THE FUTURE OF FORMULA 1
New owners pledge closer racing… and it’ll be in Europe Formula 1’s new owner, Liberty Media, has promised to make the sport more competitive, more exciting to watch, and also to help preserve races in Europe.
Liberty’s Chase Carey and F1 veteran Ross Brawn will head-up F1’s new management team, which aims to tackle a host of issues facing the sport. The boardroom shake-up comes at the cost of F1 tsar Bernie Ecclestone, who was removed from his role as CEO last week.
Carey said: “Formula 1 needs a fresh start, and that’s what we’ll provide. We have no agenda. We simply want to make this sport as good as it can be for the fans.”
Formula 1’s new owners have begun to outline their vision for the future of the sport, which includes plans for closer racing, better fan experience and a push towards reinforcing European races, including the British Grand Prix.
Liberty Media’s takeover of F1’s commercial rights was completed last week, with the firm taking over ownership of F1’s parent company Delta Topco Limited from former commercial rights holder CVC Capital Partners in a deal worth $8bn (£6.4 billion).
Liberty wasted little time in making waves upon the completion of the deal, with its first act being the removal of F1 founder Bernie Ecclestone from his CEO role ( see Racing News special, pages 4-5).
American Chase Carey replaces Ecclestone as CEO, with Ecclestone taking on a ‘chairman emeritus’ role – usually used to denote directors who have since retired and no longer hold directive power.
Carey will run Formula 1 alongside Ross Brawn, who has been recruited as managing director, and Sean Bratches, who becomes managing director of commercial operations after joining from sports network ESPN.
The trio will now go about creating a future plan for F1, with a push toward overhauling both the commercial and sporting sides of the business.
“Formula 1 needs a fresh start, and we can provide that,” Carey told the BBC. “We don’t have an agenda, we just want to make this sport great for its fans.
“Across the last four or five years, Formula 1 hasn’t grown like it should have, for whatever reason. In many ways, F1 has said ‘no’ too much, and we have to start saying ‘yes’ – not by gimmicking the sport up, but by finding ways to do new and exciting things to have the sport continue to grow and interest and excite people.”
The appointment of Brawn as managing director is a key one for Liberty Media, as he brings the necessary experience of the inner workings of the sport to advise and make change.
Brawn has amassed 22 FIA world championship titles during his 40-year career, with his last coming with his own Brawngp privateer team back in 2009.
Part of Brawn’s job will be to refresh the way F1 works on-track. He said one of the biggest issues the sport faces at the moment is the financial structure skewed toward the bigger teams. Brawn said he wants to “narrow the gap between the top and the bottom” of the field and drew comparisons with the Premier League football model.
“I have ideas we should study and perhaps use in 2018 or ’19,” said Brawn. “We all know the analogy of Leicester City – that would be ideal in F1, when a good team on a great year with a great driver could really mount a challenge for the world championship. But at the moment, that’s not possible.
“The level of resource the top teams are using has made an enormous gap. My nirvana would be that you get slightly odd circumstances and suddenly a team from the back wins. But at the moment you have two or three teams only that can win, and we need to spread that.
“We have to see if we can develop the rules to reward innovation less. Because as it is now innovation is heavily rewarded and if you can afford it, the slope is quite steep – more money, faster cars.
“If we can flatten that off with the regulations that would go in the right direction.”
Carey agrees that evening out the playing field should be a priority in the way the sport moves forward.
He added: “Everybody believes that a healthy sport needs to be competitive, with chances for the underdog to win, having those elements and stories is what makes sport special.
“I hear that the races are too predictable, they need to be more competitive and the rules have gotten too complicated. I hear the engines have got to be faster and louder and cheaper. I hear that engineers have overtaken the drivers.
“There’s clearly a number of issues out there and having somebody like Ross here brings the ability to understand them, as they’re complicated issues. Our job is to wade in and make those better.”
Liberty’s new management is also expected to bring with it sweeping changes to F1’s decisionmaking process. The controversial
team-led Strategy Group is expected to be dissolved.
“F1 has a load of history, and history is great, so long as you don’t get bogged down in it,” added Carey. “I don’t know if the decision making before was delayed due to history or whatever, but we bring the fresh start.
“We want to create more of a partnership, where everybody has a shared vision of where we want to go so we can align and move forward as one. We have to change things in the spirit of partnership too, working with partners like the FIA and the teams and promoters. I think that spirit of partnership has been lacking in recent years.”
Push for Europe
A major criticism among F1’s fanbase during the Ecclestone era was the apparent reluctance to solidify the sport’s heritage in Western Europe, instead looking to run races in new, often oil-rich, countries instead.
As a result many of F1’s ‘traditional’ races in Europe – such as the French, German, Belgian, Italian and even British Grands Prix – have all experienced testing times, with some even falling off the calendar completely.
Despite the British GP at Silverstone being one of the best-attended races of the year, Silverstone’s owner, the British Racing Drivers’ Club, has recently expressed concern over the cost of staging the race.
Before Christmas, BRDC chairman John Grant spoke of the “potentially ruinous cost” of hosting the race annually, due to constantly rising fees from Formula One Management.
Carey said the European races, and particularly the British GP, must be retained at all costs.
“At this point, making the 21 races we have on the calendar as good as they can be must be the priority,” said Carey.
“We want to strengthen the sport in its core market, which is Western Europe. So we must focus on our existing races, and then look at ways we can expand the sport to new areas, like in the USA.
“We’re going to have a British Grand Prix. We’ve been very clear that the foundation of this sport is Western Europe. We want it to grow globally, yes, but we want to make the European foundation here stronger than ever and build on that. I think there are lots of opportunities to make the sport better than it has been. I haven’t spent enough time yet with them [the British GP organisers and the BRDC] and there’s a negotiating dynamic to these things where promoter X will want certain something Z and so on.
“The reality is that we want a healthy relationship with our promoters. [The race at] Silverstone is a great event, and we want to help make it an even bigger event. We’ll look at ways to make the current races we have everywhere bigger and better.”
Carey also added that Ecclestone would always form part of the F1 family, even without his directorial powers.
“I expect this [the takeover] is difficult for Bernie,” Carey added. “It’s a difficult change and we dealt with him with the respect he is due. I value his advice and help as we go forward. He’s run this sport his entire adult life, he’s been a one-man dictator, and he calls himself a dictator. But the sport needs a fresh perspective.”