Defending Chase

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I’m certainly not one to be critical of what Chase Carey was able to achieve in Formula 1 when Liberty Media bought the series and made him CEO. Let’s face it, he had a very difficult job of stepping into the shoes of Bernie Ecclestone and navigating a political mine field that has been doing things a certain way for decades now.

As with many things in life, context is king and I am sure that Chase achieved good things in F1 while also having some friction points with teams, owners, sponsors, promoters etc. You can’t make every stakeholder 100% happy all the time.

Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei said in a Wall Street webcast that Chase deserves a lot of credit for what he achieved and said that even Bernie and Max Mosley couldn’t achieve it.

“Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley after the ’09 recession tried to get a cost cap in, and couldn’t get it done,” said Maffei in a Wall Street webcast.

“We got there. Dumb Americans, what do we know about the sport? We say we want to get it done, and they laugh at us. Chase gets it done, full credit – Chase and team.

“So Chase did an amazing job, changing the tone, setting the sport in the right direction. And above all, getting that Concorde Agreement with a cost cap. Chase remains our non-exec chair, and that relationship is valuable.”

First, I am not sure why the defensive posture about “dumb Americans” other than to say, you bought a British sport and of course there will be cultural and commercial differences in approach as well as naysayers. You knew that walking into the deal so I am not sure why the defensive posture.

I do appreciate Greg discussing the challenges Chase faced and what he was able to achieve. That should be commended because he did a tremendous amount for Liberty Media when they bought F1. The question is, did he do a tremendous amount for F1? That’s where the context comes in.

In aggregate, I would say he has done a lot for the sport and none of it was easy. Ecclestone understood the political nature of the teams versus F1 versus the FIA. While Mosley was keen to reduce the cost of F1, I am not 100% convinced Ecclestone believed it would work or that he actually wanted that. He was focused on getting teams, the top teams, signed for the continuance of the sport and to find a buyer.

Where Mosley was correct was in the global economic climate and the runaway costs of the sport that allowed the manufacturers to put their finger on the scales. Chase certainly understood that and over time, I think the teams did as well as even the manufacturer’s knees began to buckle (Toyota, BMW, Honda exit and even Mercedes recently reducing their ownership interest).

Mosley was unrealistic in his cap limit amount and eventually Ecclestone would have had to address the situation but he was actively finding a buyer for CVC Capital so they could exit the series. Overturning the apple cart was not something he wanted to do until it had a new owner. That’s my hunch anyway, I don’t know that for certain.

Despite my guesswork, Greg continued:

“Chase did an amazing job. I feel guilty at times as I was the one who sold him to take the job, and then he had to go to fly around the world and deal with recalcitrant teams. And Chase was a warrior for the right thing, and has driven such good changes.

“Bernie Ecclestone built the product, and deserves unbelievable credit. But there wasn’t the long-term vision. And there was a very cantankerous relationship with promoters and F1, the rights holder, us. There was a very cantankerous relationship between the teams and F1, us.

“That’s totally changed, and the tone is so much better that we’re in this ecosystem together and building things. And Chase was able to get a new Concorde Agreement done, which is such a major achievement compared to what was done before.”

I agree there was no long-term vision for the sport from Ecclestone’s perspective beyond a new buyer for CVC’s asset. Chase had to develop a vision and some of it worked while other new investments struggled. The honeymoon was nice but once reality set in, I believe Chase really started to feel the pressure and weight of the series.

Perhaps the most incredible feat was not getting teams to sign the Concorde Agreement with a cost cap but actually getting a full season in during the onslaught of COVID-19 in 2020. That was an amazing job and he handled it very well.

The teams were going to need to decide their futures in F1 and if they wanted to play, signing the Concorde Agreement had to happen. Issuing a cost cap was also something the teams were keen to see details on because even the manufacturers were tired of spending $350+ million on the series.

In the end, elements such as HD tires, DRS, hybrid V6 engines were all hidden stones that F1 has stubbed its toe on in the process. Chase also blurred the lines between what F1, as a commercial rights holder, and the FIA actually do in the sport. Thankfully for him, Jean Todt is more docile than what he would have faced with Max Mosley at the helm so that aided his ability to create a technical group under Ross Brawn and establish technical parameters that are normally set by the FIA.

I join Greg in commending what Chase accomplished for Liberty Media with regards to its acquisition of F1. I believe a lot still remains left undone and perhaps Stefano Domenicali can continue the work and get F1 at the sharp end of its own grid.

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Xean Drury

Great read. What I’ve been most impressed with, aside from the Concord and Cost Cap, is that Liberty is willing to try new things, and more importantly, willing to admit when they don’t work. They listen very much to the fan feedback. Remember the ‘Fan Wall’ or the giant Heineken star at the Redbull Ring? Don’t see them anymore because they didn’t work.

P.S. Fan Boost should never be tried. Ever.