Dieter Rencken on Liberty Media
Right now, the words ‘Liberty Media’ are being bandied about in Formula 1 circles as though they were a compound two-word term. This similarity does not, though, make the terms synonymous, as many in the paddock patently believe when suggesting that Formula 1’s change of ownership will instantly x all F1’s problems.
Those who believe that change at the top will return Formula 1 to its former glory as the world’s premier annual sporting block will be sorely disappointed. Simply replacing Bernie Ecclestone with three (admittedly extremely capable) individuals and granting them the powers to revamp Formula 1 cannot be a silver bullet.
So deep-rooted are the sport’s underlying issues, from its inequitable revenue distribution through an unwieldy (and too often dysfunctional) regulatory structure, and dwindling public interest – that it will require protracted and concerted effort by all players: Liberty and the FIA, teams and technical partners, circuit owners and broadcasters, and, last but not least, Formula 1’s media and the world’s popular press.
For too long now, the sport has been subjected to ‘divide-and-rule’ governance. Ecclestone was a master at picking off teams (or circuits, or broadcasters) one by one, whether by fair means or questionable, to achieve his immediate objectives.
So ingrained is what Romans called d�vide et �mpera, that sportsgeneticists undertaking a study of Formula 1 would surely discover this to be one of F1’s DNA macromolecules. So the rst task facing Liberty’s trio of Chase Carey (chairman and CEO), Ross Brawn (managing director, F1 operations) and Sean Bratches (managing director, marketing) is to break down lingering suspicions that they will pursue the same policy.
Last month, news broke that a group of teams intended to join forces to form a sort of latter-day FOTA. On investigation it became apparent that the operative word was ‘group’, with this faction planning to maintain the present structures in the face of Liberty’s stated objective of levelling the nancial and regulatory playing elds.
No sooner had the disenfranchised teams got wind of the plan, than one of their number suggested the formation of a “FOITA” – effectively an independents’ teams association. Can you spot the fragmentation?
Neither concept got beyond hot air, but that is not the point; that this mindset prevails in the face of Formula 1’s myriad issues surely, though, provides cause for concern. If anything, a FOTA (or FOITA) should by denition work for the benet of all teams, and the wider sport – and not a Mercedes or Red Bull or Ferrari or whatever.
Competition between teams is, of course, another of Formula 1’s macromolecules. Indeed, it was the relentless rivalry between drivers, team bosses, manufacturers, engine suppliers, oil and fuel brands and, an age ago, tyre companies, that elevated Formula 1 to the top of the motorsport tree over a period of 60 years. Even current-day Formula 1, beset by problems or not, massively overshadows all other categories.
There is, though, a crucial difference between rivalry and destructive competition. And over the past 20 or so years, the sport’s players have too often failed to make that distinction. Domination by a team or individuals for sustained episodes occurs in any sport – look at European football’s Big Four, Tiger Woods’ years at the top in golf, or Roger Federer’s tennis hegemony.
Did those periods destroy their respective sports? No. Indeed, if anything, their sustained successes added to the lures of their chosen elds. The challenge for others in each of these sports was to meet this domination head-on, and then conquer the previously invincible.
By contrast, the challenge for Liberty Media is to ensure that the playing elds – on- and off-track – are levelled such that teams beyond Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren are able to meet the domination of the majors head-on. That can be achieved only by all players – from front to rear, top to bottom, left to right – putting selfinterest aside and focusing on the bigger picture, namely the future health of Formula 1.
Brawn played a key role in Ferrari’s late 1990s revival, so he knows exactly what is required to rebuild a fallen entity, no matter how iconic it once was. Jean Todt, who was then Ferrari team principal and is now FIA president, was chief architect of that particular resurgence. Even then it took more than six years before Ferrari scored their rst title in almost two decades, and then only after the entire team, motivated by Michael Schumacher’s genius, pulled in unison.
The primary task facing Liberty is not reviving Formula 1, but uniting it. Only then can the rebuild commence.
Chase Carey’s biggest challenge will be to unify F1