Di­eter Rencken on Lib­erty Me­dia

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - DI­ETER RENCKEN @Rac­ingLines

Right now, the words ‘Lib­erty Me­dia’ are be­ing bandied about in For­mula 1 cir­cles as though they were a com­pound two-word term. This sim­i­lar­ity does not, though, make the terms syn­ony­mous, as many in the pad­dock patently be­lieve when sug­gest­ing that For­mula 1’s change of own­er­ship will instantly x all F1’s prob­lems.

Those who be­lieve that change at the top will re­turn For­mula 1 to its for­mer glory as the world’s pre­mier an­nual sport­ing block will be sorely dis­ap­pointed. Sim­ply re­plac­ing Bernie Ecclestone with three (ad­mit­tedly ex­tremely ca­pa­ble) in­di­vid­u­als and grant­ing them the pow­ers to re­vamp For­mula 1 can­not be a sil­ver bul­let.

So deep-rooted are the sport’s un­der­ly­ing is­sues, from its in­equitable rev­enue dis­tri­bu­tion through an un­wieldy (and too of­ten dys­func­tional) reg­u­la­tory struc­ture, and dwin­dling pub­lic in­ter­est – that it will re­quire pro­tracted and con­certed ef­fort by all play­ers: Lib­erty and the FIA, teams and tech­ni­cal part­ners, cir­cuit own­ers and broad­cast­ers, and, last but not least, For­mula 1’s me­dia and the world’s pop­u­lar press.

For too long now, the sport has been sub­jected to ‘di­vide-and-rule’ gov­er­nance. Ecclestone was a mas­ter at pick­ing off teams (or cir­cuits, or broad­cast­ers) one by one, whether by fair means or ques­tion­able, to achieve his im­me­di­ate ob­jec­tives.

So in­grained is what Ro­mans called d�vide et �mpera, that sports­ge­neti­cists un­der­tak­ing a study of For­mula 1 would surely dis­cover this to be one of F1’s DNA macro­molecules. So the rst task fac­ing Lib­erty’s trio of Chase Carey (chair­man and CEO), Ross Brawn (man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, F1 op­er­a­tions) and Sean Bratches (man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, mar­ket­ing) is to break down lin­ger­ing sus­pi­cions that they will pur­sue the same pol­icy.

Last month, news broke that a group of teams in­tended to join forces to form a sort of lat­ter-day FOTA. On in­ves­ti­ga­tion it be­came ap­par­ent that the op­er­a­tive word was ‘group’, with this fac­tion plan­ning to main­tain the present struc­tures in the face of Lib­erty’s stated ob­jec­tive of lev­el­ling the nan­cial and reg­u­la­tory play­ing elds.

No sooner had the dis­en­fran­chised teams got wind of the plan, than one of their num­ber sug­gested the for­ma­tion of a “FOITA” – ef­fec­tively an in­de­pen­dents’ teams as­so­ci­a­tion. Can you spot the frag­men­ta­tion?

Nei­ther con­cept got beyond hot air, but that is not the point; that this mind­set pre­vails in the face of For­mula 1’s myr­iad is­sues surely, though, pro­vides cause for con­cern. If any­thing, a FOTA (or FOITA) should by deni­tion work for the benet of all teams, and the wider sport – and not a Mercedes or Red Bull or Fer­rari or what­ever.

Com­pe­ti­tion be­tween teams is, of course, another of For­mula 1’s macro­molecules. In­deed, it was the re­lent­less ri­valry be­tween driv­ers, team bosses, man­u­fac­tur­ers, en­gine sup­pli­ers, oil and fuel brands and, an age ago, tyre com­pa­nies, that el­e­vated For­mula 1 to the top of the motorsport tree over a pe­riod of 60 years. Even cur­rent-day For­mula 1, be­set by prob­lems or not, mas­sively over­shad­ows all other cat­e­gories.

There is, though, a cru­cial dif­fer­ence be­tween ri­valry and de­struc­tive com­pe­ti­tion. And over the past 20 or so years, the sport’s play­ers have too of­ten failed to make that dis­tinc­tion. Dom­i­na­tion by a team or in­di­vid­u­als for sus­tained episodes oc­curs in any sport – look at Euro­pean foot­ball’s Big Four, Tiger Woods’ years at the top in golf, or Roger Fed­erer’s ten­nis hege­mony.

Did those pe­ri­ods de­stroy their re­spec­tive sports? No. In­deed, if any­thing, their sus­tained suc­cesses added to the lures of their cho­sen elds. The chal­lenge for oth­ers in each of these sports was to meet this dom­i­na­tion head-on, and then con­quer the pre­vi­ously in­vin­ci­ble.

By con­trast, the chal­lenge for Lib­erty Me­dia is to en­sure that the play­ing elds – on- and off-track – are lev­elled such that teams beyond Mercedes, Red Bull, Fer­rari and McLaren are able to meet the dom­i­na­tion of the ma­jors head-on. That can be achieved only by all play­ers – from front to rear, top to bot­tom, left to right – putting self­in­ter­est aside and fo­cus­ing on the big­ger pic­ture, namely the fu­ture health of For­mula 1.

Brawn played a key role in Fer­rari’s late 1990s re­vival, so he knows ex­actly what is re­quired to re­build a fallen en­tity, no mat­ter how iconic it once was. Jean Todt, who was then Fer­rari team prin­ci­pal and is now FIA pres­i­dent, was chief ar­chi­tect of that par­tic­u­lar resur­gence. Even then it took more than six years be­fore Fer­rari scored their rst ti­tle in al­most two decades, and then only af­ter the en­tire team, mo­ti­vated by Michael Schumacher’s ge­nius, pulled in uni­son.

The pri­mary task fac­ing Lib­erty is not re­viv­ing For­mula 1, but unit­ing it. Only then can the re­build com­mence.

Chase Carey’s big­gest chal­lenge will be to unify F1

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