If you’ve followed Formula 1 for any length of time, you’ll know that what F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone says during negotiation times is calculated and intended to provoke a response. A cursory review of some of his more savory statements juxtaposed with the eventual outcome of the topics they were focused at will show that his methodology is cunning and usually effective.
With most major news outlets discussing the possible sale of CVC Capital’s 35.5% stake in F1 to Liberty Media, the Reuters caught up with the venerable leader of the F1 show and asked him about the potential sale and what role he might play, if any, in the new ownership.
Mr. E says the new owners want him to remain involved for three years. He’ll miss the Singapore Grand Prix to stay in London and negotiate. He said:
“Because all this is going through, they (CVC) want me to be there to help them with all sorts of things. I can’t afford to be away for five to six days,”
Liberty Media’s investment in Time Warner, Viacom, Sirius XM, Live Nation and international TV and broadband is something that certainly has many teams and pundits excited. The potential acquisition would possibly see a new chairman of F1 in the form of Chase Carey, executive vice-chairman of 21st Century Fox and a director of Sky News owner Sky Plc. Ecclestone said:
“He (Carey) can do lots of things that I haven’t done with this social media, which he seems to be in touch with. He’s been dealing with sponsorship with his TV people. Between us we’ll get on with it,”
Again, teams have been clamoring for some magic, silver bullet in the shape of social media to cure all of F1’s ills and in the meantime, they’re insistence on making F1 an engineering battle and not a battle of drivers in fast machines is beyond the help of tweets, two-screen experiences and Instagram access to Fernando Alonso’s personal life.
What fans want is everything free, streamed online with access to the entire historic catalog of races on YouTube so they can entertain themselves numb but what teams seems to think is that by using social media, they can overcome its waning audience trajectory and even amp up its American adoption rate by engaging some marketing social media stratagem in which to finally make US fans salivate for F1’s product.
If the sale goes through, could we have a definitive time table for Mr. E’s exit from F1? After 40 years, it would be a landmark date and perhaps if the Liberty Media deal goes through, they will be the best thing to ever happen to F1. I hope that’s the case, I really do, but I also am concerned for the potential of racing by committee, the FIA’s stake in the sport, the individual team contracts and renegotiation of those contracts in 2020 and potential silliness with social media and other attempts to make F1 more NFL or NASCAR in nature.
Growth for growth’s sake doesn’t sit well with me but I’m a different breed of cat. I tend to think F1’s appeal is its historic DNA and its trajectory toward balancing technological advances in racing with core driver and competitive racing that is entertaining. That’s a tall ask, I know, but perhaps Liberty Media can deliver it. Let’s hope, if the deal goes through, we will look back five years from now and say, what a great move! This is the best thing that’s happened to F1 in the last 15 years.
Perhaps I am one of precious few but I would be remiss in not saying that I will be sorry to see Mr. E go whether that’s in three years, ten years or two weeks. He’s done a lot for this sport and while not every decision has been a good one, his leadership over the last 40 years has delivered a racing series that created an insatiable desire inside me. For me, most of my life has been fomented with the F1 series he helped create. I’ve never know an F1 without him and the very thought of it, however inevitable, is still a bit unnerving.
Hat Tip: Reuters