Let there be light!
The drivers’ words will have come as a great relief to F1’s ‘three wise men’ charged with taking hold of this too-fat cash cow of a sport and making it spectacular, fan-friendly and nancially sane. Both Sean Bratches, who’ll head up media and marketing for the restructured Formula 1 Group and Ross Brawn, its sporting MD, were in Barcelona to start explaining their vision.
This in itself was a novel and welcome step and its signicance should not be underestimated. For decades, Bernie Ecclestone’s F1 operated under a cloud of fear. Wary of reprisals, few would speak out about the sport’s shortcomings, while the outgoing FOM operated a policy of obstruction and obfuscation. The tootrue gag about FOM’s modus operandi was: “The answer’s no, what’s the question?”
This tyrannical approach worked brilliantly for a very long time, enriching and empowering Ecclestone, his acolytes and his CVC venture capital overlords – even when Bernie was adopting the Ratner-esque tactic of rubbishing his own product, or speaking publicly in praise of Hitler. These hand grenades got F1 noticed, while diverting the attention of the mainstream media away from discussion of races in questionable regimes, bribery trials or dwindling TV audiences.
Thing is, with the growing power and inuence in F1 of motor industry titans such as Mercedes chairman Dieter Zetsche, FIAT Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, and Renault-Nissan Chairman-CEO Carlos Ghosn, not to mention the involvement of blue-chip backers such as Rolex, Santander, Pirelli, Shell, BP, Petronas (and on and on and on), a more corporate and, yes, conventional approach to business was required if F1 was to ourish.
Ecclestone’s elevation to the position of ‘chairman emeritus’ marks the end of F1’s entrepreneurial era, and some will mourn the loss of the edgy pioneering spirit he embodied. But it also heralds the advent of something more ‘normal’, bringing welcome moments of sanity, such as the appointment of a global comms director, Norman Howell; of being able to book a time and place to meet Bratches and be condent that he’ll actually be there; of teams and drivers now allowed to – shock! – take ve-second iPhone clips of themselves being brilliant in their daily business and post them for the enjoyment of their followers on social media.
This is the stuff of a modern global sporting franchise, and while there’s so much still to be done to make F1 a sport of which everyone can be truly proud, Liberty have taken the rst baby steps in the right direction. Your next job, Ross, Chase, Sean – admittedly tricker – is to get Alonso in a decent car. Then everyone’s a winner.