The 2018 season may or may not be an exciting season but one thing I do believe it will be is politically tenuous as Liberty Media move forward with a new set of regulation in concert with the FIA for 2021.
We’ve discussed this on our podcast before and in many ways, this is the real battle over F1. It will stress the manufacturer involvement, the power and control they have on the sport through its current regulations and it will require delicate negotiations between Liberty Media, the teams and the FIA to arrive at a set of rules everyone can live with.
I certainly hope that is the outcome and that it is something that can be achieved but I also know that there could be some major fallout as well. The largest fallout could one or more of the manufacturers leaving the sport. According to a report at Autosport, that is something McLaren’s Zak Brown feels is a risk but could simply be the attrition of doing what is right for the sport.
“I think Liberty needs to focus on what is best for the sport and what is best for the fans,” he said.
“If that means a team or a manufacturer doesn’t support that – then they need to be prepared to recognise that they are not going to make everyone happy.
“Their centering needs to be on what is best for the sport and if someone feels that is the detriment of their racing team.
“I would rather lose one, replace them and have 10 teams, than have one or two teams [only] in the championship.”
In some ways we’ve forgotten that McLaren, Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Sauber, Force India, Haas F1 and Williams F1 are all privateers technically speaking. That’s fourteen cars on the grid leaving six cars from manufacturers. Clearly the six remaining cars represent a massive amount of investment and marketing spend in F1 and right now, those three teams have a very large footprint on the sport and control of the direction of the sport.
Changing the regulations in a manner that doesn’t suit these three teams will run the risk of some or all of them leaving the sport but Brown says that’s a risk Liberty Media needs to be prepared to take for the long-term health of the sport.
“Therefore we need to land on a set of rules that allow those that are looking at the sport to be able to come in.
“In the unexpected and hopefully highly unlikely situation that they [Mercedes and Ferrari] would leave, the sport needs to go on.
“I think Ferrari is a unique case because they are Ferrari, but we have lost BMW, we have lost Toyota, and we have lost Honda before.
“We’ve all seen manufacturers come and go in the sport and it has always survived.
“So we have got to write rules moving forward about what is best for the sport, not what is best for the manufacturers.”
This, then, is where the real power struggle for control of F1 exists. It is the single biggest hurdle, outside retaining profitability of the investment, that Liberty Media will have to make. The first massive negotiation they’ll engage in since buying the sport. The teams have all been down this road several times but it is new to Liberty Media and the last guy that knew how to get this done from a commercial rights holder’s perspective was shown the door last year.
Liberty Media know the clock is ticking and if they want to mitigate any collateral damage of major manufacturers leaving the sport, they’ll need to make quick decisions so potential new teams and engine suppliers have time to ramp up for F1 entry in 2021.
It is a delicate situation and one which I hope will find Liberty Media making the right decisions. For me, the pendulum has swung too far to the manufacturer side and needs some balancing but we also have the FIA involved and they have a very strong impression of what they want F1 to be as well and that will only add complication to the discussion.
Not to put too much weight on this but what Chase and Sean do now may very well determine the profitability and soundness of Liberty Media’s investment in F1 for years to come. It is a major issue and it needs solving quickly.
Hat Tip: Autosport