For­mula One grap­ples ma­jor prob­lems - on and off track

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

ABU DHABI: Wounded by an­other pre­dictable and dull cham­pi­onship, and locked in a de­ci­sion-making paral­y­sis, the end of the For­mula One sea­son comes more as a re­lief than a cli­max. The reg­u­lar ap­pear­ance of the jet-set on their yachts around Abu Dhabi’s Yas Ma­rina cir­cuit may pro­vide the glam­our upon which the sport trades, but be­neath that sur­face there are ma­jor con­cerns, both sport­ing and fi­nan­cial. Most wor­ry­ing for all in For­mula One is not just the scale of the prob­lems, but the lack of any im­me­di­ate means of ad­dress­ing, let alone cur­ing, them. On the sport­ing front, 2015 has been pre­dictable, with Mercedes even more dom­i­nant than the year be­fore. If cham­pion Lewis Hamil­ton and team­mate Nico Ros­berg fin­ish 1-2 this week­end, it will be for a record 12th time in a sea­son.

In sports, pre­dictabil­ity is bad, and the tele­vi­sion view­ing fig­ures which were al­ready tum­bling in 2014 will likely de­cline fur­ther, with the domino ef­fect on ad­ver­tis­ing and spon­sors. There is no greater indi­ca­tor of the prob­lem than Ger­many - a na­tion drenched in F1 suc­cess for a gen­er­a­tion - be­ing left off the cal­en­dar, in part, be­cause lo­cal pro­mot­ers strug­gle to draw crowds. “We know who’s go­ing to win, and who’s go­ing to be sec­ond, third and fourth,” F1 head Bernie Ec­cle­stone said in an in­ter­view last month. “You’ve lost the ex­cite­ment.”

It is a can­did ad­mis­sion from a man who is tasked with gen­er­at­ing and main­tain­ing in­ter­est from broad­cast­ers, spon­sors and race pro­mot­ers. But one-sided sea­sons are not new and the sport was not too badly scarred by the sim­i­lar dom­i­nance of Michael Schu­macher or Se­bas­tian Vet­tel. The real prob­lems are off the track. In the past two months alone the sport has seen Red Bull re­cently the sport’s power team - threat­en­ing to quit, the Lo­tus team hauled be­fore the courts over un­paid debts, and Fer­rari ve­to­ing much-needed cost-cut­ting pro­pos­als.

Throw in a com­mer­cial leader in Ec­cle­stone en­ter­ing the lat­ter half of his 80s with no suc­ces­sion plan in place, and a brew­ing Euro­pean Union in­ves­ti­ga­tion into anti-com­pet­i­tive be­hav­ior, and things are not look­ing great. The sport is be­wil­der­ingly com­plex, gov­erned by agree­ments and an ar­ray of de­ci­sion-making bod­ies whose con­tent and oper­a­tions are al­ways ob­scure and of­ten down­right se­cret. The reg­u­la­tory power is in the hands of FIA, the com­mer­cial power rests with Ec­cle­stone and the hedge fund CVC Cap­i­tal Part­ners which owns a controlling stake, and the sport­ing power is with the teams. Get­ting those three bod­ies to agree on any re­form, no mat­ter how ur­gently re­quired, bor­ders on the im­pos­si­ble.

At the heart of the prob­lem, of course, is money. FIA, un­der pre­vi­ous pres­i­dent Max Mosley, leased out the com­mer­cial rights chiefly made up of spon­sor­ship, broad­cast­ing rights and race­host­ing fees - to Ec­cle­stone, ini­tially on a short-term ba­sis, but even­tu­ally in an ex­tra­or­di­nary 100-year deal. Ec­cle­stone sold down his stake in the bod­ies which col­lec­tively play the role of “com­mer­cial rights holder” and the controlling stake is now owned by CVC. The hedge fund rakes in nine-fig­ure an­nual rev­enues from the sport and its ini­tial plan was to float the busi­ness, list on a pub­lic stock ex­change, col­lect a tidy profit and move on. But the on­set of the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis changed that. While CVC is look­ing for an exit plan, much of the rev­enue they are col­lect­ing goes to pay their cred­i­tors and there is pre­cious lit­tle rein­vest­ment in grow­ing F1, or help­ing grass­roots mo­tor­sports, which FIA could be do­ing if it had re­tained the com­mer­cial rights. — AP

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