Back in the day, the formula One Constructors Association formed FOCA and were led by Bernie Ecclestone to wrest control of the sport away from Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile or FISA. It was a lengthy ordeal and it laid the groundwork for Ecclestone to secure the commercial right for F1 for 99 years.
The drivers have an organization called the Grand Prix Drivers Association and they’ve worked hard to champion safety and other issues in the sport. Fast forward several years and Liberty Media secures the ownership of F1. They bought the series knowing there was a looming contractual issue coming for 2020 and they were optimistic they could avoid mistakes of the past, think long term and usher in a new era of F1 glory and profitability.
Over the weekend, there was a lot of talk about Liberty Media having quiet conversations about possibly selling some or all of their interest in the sport. I have heard many folks say they are more than rumors, I can neither confirm or deny that, but this week’s news does buttress that notion.
The actual circuit owners/promoters have an organization too. It’s called the Formula One Promoters’ Association, I guess you could say FOPA, which is a bit weird if I’m honest. Now FOPA released a statement that outlined three main concerns they had that impacts a majority of the race promoters. Those concerns are as follows:
- New races (such as the new Vietnamese GP Liberty was proud of signing a contract for), should not be at the expense of existing race meaning that they shouldn’t add new races by dumping existing circuits to make room.
- The move to pay TV (both cable or streaming) and away from what they call free-to-air is a major concern for ad revenue and viewers.
- A lack of clarity of what new initiatives Liberty Media are planning and a lack of engagement with race promoters (which I presume they mean that F1 is just launching their own marketing event activation without working with the promoters to share the event).
“As we enter a new season of the sport that we have promoted for many decades, the promoters seek a more collaborative approach to the development of the championship and the opportunity to offer their experience and expertise in a spirit of partnership with Formula 1 and the FIA.”
There was also some concern over how Liberty Media approached the possible Miami GP by not charging the typical race sanctioning fees that other promoters are currently paying but by doing a revenue-share situation. Promoters would be very keen on some arrangement like that instead of circuits such as the Austin GP paying $20 million plus for the privilege.
British Grand Prix promoter and Silverstone boss, Stuart Pringle, wasn’t too keen on what he called “free deals”. He told The Daily Mail:
“If this continues, Formula 1 will be racing on second-rate circuits, if any at all,” Pringle said.
“Everyone is disgruntled. Liberty’s ideas are disjointed.
“We have all been compliant and quiet hitherto, but we have great concerns about the future health of the sport under the people who run it now.”
This all happened on Monday and It was reported that Liberty Media were set to meet with the promoters today (Tuesday). The race promoters for the Mexican GP issued a prompt response to the FOPA letter that drew a line between them and the other FOPA members criticism of Liberty Media:
“Following the statement made by the Formula One Promoters’ Association (FOPA), the F1 Gran Premio de Mexico promoters want to express their sympathy with the promoters from other countries, understanding that each country and race is different.
“In addition, the Mexican Grand Prix’s promoters welcome the ongoing collaboration and good relationships with the rest of the promoters.
“However, F1 Gran Premio de Mexico did not participate in said meeting and appreciate the work that the new owners of F1 are doing to understand the promoters’ requirements and concerns, as well as those from the fans.
“The Mexican Grand Prix’s promoters recognize that the new administration of F1 has listened and been sensitive to their concerns, with both parties working very closely together.
“As a result, they do not agree with what was released by the Formula One Promoters’ Association on their behalf.
“The Mexican promoters and F1 continue the negotiations regarding the renewal of the F1 Gran Premio de Mexico contract in private.”
The challenge is that the British, Italian, Spanish, German and Mexican GP all have contracts expiring this year. At the FOPA meeting, it was reported that organizers of the races in Russia, Japan, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and China were not part of the discussions. That would lead me to believe that Mexico was there but they’ve certainly put some distance between the FOPA members and themselves.
This may not have been the big battle Liberty was planning on as they were focused on the looming Concorde Agreement with the teams for 2021. IT now seems they have even more pressing issues regarding the circuit owners and race promoters. F1, if it is anything, is a political beast and I would be stunned if Liberty purchased the series without discovering that in their due diligence. Knowing that, I would have thought they would have anticipated much of the friction they are experiencing and while this doesn’t confirm their desire to get the hell out of town and dump the series, it certainly doesn’t discount that notion either. In fact, it adds some weight to the allegations.
Hat Tip: Autosport