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 Thus a one-man band has been replaced by a cast of thousands, and for the moment the jury is out: some in the paddock express faith in the new regime, others would have Bernie back tomorrow.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