Liberty Completes Its Maiden Year in F1. Now the Hard Work Begins.

Liberty Completes Its Maiden Year in F1. Now the Hard Work Begins.


No one was expecting the Liberty Media Corporation to sweep into Formula One, after Bernie Ecclestone’s 43-year reign, and make wholesale changes in its first season.

In fact, Liberty, based in Englewood, Colo., spent its maiden season primarily assessing the sport. But it is contemplating at least two big changes.

Liberty has sought to engage fans with numerous initiatives, including F1 Live, a street demo in London, and expanding social media, notably in the Formula One paddock where Ecclestone limited it.

Teams and drivers have greater freedom to post photos and small video clips, although live content that would compromise television broadcasts is still not allowed.

Formula One Management, now run by Chase Carey, a vice chairman of 21st Century Fox, has posted on YouTube excerpts from a handful of drivers’ briefings.

The drivers speak candidly with Charlie Whiting, the Formula One race director, on a variety of issues on the Friday of every race weekend.

After the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last Sunday, Liberty also unveiled a new Formula One logo. The old one had been in place for 23 years.

Chase Carey, chief executive of the Formula One Group, before the Mexican Grand Prix in October.CreditClive Mason/Getty Images

While increasing fan engagement is vital, Carey, along with Ross Brawn, managing director of motorsports, and Sean Bratches, managing director of commercial operations, are taking on two of the sport’s biggest issues: imposing a spending cap on teams and changing the racecars’ power units.

Those engine changes, announced on Oct. 31 by Liberty, as commercial rights holders, and the F.I.A., Formula One’s world governing body, are expected to take effect for 2021 and are already contentious.

To control costs, the current 1.6-liter V6 turbo hybrid engine will be retained, but it faces numerous changes. Those include a single turbo with size and weight constraints, a 3,000 r.p.m. increase to the engine’s redline to improve the sound and the removal of the Motor Generator Unit-Heat, or M.G.U.-H., which harvests heat energy from the turbo to generate electrical energy.

“By the time we get to the end of 2020, this current engine will have done seven years, which is not a bad period for an engine, so I don’t think we can complain about the change of engine for 2021,” Brawn said in an interview.

“The economics of the engine is a big factor this time around,” he said. “There are those for whom the economics is not a big consideration and who may not support everything we want to do, but change has to happen. The engine is very expensive.

“Today, the chances of ever getting somebody else coming into Formula One to produce another engine is zero, and that’s not a healthy situation, so we need a little bit of understanding from those dominating at the moment to allow us to move the engine back into a place where people could come in and do an engine.”

Ferrari, for one, is not happy with the proposed changes. Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive of the company, said the team could withdraw from Formula One after 2020 if “powertrain uniqueness is not going to be one of the drivers of distinctiveness.”

The new logo for Formula One, which was introduced in November.

Toto Wolff, the motorsport boss of Mercedes, also is concerned.

“We have, jointly, built up a sport over the last 70 years that is one of the iconic global properties,” he said in an interview. “Liberty must be very careful to understand what the DNA is and preserve it. Like any other sport, with a changing media environment, we need evolution, not revolution.”

Liberty is also looking to reintroduce discussion of a team spending cap.

Max Mosley, the former F.I.A. president, tried and failed to put budget controls in place during the final years of his time in office, in 2008-9. Brawn said the sport over the years had constantly changed the technical and sporting regulations to try to reduce costs. “Some of them have been effective, and some have simply shifted cost to other areas,” he said.

“A more appealing solution, in my view, is to set a limit on how much money a team can spend,” Brawn said. “That’s real world. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to say a team could operate within a controlled budget.”

Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, the three leading teams, spend about $250 million to $300 million per season. Brawn said a spending ceiling would allow teams to operate comfortably and hopefully encourage new entries.

“I’m not advocating a draconian limit, and it’s not a limit everybody in Formula One today would be able to meet,” Brawn said, although he did not specify a limit.

“I see it as upper-middle ground, where it’s going to be a decent amount of money that can really produce some exciting Formula One cars.

“It won’t be the $200 or $300 million that teams are spending at the moment, and they’re complaining about it. The teams spending that amount of money are coming to us and saying, ‘We’re spending far too much money. We’re worried about the sustainability of our businesses, of our sport, with the amount of money we’re spending.’”

Enthusiastic fans during qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix in October.CreditMark Thompson/Getty Images

Brawn is convinced that regulations can eventually be introduced because there is unity between Formula One Management and the F.I.A.

“We tried in the past, but we never got over that hurdle of the commercial rights holder,” he said, referring to Ecclestone, “and the governing body being joined on what they thought was a way forward.

“The reason I think we can make progress this time is that, certainly ourselves and the F.I.A., are joined up because a cost control system has to be regulated.

“In the past, we tried to make it an inter-team control,” Brawn said. “That was pretty ambitious, to have a system whereby the teams were being monitored within themselves, in such a competitive environment. It was a struggle.”

Bob Fernley, the Force India deputy team principal, underlined that while cost control in particular “will have a benefit,” the downside is that “it will take a couple of years or so to implement.”

“You have to respect where the bigger teams are with their spending, and that they’re going to have to come down, which is not an easy exercise to do,” Fernley said in an interview. “On the other hand, we need a sustainable sport, and given the level the three top teams are playing at, it is not sustainable.”

Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, said he liked what Liberty had done. Formula One Management was “very accessible and accommodating,” with “a different style of management to how Bernie operated,” Horner said. “There’s nothing I’ve seen that hasn’t given me encouragement for the future.”

Liberty will, of course, be judged on what it does next.

“Everybody knows what we want to try and achieve in Formula One, which is to retain the magic, the passion of Formula One, but to do it in a more sustainable way, with more competitive teams,” Brawn said.

“We want to do everything we can to appeal to the fans and make watching Formula One, or going to a Formula One race, a very special thing for them. Sometimes we lose sight of that, and that this is a sport, and sports are there for competition and to entertain people.”



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