by Shwuaib Malik
After 40 years in the sport, Bernie Ecclestone’s reign as the chief executive of Formula 1 ended, after a £6bn takeover by Liberty Media. The 86-year-old did so much for the sport over his lengthy spell at the top, but F1 is now in new hands, and many see this as exactly what motorsport’s pinnacle showcase needed.
The American company have taken over the sport at a troubled time. The ‘wow’ factor in Formula 1 has diminished due to a move to hybrid engines, meaning less noisy cars, and less of a spectacle for the fans. Engine harmony isn’t the only problem with the sport at the moment either. F1 cars have in a way become too complicated, with heavy emphasis on aero performance, which is causing the cars to produce ‘turbulent air’. This prevents cars from following others too closely, as the dirty air causes the engine and tyres to overheat. These are just some of the issues that Liberty Media must address.
As aforementioned, F1 races are less of a phenomenon, which is what brings the crowds to the grand prix. So, one of Liberty Media’s main objectives is to reverse this trend, and make Formula 1 more about just the race for the fans. Their plans are to make the weekend more of an ‘event’, by introducing music and entertainment, which is not exclusive just to race day. They have already implemented such features into races this season. The Spanish Grand Prix was where we saw their changes for the first time, as there was a fan festival which allowed visitors to feel more involved in the sport, by offering them the chance to engage in racing simulators and pit-stop challenges.
Considering the declining numbers of fans at some venues, this change by Liberty Media seems very sensible, to say the least. But if they are to really achieve their objective of more fans attending races, then they must eventually combat the issue of rising ticket prices.
Another key change that Liberty Media are implementing/have already implemented is the increased usage of social media. Teams are now allowed to share more on social media sites, such as videos from the paddock, due to relaxed social media policies. In turn, fans are also becoming more involved in terms of sharing their experiences at races on sites such as Snapchat and Instagram. This is potentially because there is more for fans to share, due to the increased events occurring during the weekend. Such changes to the sport represent another smart move from the American company, as the growth of social media over the last few years presents a strong opportunity for the sport to expand, particularly amongst the younger generation.
Liberty Media are also attempting to increase the sport’s popularity and spectacle through introducing races in alpha cities, particularly in the US. Street races in New York, Las Vegas, and London have been rumoured since their takeover of Formula 1. If Liberty Media’s #1 aim in F1 is to increase the sport’s appeal then what better way is there to than allowing fans to witness the fastest cars in the world race in the streets of the most iconic cities. The only concern is that Formula 1 already has several street circuits on the calendar, and despite them offering a great scene, many dislike the overtaking opportunities they present, due to their narrow straights and corners. If Liberty Media really are serious about introducing more street races, then others will most likely have to be sacrificed.
Based on their current and future plans for the sport, it seems then that Formula 1 is in safe hands. Many will argue that Liberty Media are not directly addressing some of F1’s biggest, and most pressing problems, but they have not even completed their first full season in charge of the sport. Issues related to the cars themselves may be best left for Ross Brawn and the FIA whilst Chase Carey and his colleagues can make the best changes they can for the sport, based on their past experience and knowledge. Formula 1 fans really can’t ask for much more than that.
Picture credit: Red Bull Racing