Fifth Col­umn: Nigel Roe­buck

It was a year in which Hamil­ton and Mercedes won the ti­tles again. But be­neath the sur­face, the world of F1 is chang­ing

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS -

ON THE SUR­FACE, AT LEAST, IT HAS BEEN BUSI­NESS as usual in For­mula 1 this year, with Lewis Hamil­ton and Mercedes tak­ing the ti­tles, but be­neath it much has changed, for after nearly half a cen­tury in the iron con­trol of Bernie Ec­cle­stone, the sport passed into the hands of Lib­erty

Me­dia. Thus a one-man band has been re­placed by a cast of thou­sands, and for the mo­ment the jury is out: some in the pad­dock ex­press faith in the new regime, oth­ers would have Bernie back to­mor­row.

Twelve months in, it may be said that Lib­erty’s hon­ey­moon pe­riod is over, and not a few have anx­i­eties about the com­pany’s fu­ture plans, mainly be­cause – as I write – we still don’t know what they are. While Ross Brawn speaks with con­vic­tion about what needs to be done to reignite ex­cite­ment on the track, to in­tro­duce an engine cheaper and louder than the cur­rent hy­brid lump, to give aero­dy­nam­ics an ur­gent re­vamp, and so on, lit­tle of con­se­quence has been heard from other Lib­erty folk.

There has, of course, been much talk of the need to at­tract the young, by means of so­cial me­dia, digital plat­forms, and what­not, Sean Bratches speak­ing of his wish to ‘turn For­mula 1 from a mo­tor­sports com­pany to an en­ter­tain­ment com­pany and brand, with For­mula 1 at the cen­tre of it’. In the com­ing years, Bratches and Chase Carey will do well to re­mem­ber not, in their pur­suit of new fans, to alien­ate the sport’s bedrock sup­port­ers, who have kept faith with F1 through what has lately been a shaky pe­riod in its his­tory.

Niki Lauda is one with con­cerns, re­cently men­tion­ing – with a shud­der – a sug­ges­tion by Bratches that ‘grid kids’ be in­tro­duced to the sport. Any­one who has ever wit­nessed the end­less build-up to a NAS­CAR race, which ev­ery week­end cul­mi­nates – dur­ing the Stars and Stripes – in a driv­ers’ baby show, will surely go with Niki on this. Sim­i­larly, the elab­o­rate ‘Driv­ers In­tro­duc­tion’ cer­e­mony at Austin found lit­tle favour with world­wide fans – or, for that mat­ter, with those be­ing in­tro­duced.

A while ago, some­one from Lib­erty spoke of an as­pi­ra­tion to turn ev­ery grand prix into a Su­per Bowl. Call me old-fash­ioned, but I would ven­ture that rather more cru­cial than any of this – even Justin Tim­ber­lake or a new F1 logo – is to put on a race that makes folk want to come back for an­other one.

All that said, the task be­fore Lib­erty is un­doubt­edly a daunt­ing one, and on more than one front, for For­mula 1 is not as it was when Ec­cle­stone took con­trol, when most teams bought very af­ford­able en­gines from Cos­worth, and were en­tirely con­tent to have Bernie ne­go­ti­ate with race or­gan­is­ers on their be­half. He made a lot

“The task be­fore Lib­erty is a daunt­ing one, and on more than one front”

Lib­erty’s Brawn, Carey and Bratches (from l to r) face big chal­lenges

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