F1 applauds Vietnam, warns historic tracks

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World Copyright: Sam Bloxham/LAT Images ref: Digital Image _J6I9948

A quick follow up to my original post and concerns on the matter regarding the announcement that Vietnam would join the F1 calendar. It seems that F1’s current head of marketing, Sean Bratches, has weighed in on the matter and even hinted that Silverstone may not be on the calendar as the host of the British Grand Prix.

You’ll recall that he owners of Silverstone and the British Grand Prix, the BRDC, took advantage of an escape clause that would let them exit the current contract at the end of 2019. Bratches said yesterday:

“We’re a 68-year-old entity, and the nature of grand prix racing is that it is dynamic,” he said in an F1 news release. “Silverstone was the first grand prix, but we haven’t raced at Silverstone all those 68 years. The race has been held at Brands Hatch and other venues. Nothing is immutable in this sport in terms of where we race.

“We do value certain races highly, and we do what we can to preserve racing there, but we are a business. We are a public company, and we have a lot of stakeholders and shareholders, and we’re trying to marry what’s best for fans with running a successful business.”

Formula 1 is a 68-year-old entity, Liberty Media isn’t and nor is its ownership of F1. The history of this series, in my opinion, is far beyond Sean’s scope but his bravado is nevertheless, in full force.

I find it odd that a company who purchased a 68-year-old entity would use its history as a blunt object and not its future. He had no part in creating what F1 is and typically new owners bring their resources and ideas to their new ownership role and discuss how they can make a bright future, not throw its history around as they have no role in creating that history.

“We look at it in three ways,” he said. “Firstly, we want to preserve the heritage races. They are very important to Formula 1, and they are very important to fans. I’m talking about the Silverstones, the Spas, the Monzas of this world.

“Then we have a set of street races and hybrid street races, where we race in parks and on city streets, such as Melbourne, Montreal and Mexico City.

“The third segment features purpose-built facilities such as Shanghai, Austin, Texas, and Bahrain. Beyond that, we are looking to identify further street races, so this race is a further step in terms of our vision.”

It is good to build containers for easy categorization of the assets, but I would argue that F1 is a matrix of unique races with each circuit, contract and impact on revenue, fans, teams, and more. It isn’t about having a nice blend or mix of circuit types, it’s about the right tracks that excite fans and produce good racing. Legacy tracks are icon because of the racing they produce and I wouldn’t consider any of them a “Heritage” race. They are legacy tracks with history that transcends F1.

“One of the things we have been intensely focused on is extending grand prix racing to iconic cities, in downtown areas, where we can best engage fans,” he said. “Most of our grands prix are currently half an hour to an hour outside cities, so the race in Hanoi fulfills of one of our preliminary goals — an iconic city hosting racing on a potentially thrilling street circuit. Vietnam’s concept of what grand prix racing should be about matches our vision for the sport.

“We’re the beneficiaries of interest from cities, states, countries, municipalities from around the world, and we have been taking a very cadenced approach in terms of how we go to market in terms of race promotion, choosing carefully so that potential races fit well with the existing structure we have and the direction in which we want to go in the future

“Historically, Formula One has been very reactive in terms of people coming to them, but we have been more proactive, going to markets that we think are aligned with our brand values and which provide the opportunity to engage fans in new ways. A street circuit is a great way to do that. We have Monaco, Baku and Singapore, and this is a great addition to that lineup.”

Sean’s overuse of marketing buzz phrases is like 50-grit sandpaper to your nerves but that’s his “cadence”. I’m struggling to understand how 50 years of ardent fan support and butts in seats at Silverstone, Spa, Monza, Monaco, Canada and Suzuka is “reactive” in terms of people coming to “them”. People plan their annual vacation and pilgrimage around these races and have done so for decades. That’s not reactive, that’s fanatic.

I’m also curious as to if there are any metrics that show hosting races in city centers has a material impact on revenue for F1, teams, sponsors and local business versus a race on a circuit that might be 10-40 miles outside a major urban area. What about the local impact to the areas in the immediate vicinity of the track? It may be what Formula E is attempting but F1 is not Formula E.

His “cadenced” approach seems to have possibly orphaned Silverstone with a vague notion of racing elsewhere in the UK as well as falling short in Miami and facing contract renewal issues with circuits such as Brazil and Mexico and eventually Circuit of the Americas in Austin coming up soon. Spa has always had a lean wallet and Germany struggles to ping pong their race back and forth between two tracks and still afford it. No, I would say the cadence is an area of improvement.

When Liberty Media purchased Formula 1, they said legacy circuits and Europe, as well as the US, were their targets. Now, Chase Carey says that Vietnam and other APAC locales are the economic drivers of the future and while that may be true if you are trying to sell consumer products and technology, I am not sure it holds true for racing as China was bussing school kids in for free to fill the stands at one point. That may not be the case now but how many years will it take to develop a passion for motorsport large enough to keep the sanctioning fees relevant?

Having an emerging market and economy is great but it doesn’t always equate to an emerging passion for motorsport or F1. For a year or more, Carey couldn’t help but put in a dig at the former owners and their penchant for seeking APAC locations and money. Liberty Media’s Greg Maffei said that Baku “does nothing to build the long-term brand and health of the business” and they were dismissive of CVC Capital’s moves toward Asia. Oddly, CVC passed on the Vietnam race but Liberty is very proud of the first race signed since purchasing the series. Clearly the deal was in the works prior to their purchase. It’s efforts such as Miami that are more indicting.

Perhaps some fans are excited about it but there are many of us out here who listened to every word Liberty Media said prior to, during and after the purchase of F1. We took notes and we are now seeing quite a reversal of their positions. That’s concerning to me, as a fan, and it should be to the teams and sponsors. I didn’t like the constant digs at the former owners and it seems they are now learning why the former owners did what they did. Less bravado, more hat-in-hand might be a good approach.

Hat Tip: ESPN F1

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TobyS
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TobyS

Are they not just haggling with Silverstone? Bernie did this sort of thing all the time. They can’t promise to keep all the old tracks, or the circuit owners would see it as a license to print money.

jtr
Member
jtr

That’s probably all there is to this. Hopefully Liberty will be wise enough to back off and make a deal rather than cut off their nose to spite their face. I’m reminded a bit of the NFL’s long history of team relocation threats. For decades, every team that wanted a new stadium would threaten to move to Los Angeles in order to squeeze some public money out of their home city. This worked great as long as the team was smart enough to eventually back off and cut a deal. Recently two teams had their bluffs called, and both moved… Read more »

Member

With this development, I suppose the honeymoon is over between Liberty and everyone else in F1. It’s profit or else sez Sean Bratches. I have no problem if Silverstone gets dropped because I have not liked the most recent track layout but it seems it is dropped, that makes room for a highly desired London street race. Just leave the street races to Formula-E, Sean and that goes for the Vietnam race, too. Bernie had a fixation with adding more races in the Persian Gulf. Hearing this from Sean, how soon will we see a return of the Korean GP?

Tom Firth
Editor

If the British Grand Prix isn’t at Silverstone in 2020, I’ll donate £10 to TheParcFerme.com!

Rather confident it will be and for 2021-2026 inclusive.

GaryK
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GaryK

“warns historic tracks” = “warns existing fans”

Peter Riva
Member
Peter Riva

Excellent article. Me? I have this image of a bus, bodies strewn all over the place (as in “thrown under a bus”).