers)’.

It’s been a while since we’ve read of ‘fans’ be­ing placed front and cen­tre of the F1 ex­pe­ri­ence and let’s re­joice at their men­tion, be­cause with­out fans F1 is noth­ing. No au­di­ence to which Mercedes, Re­nault, Honda and Fer­rari can sell their cars; no buy­ers for Rolex, Bell and Ross or TAG-Heuer wrist ar­chi­tec­ture.

Lib­erty haven’t bought in solely for the good of the sport. They, like any other com­pany, ex­ist to make money from their prop­er­ties and new F1 chair­man Chase Carey has spo­ken with rel­ish about the strength of the brands and fran­chises in F1. But that’s not to say that Lib­erty can’t be benev­o­lent cus­to­di­ans, with an eye to F1’s long-term health and with an in­clu­sive at­ti­tude to­wards its bedrock par­tic­i­pants: the teams.

As Bob Fern­ley, deputy team prin­ci­pal of Force In­dia, ob­served: “We’ve a unique prod­uct in For­mula 1, cre­ated by Bernie Ec­cle­stone, along with other peo­ple who have con­trib­uted in the past – the likes of Ron Den­nis, Frank Wil­liams, Ken Tyrrell. If you over­lay that with the ex­per­tise Lib­erty Me­dia have in sports mar­ket­ing, you’ve an ex­cit­ing mix. It’s just a ques­tion of putting it to­gether now, but the key mes­sage to get across from our side is that it’s ex­cit­ing times.”

Ex­cit­ing in­deed, though also a steep learn­ing curve for the new rights hold­ers. Which cir­cuits and ter­ri­to­ries should F1 em­brace next? What will be the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of fran­chise deals for teams? Can a rights-re­stricted TV of­fer­ing still ex­ist in the age of so­cial me­dia?

We watch and wait. Op­ti­misti­cally.

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